Does having children make you happy? A neuroscientist explains

   For generations, having children was considered a necessity, almost an obligation. It was a fundamental part of being an adult. However, in recent years, this traditional perspective has shifted, and more people are choosing to forgo reproduction.

Nevertheless, a significant number of individuals still express the desire to have children at some point. Women who choose not to become mothers continue to face criticism, and the demand for IVF treatment remains high.

So, who's right? If you find yourself on the fence about the issue, what does science have to say? Does having children make you happier, or is a child-free life the key to contentment?

The question of whether having children makes you happier is undeniably complex, influenced by individual factors that shape your experience. Nevertheless, here's a look at some general aspects of what happens in the brain when you become a parent.

In the initial stages, especially for mothers, the experience is intense. The process of childbirth and nursing triggers a flood of oxytocin, often called the 'cuddle hormone.' This hormone strengthens emotional bonds and enhances the pleasure derived from interpersonal connections. The connection between a mother and her baby is arguably one of the most profound interpersonal bonds, making the emotional experience of having children more intense than what one might experience without them.

This emotional connection extends to fathers and all types of parents. While the biological mother may have the most direct link to the baby by creating it within her body, every human brain is wired to respond positively to babies, fostering a connection that transcends different types of parenting.

The scents they emit, their oversized facial features, their vulnerability, their small size—our brains respond intensely to all of these, compelling us to protect and form bonds with the source. In this case, it's the baby, but anything with similar traits can trigger a comparable response in us. This is why we perceive cute things as, well, cute.

However, this intense bonding experience and the subsequent joy will eventually fade. It's not that parents stop loving or regret having their children, but babies, and later children, are demanding, and the responsibility lies solely with the parents.

The sleepless nights, the dirty diapers, the expenses, the mess, the realization that your life is no longer solely your own—these factors and more can significantly increase stress and bring about negative emotions. It's just how our brains operate.

Yet, amidst the challenges, there is also the joy of accomplishment, the profound love for your child, the fun shared, and the satisfaction of witnessing their growth.

In essence, the evidence suggests that having children can bring happiness. However, it can also bring unhappiness, constant stress, anxiety, and more. Overall, having children seems to amplify emotional experiences—heightening the highs and deepening the lows. Whether this sounds like a good deal is entirely your choice.