Does parenting grown children or grandparenting their offspring bring happiness? Certainly, we do it whether we get special joy out of it or not, but when I looked at some happiness studies--it is a hot research area--I found a lot of potential in there for a resounding, "Yes, it can."
The issue came to mind while I was reading a blog by James Kwak on Baseline Scenario. HIs discussion is about the effect of happiness on economic issues, but the happiness measures he talks about also apply to parents of grown children (and the grandparents). Here are some of the points that offer insightful into our particular human condition:
"...We know some things that make people happy: Short commutes. Predictability. Control over the environment (random noises are bad). Eating, but only until satiation. Sex, but only until satiation. Money—but only to a point; once your basic needs are met and you don’t face constant insecurity, more money no longer buys you more happiness. Participation in social groups. Marriage, usually. (Children, not so much.) Being appreciated by your boss. Generosity toward other people—even if the generosity is not observed by anyone. Work that is challenging but not overwhelmingly so. Physical contact with other people. And finding quarters in pay phones.** "
If I haven't already lost you, the point is that many of the factors that feed into happiness are part of the parenting/grandparenting condition. Being with our grown children and their families certainly brings participation in social groups. We have unending opportunity to be generous to others--small children are so winsome--and to have physical contact with them. And then there's work (i.e. babysitting grandchildren) that is challenging but not overwhelmingly so. As to being appreciated by the boss--well some grown children are better at saying Thank You than others--though spoken or not, there is an assumption of appreciation. Of course, some of the items in the list--control over environment, for one--mitigate the other way.
I can't speak to the quarters in the pay phone. We've all got cell phones now.
[The ** on pay phones refers to a study that found that if people find a quarter in a pay phone, afterward they will report they are happier than people who didn’t find the quarter. This effect persists and also affects people’s reported happiness about unrelated parts of their life, like their family life.]