Over the last decade, the field of positive psychology has expanded the focus of psychological research. Traditionally, psychologists studied the causes, consequences, and treatment of mental problems and ill health, while positive psychology has encouraged an exploration of happiness and positive emotions, as well as conditions of well-being. Happy people are found to lead highly social lives and to have satisfying social relationships. By contrast, relationship dissolution and loneliness is associated with unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Thus, positive interpersonal contact and social relationships are important for human functioning, and for building and maintaining positive mental health and well-being.
The thesis explores how satisfaction with life and satisfaction with one’s partner change, both during pregnancy, and as a consequence of becoming parents. Furthermore, the thesis explores how life satisfaction is affected by the experience of ten different life events. Data is taken from two large longitudinal panel studies; paper I (N = 67,355 ) and paper III (N = 48,032) uses data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa), and paper II (N = 3,672) the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (GSOEP). Statistical analyses include regression analyses, structural equation modeling, and hierarchical multi-level modeling techniques.
Having a baby involves the formation of a close relationship with another human being. In paper I and II, the effect of having a baby on parental satisfaction is explored. Anticipating having a baby positively affects satisfaction, but the effect is transitory, with parents returning to pre-birth satisfaction levels relatively quickly following birth. Being in a satisfying relationship is particularly important for current and future life satisfaction during the transition to parenthood, a phase involving major change and adjustment.
As interpersonal relationships are of major importance for human beings, interpersonal conflict could be expected to significantly affect satisfaction levels. In paper III, the effect of ten life stressors on short-term and long-term satisfaction levels are explored. This paper investigates the absolute and relative contribution of stressors on satisfaction across three years, finding that life stressors negatively affect both short and long term life satisfaction. When multiple stressors are experienced, each additional stressor creates a corresponding drop in life satisfaction. Overall, relational stressors, such as being pressured to sex, systematic humiliation, and relationship dissolution, have the strongest absolute effects on both short and long-term satisfaction, while economic problems have the strongest unique long-term effect. Hence, the overall burden of life stressors in terms of reduced life satisfaction is substantial.
In sum, the thesis shows that even if life satisfaction increases during pregnancy, it is reduced shortly after the baby is born. Secondly, having a satisfying relationships with one’s partner was found to cause higher well-being at later time points. Finally it shows that life stressors substantially reduce both short-term and long-term satisfaction levels.