Parents experience greater happiness and meaning in life than non-parents, a recent study from the University of British Columbia claims.

Psychologists conducted the research in three stages, testing whether parents were happier overall than their childless peers, if parents feel better on a moment-to-moment basis and whether they experience more positive feelings when taking care of children than when doing other daily activities.

"This series of studies suggest that parents are not nearly the ‘miserable creatures' we might expect from recent studies and popular representations," said UBC psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn, who co-authored the study with psychologists at the University of California, Riverside and Stanford University.

The findings contrast sharply with other studies and the commonly-held belief that parenting leads to reduced well-being, and dovetail with emerging evolutionary perspectives that suggest that parenting may actually be a fundamental human need.

Age and marital status seemed to be crucial factors in parental happiness.

"We find that if you are older (and presumably more mature) and if you are married (and presumably have more social and financial support), then you're likely to be happier if you have children than your childless peers," said co-author Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at UC.

Single or young parents under the age of 26, on the other hand, were significantly less happy than non-parents.

Interestingly, fathers in the study were found to be particularly content and filled with positive emotions compared to their childless peers.

"While more research is needed on this topic, it suggests that the pleasures of parenthood may be offset by the surge in responsibility and housework that arrives with motherhood," Dunn explained.

Even the stresses associated with single parenting did not completely wipe out the feelings of meaning and reward associated with parenthood, the study found.

Lyubomirsky said the research doesn't necessarily indicate that parenting makes people happy, but there is a clear association to be observed.

"Contrary to repeated scholarly and media pronouncements, people may find solace that parenthood and child care may actually be linked to feelings of happiness and meaning in life."