On the heels of Tucker Carlson’s departure from Fox News, a clip from a 2021 conversation between Carlson and Charlie Kirk went viral, attracting more than 3 million views on Instagram. In the video, Kirk asks Carlson to give life advice to the young people who would later hear him speak. (Carlson was slated to deliver the keynote address at a gathering of Turning Point USA, a nonprofit that advocates for conservative politics on high school and college campuses.)

Here are excerpts:

“Get married and have a ton of kids. Get married when you’re too young, have more kids than you can afford, take a job you’re not qualified for. Live boldly. Stop getting high. Stop doing anything that blurs your vision or makes time go faster. … Wasting time is the one thing you can’t get back. … Any time I wasted is really bitter for me, ’cause it’s finite.”

He went on: “I want to experience my life as fully as I possibly can. I think that starts with having a ton of kids. Like, way more … like Mormon levels of kids. I mean that.” 

Carlson struck the same notes in a speech he gave just before he left Fox. That speech was given at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th anniversary gala at Mount Vernon in April.

At the end of a Q&A with Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts, Carlson implored those listening, “Don’t throw away your hard copy books … they can’t be disappeared because they exist physically. I would say the corollary to that is don’t throw away your relationships with other people, because they can’t be disappeared either. The material, the physical, the things you can smell — those are the things you can trust.

“Your spouse, your dogs, your children … people in person. As the world becomes more digitized and people live in this realm that’s disconnected from physical reality, I think the only way to stay sane is to cling more tightly to the things that you can smell.” 

You may hate Tucker, or you may love him. But when it comes to his advice on building a family, the statistics are on his side.

In February 2022, economist Lyman Stone discussed the correlation between happiness and marriage and family for the Institute of Family Studies. People who get married and have families tend to be happier than those who don’t. And yet, as Stone explained, “Gallup polls and the General Social Survey alike show that fewer Americans believe marriage is key to happiness, or that it’s important for lifelong romantic partners to marry.” 

These trends, Stone wrote, are “especially galling” because they are empirically wrong.

“Indeed, married people are happier than unmarried people: across nearly five decades of surveys, data from the GSS shows that 36% of people who have ever been married (including divorced, separated, and widowed people) say they are ‘very happy’ while just 11% are ‘not too happy,’ compared to 22% and 15% for people who have never married. Despite changing public views, the truth is married people really are happier.”

The research on children tends to be a bit more complicated. A global study of parents reported higher levels of happiness for parents than adults without children in countries with more child-friendly policies (and notably the United States was not among them).

It’s no secret young children can bring stress and costs, and some studies indicate children can be a blow to reported levels of happiness, especially for mothers. But other research details increasing gains in happiness among fathers and much of parental happiness depends on demographics and resources. Interestingly, the data on happiness among mothers may be skewed since larger dips appear among mothers of only one or two children, while women with three or more children have the same levels of happiness with women without children.

There’s also research suggesting having children is a long-term investment with payoffs much later in life. One study out of Hong Kong, for example, found grandparents and future grandparents are happier than non-grandparents.

Navigating the nuances of the research, Paul Bloom writes in The Atlantic that parenting ultimately may be less about the “happiness” we equate with being on a sunny beach and more about the meaning and purpose we associate more with, say, earned success.

“A study by the social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues found that the more time people spent taking care of children,” Bloom writes, “the more meaningful they said their life was — even though they reported that their life was no happier. Raising children, then, has an uncertain connection to pleasure but may connect to other aspects of a life well lived, satisfying our hunger for attachment, and for meaning and purpose.”

This may be true of social relationships in general.

Perspective: The new schism in conservatism: Team Tucker or Team Fox
Tucker Carlson and Fox News part ways in stunning announcement

In 1938, Harvard University began one of the longest running studies on happiness in history. Researchers interviewed men at various stages in life and concluded, “Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. ... Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.” 

Referencing the Harvard study, happiness guru and scholar Arthur Brooks distilled “seven habits that lead to happiness in old age.” The seventh habit, Brooks writes, is “Do the work to cultivate stable, long-term relationships now. For most people, this includes a steady marriage, but other relationships with family, friends and partners can fit in this category as well. The point is to find people with whom you can grow, whom you can count on, no matter what comes your way.”

The takeaway is hold on to those we can smell. And if that smelling part strikes you as weird, well, according to research in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the smell of babies actually triggers the brain’s reward center. And for mothers, it provides a significant hit of dopamine.

Since Carlson’s Fox departure, pundits have debated his influence on politics and the national discourse, because that’s what he is best known for. But Carlson’s influence in promoting family shouldn’t be dismissed. I reached out to Charlie Kirk, Tucker’s interlocutor in the clip, about the viral exchange. He said he’s heard numerous “stories of people choosing to get married and have children because of this exchange, including some close friends. Something about this off-the-cuff moment has really impacted people both then and now.” 

Is a Jan. 7 text from Tucker Carlson the reason he’s no longer with Fox?

While Carlson hasn’t said what he will do next, in a video he posted on Twitter April 26, he hinted that his focus might be wider than politics. “The thing you notice when you take some time off is how unbelievably stupid most of the debates you see on television are. They’re completely irrelevant. They mean nothing; in five years we won’t even remember that we had them. Trust me as someone who has participated.”

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Where Carlson lands next and what he does is the subject of intense speculation, but I hope part of his next act will be reengaging in this topic of demographic change and our falling birth rates. His impassioned plea carried a certain resonance. Perhaps that’s because these pro-family messages aren’t just another abstract policy discussion for Carlson, a father of four who has been married to his wife for more than three decades.

Two days after the announcement that Carlson and Fox had suddenly “parted ways,” The Daily Mail caught up with Carlson and his wife, Susan, and reported that Carlson said “Retirement is going great so far.” He seemed to be happy, saying, “I haven’t eaten dinner with my wife on a weeknight in seven years.”

He didn’t come across as distressed, especially for a man suddenly out of a job that reportedly paid him $20 million a year. Maybe it’s because he followed his own advice?

Bethany Mandel is a home-schooling, stay-at-home mother of six, co-author of the book “Stolen Youth” and an editor for the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”

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