© Don McPhee for the Guardian
‘Yes, children are trouble – but is life about avoiding trouble at all costs?’
An article published this week in the digital magazine Aeon carries the headline: "Kids? Just say no," which purports to make "the moral case against procreation". The author, a philosopher called David Benatar, claims that "coming into existence is always a serious harm". He describes himself as an "antinatalist". "Even if life isn't pure suffering," he ponders, "coming into existence can still be sufficiently harmful to render procreation wrong. Life is simply much worse than most people think."

This is a point of view I find verging on the pathological, but it is true that the reasons not to have children are sufficiently numerous that it makes you wonder why so many people do it.

Apart from anything else, people who don't have children are, according to numerous surveys, consistently happier. The moment you have children, you are burdened with worries and responsibilities for the rest of your life. You are only ever as happy as your unhappiest child.

So, what is the motivation? The answer to this, as far as I'm concerned, is pretty much: "Well, what else are you going to do?" For me, life isn't the pursuit of happiness. Life is the pursuit of meaning.

It is partly in the difficulties that children bring with them that meaning resides - overcoming obstacles, achieving challenging goals, coping with crises. The energy of life comes from the negative side of it, as anyone who tells stories or writes dramas knows. An entirely happy story is not a story at all.

But it is the suffering in store for the new life, not the suffering of the parents, that concerns Benatar. The response to his point comes from the psychologist and mythologist Jordan Peterson, who points to Michelangelo's Pietà - Mary mourning with the crucified Jesus in her arms - as a symbol of the conscious willingness of the parent to embrace the suffering of the child, and the mother's own suffering, and choose life anyway.

Like Benatar, Peterson believes that the fundamental reality of life is not happiness, but tragedy and suffering. Like my parents, Peterson has a child who suffered severe depression, so I can understand why he doesn't necessarily equate children with happiness. However, although my sympathies lie firmly with Peterson, I think he and Benatar are unduly pessimistic on a number of fronts.

First, I think people who don't have children can have perfectly meaningful lives - it just tends to take a lot more thinking about and probably leaves you more vulnerable to loneliness. Second, my children have given my life at least as much happiness as meaning (as well as misery, conflict and worry). Anyway, the concepts overlap - meaning tends to bring happiness, although happiness doesn't necessarily bring meaning.

In some ways, Peterson's message is dangerous. Being a parent isn't purely about sacrifice; there are enough self-appointed martyrs in the world as it is. But it certainly helps to explain why so many of us, with so many reasons not to, carry on populating this planet - and do so with joy and purpose and hope, despite all the evidence that, at the very least, it is misguided in terms of personal satisfaction and, at the very worst, a bad idea for mankind.

But what else are you going to do with your life that is so desperately important? Yes, children are trouble - but is life about avoiding trouble at all costs? As Peterson puts it memorably: "How much trouble do you want to not have?"

Life is difficult. Meaning - even nobility - lies in affirming it in any case. And there is no greater affirmation than having a child.