This morning, I was busy sending my kiddos out the door with the babysitter for an adventure at the Fair Park Aquarium to increase my own happiness by getting to check some things off my to-do list today before going back to work next week. As I packed their lunch and sipped cold coffee in my bath robe, I overheard some of the fascinating interview on the Diane Rehm Show about happiness. Here is some of what I gleaned and wanted to share with you, as we are all considering what will make this a happy new year for ourselves and our families short of quitting our jobs, hiring a full-time housekeeper, and winning the lottery.
1. Focus on Relationships: Spend 5 minutes a day doing something to make that other person happy. What is that for your partner? Listening? Physical touch? Expressing gratitude? What is that for your child? Playing together? Reading together? Giving positive affirmations? Last night after MJ had wandered out of his room countless times, I finally crawled into bed with him to help him settle down. He cheerfully went on and on about a new animal game he’d played on the computer that afternoon, telling me all the boring details. But I listened for a long time, and as I saw how happy this made him, I thought to myself that I should do it more often. I would add that you should ask that same question about yourself. Spend 5 minutes a day on your own inner happiness – deep breathing, meditating in the shower, going for a quiet walk, getting away to the coffee shop.
2. Focus on the positive. Replay the positive experiences in your mind, re-tell them to your children.In contrast, DON’T replay the negative ones. If there is something productive you can do to ameliorate a negative experience, then do so, but don’t just dwell on the negative. Teach and model this for your children by sharing “good things” at the dinner table or at bedtime. Remember my favorite parenting quote? “What you focus on, you get more of.” It works for life in general, too. Right now, as I’m still dealing with some chronic hip pain that has me feeling very frustrated to say the least, I’m the first to admit that this kind of selective focus is NOT an easy task. But I get it, and I’m trying.
3. Practice kindness. Do one kind act every day for someone else. Research shows that this increases our own happiness, even for children. After school, instead of asking about homework, ask your children if anyone did something kind for them that day, or if they got the chance to do some kind act for a friend. How did that make them feel? You share, too.
4. Spend quality time with family and friends. Many of us got to experience lots of togetherness over the holidays. Did this increase or decrease your happiness? What about your children? I always end these periods wishing that I could just live with my kids in a commune of loved ones, not only because we have more fun, but because it makes life easier for me! MJ and I are both people-people, and get our energy from social interactions, while I’ve noticed that Ellie needs some quiet alone time to balance it out. Knowing that my hubby would be working on New Year’s Eve and Day, we invited ourselves over to another family’s home, and spent a day and a half cooking, playing, chatting, and just being together in pj’s. Why let life and busy schedules get in the way of that kind of happiness? Surely we can slow down and make time for that once in a while in 2013.
5. Find meaning and purpose in your daily tasks. Whatever your tasks, no matter how seemingly insignificant or insurmountable, connect yourself with some greater purpose, and challenge yourself to find pleasure in the process. (The key word is “challenge”.) Sing a silly song while you change poopy diaper, enjoy the warm soapy bubbles as you wash dishes, remember that you are teaching your children BIG lessons when you are guiding them through upset (aka “tantrums”) – lessons about unconditional love and how to apologize and forgive, lessons about kindness and sharing, fairness and internal control, lessons that are shaping their lives and brains. (AAAGH! I hate lessons!)
Here is an excerpt from the book’s intro. Does any of this resonate with you? What is in your “fill in the blank”?
Nearly all of us buy into what I call the myths of happiness—beliefs that certain adult achievements (marriage, kids, jobs, wealth) will make us forever happy and that certain adult fail-ures or adversities (health problems, not having a life partner, having little money) will make us forever unhappy. This reductive under-standing of happiness is culturally reinforced and continues to en-dure, despite overwhelming evidence that our well-being does notoperate according to such black-and-white principles.One such happiness myth is the notion that “I’ll be happy when____ (fill in the blank).”I’ll be happy when I net that promo-tion, when I say “I do,” when I have a baby, when I’m rich, and soon. The false promise is not that achieving those dreams won’t makeus happy. They almost certainly will. The problem is that these achievements—even when initially perfectly satisfying—will not make us as intensely happy (or for as long) as we believe they will.Hence, when fulfilling these goals doesn’t make us as happy as we expected, we feel there must be something wrong with us or we must be the only ones to feel this way.The flip side is an equally pervasive, and equally toxic, happiness myth. This is the belief that “I can’t be happy when ____ (fill in theblank).” When a negative change of fortune befalls us, our reaction is often supersized. We feel that we can never be happy again, that our life as we know it is now over.
The main lesson from the book is: “Happiness is on the inside, not on the outside. You have control over how happy you are.” This is a good lesson to teach our children, as well. What happens if we add the words “as parents”? “Happiness as parents is on the inside, not on the outside.” This means that I have the power to feel intrinsic happiness in my daily acts of parenting despite the actions or in-actions of my children. When I have a “prepared mind” as a parent, my happiness does not have to depend on my child’s behavior or misbehavior, on their actions or in-actions, on their problems and current challenges, on their achievements or failures. My happiness as a parent can come from the practice of being truly present with my children, from experiencing authentic connection with them when we “Play, Laugh, Sing, Read, Listen, Hug.” It can come when I remember the BIG picture and enjoy these fleeting moments. It can even come when I remember my higher calling in the messy, unpleasant moments, too – to show love, to be love, to show them how to be in this world. Just as we all face setbacks in life, we parents all face challenges and terrible moments. Our happiness as parents is tied up with how we respond to the “bad stuff” of parenting. This response not only affects the path our children take, but the way we value ourselves as parents “on the inside”. But it’s important to remember that we all need grace and forgiveness on the inside, too. There is no perfect parent!
Happy “Good Enough” Parenting New Year!
(Oh, and get more sleep! That’s one of the things she mentioned, too. Try it with your kids, as well.)