The internal conversation goes something like this:
Let me see: today, I will organize the daily curriculum, take all the children through their various subjects, make breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and if I am a good mom, they will all be very nutritionally balanced), wash a few loads of laundry, clean the house, pay the bills, get the kids to all of their scheduled commitments (baseball, hockey, ice-skating, debate club, etc.), prepare for tomorrow, read a little, and then go to bed. I don’t know how long I can do this. I am feeling overwhelmed, sad, and incomplete. But, I will be happy when….
Unfortunately, the “when” never comes. We are always waiting for things to change so we can finally be happy.
I used to be a “I will be happy when…” kind of person. Although I have always been an optimist—a glass-half-full-kinda-gal!—I have had many times in my life when I found it very difficult to feel daily joy. I felt like I was just making it through. Maybe not depressed (although I have had those times too), but just not happy.
My happiness was dictated by my circumstances.
I mean, that makes sense, right? When our children are failing in school, or our parents require us to take care of them long-term, or money seems almost non-existent, or the house is a mess again, or the dog needs to go to the vet, or you are battling a major illness, or—worse—your loved one is battling a major illness, of course you will feel unhappy.
What if I were to tell you that your circumstances don’t dictate your degree of happiness, but you do? Now, don’t stop reading because I hit a nerve. What if I were to tell you that you have the right to be happy now, regardless of your circumstances? And that your life might depend on your finding happiness today?
Okay, that is a little melodramatic, but the science is actually discovering that happiness can be a key factor in prolonging the duration and quality of life. It is also showing us that happy parents produce happy kids. So if you can’t figure out how to be happy for yourself, figure out how you can be happier so your kids can be happier. Yes, I am unapologetically speaking to that part of you as a parent that will do things for your kids but not for yourself.
The research to support these findings is coming out of the field of positive psychology, the scientific study of human flourishing and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as “the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities, and organizations to thrive” (Gable & Haidt, 2005, Sheldon & King, 2001). Psychology is a science, so we are talking about findings that are being proven scientifically in regard to happiness.
The research is now showing a correlation between happiness and health. Increased levels of happiness seem to correlate with the following:
- Decreased cortisol levels secondary to decreased stress.
- Decreased blood pressure.
- Strengthened immune system.
- Decreased heart disease.
- Decreased aches and pains.
- Possible decrease in the incidence of chronic diseases.
- Increased longevity.
- Improved academic performance in children.
This is just to name a few.
The question then arises: If we now are able to prove that people who seem to perceive themselves as happier actually are healthier, are there tangible things we can do to increase our personal sense of joy and happiness? The answer is yes!
The good news is that the art of happiness can be learned and practiced. That is great news for the Eeyore’s of the world. Despite being an optimist, I still practice a variety of “happiness tools” on a daily basis, and I’m telling you: it works!!!
Even more amazing, I found that as I increased my daily perceived happiness, those around me seemed to be happier as well. What I was doing began to rub off on my husband and my boys in a profound way. My eldest son suffered from major clinical depression. As a mother, watching him and doing everything I could to support him through the depths of despair was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. As difficult as it was for me, I realized that it was orders of magnitude more difficult for him.
At the age of twenty-one, I employed him to help me edit my workbook for parents titled The Everyday Parent Fix-it Manual, Stage One: Repairing Self. This workbook is an eight-week guide to finding joy and balance in your life as a parent. I didn’t find out until several months later that my son had stopped taking his antidepressants. He shared with me that editing the workbook had given him insight into things he could do to lift his mood. Wow! If I never sold even one workbook, writing the book and seeing my son find joy again in his life was worth every hour I had spent writing.
I would like to leave you with one area you can begin working on today that will help guide you toward finding more happiness in your life: The fundamental idea of being present. Being in the moment. Being mindful of the current instant. Of all the things you can do to increase your perceived happiness level, this is one of the most powerful.
One study showed that adults only spend 50% of their time in the moment. That means the other 50% of the time, we are not thinking about what is happening but what might happen, or what happened a year ago, or what we are going to cook for dinner, or how many things we still need to do. When we are not in the present moment, we miss out on life. We miss out on the joyous laughter that erupts from our son as he watches his favorite cartoon. We miss out on the precious moment when our daughter so lovingly holds her sister’s hand. We miss out on the amazing moments that are happening all day long.
What Can You Do?
Stop! Stop washing the dishes. Stop rushing here and there. Stop thinking about tomorrow. Stop! Sit down. And just watch your children play. When your thoughts drift to something else, stop. Focus back on the joy of children and feel the joy bubble up inside of you. Smile. And when your children ask why you are being so goofy, just sitting there smiling—tell them it is because you are so happy just watching them being themselves.