Are you happier now that you are a parent?
A couple years ago, Florida State University sociology professor Robin Simon created a stir with her suggestion that “bundle of joy” is perhaps inaccurate for most parents.
“Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers,” indicated Simon, whose parenting study concluded folks with the significantly greatest emotional well-being were those who had never had children.
Wait a second! Can all those baby shampoo commercials with shiny happy moms bathing smiling Stepford children be wrong?
Sure kids trigger negative emotions, but Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert and author of “Stumbling on Happiness” suggests although kids may not increase our average daily enjoyment, “they bring transcendent moments that outweigh all the hard work.”
Beyond Warm and Fuzzy
The day-in, day-out job of parenting is far from romantic. But if you’ve ever watched a toddler chase a butterfly or been asked, “Will I need my clothes in heaven?” then you also know happiness can wash over you in little moments here and there. In fact, such moments are not really so little.
Blissful, fleeting moments make life rich. Psychologists Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener coined “psychological wealth” in “Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth” and define it as “the experience of well-being and a high quality of life.”
How do we become more psychologically wealthy? See what’s good in the world (those magical times with our kids) but be grounded in reality (kids are expensive and stressful!). The wealthy are engaged in activities they believe are meaningful. They apply their strengths to these activities.
Christine Carter, author of “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents,” reminds us: “What we say and do with our children is far more important in determining their success and happiness than any God-given talent or innate disposition.”
Contentment is Cool
Contentment may not have a sexy ring to it, but Don Lucas, Ph.D. in his book “Being: Your Happiness, Pleasure and Contentment” says it is worth aspiring to. “Contentment is associated with everlasting positive emotions. Contentment is not associated with being idle, lazy or giving up.”
Think about it. Much of parenting involves positive, enduring emotions. It entails hard work and perseverance. For parents, contentment motivates our behavior and empowers us to get more accomplished.
Lucas asserts, “True happiness is a social thing. If the people who are close to you are not happy or not happy with you—you’ll have a tough time being happy.”
Finding Your Happy Place
How do we increase happiness? By becoming more focused on the positive, more intentional in our attempts to savor parenthood and more grateful for the gift that is our kids. These tips may also help.
Sleep more. “Put on your own oxygen mask first and then help those around you” is how sociologist Christine Carter terms it. Taking care of your family takes a lot out of you. You’ve heard “nap when baby naps” a million times, but it’s important. It’s tempting to stay up when the house is peaceful, but try to go to sleep at the decent hour your school kids go to bed. If possible, work out a shift schedule to get up with your infant. Try to sleep an extra hour each night and watch the magical effect a less tired, new and improved you has on your family.
Recognize parenting is stressful. It’s easy to feel guilt for all those moments you don’t “feel” happy, but it’s completely normal. In their book The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living (2008), Russ Harris and Steven Hayes reassure that feeling unhappy does not mean you are defective. “The normal thinking processes of a healthy human mind will naturally lead to psychological suffering. You’re not defective; your mind’s just doing what it evolved to do.” Happiness doesn’t mean eliminating negative feelings; it is being prepared to cope with those feelings.
Communicate better with your partner. Parenting is stressful on a relationship. Diener and Biswas-Diener remind us that the quality of our lives will suffer if we neglect to develop all the aspects of our true psychological wealth — one of which is loving relationships. Encourage each other. Talk about the highs and low of raising kids. Laugh at the daily craziness that is family life!
Think gratitude. It’s more than saying grace at mealtime. Counting your blessings every day helps you remember happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. Carter writes “We can teach our children happiness habits, such as consciously practicing gratitude … Most important we can model happiness in ourselves.”
Consider writing a love note expressing your gratitude for your kids when you have a free moment. Leave the note on a pillow, and if your child is young, read it aloud. See the big picture. Gilbert says, “It’s easy to get caught up in the details, but you need to step back and realize how empty your life would be without these people in it.”
Michele Ranard has a husband, two children, a master’s in counseling and a blog at www.cheekychicmama.com.