Research from positive psychology, the scientific study of happiness, shows that our own happiness as parents influences our children’s happiness. When we do what it takes for our own happiness our children reap the rewards. This might sound strange and it might even make you feel uncomfortable but the truth is that airline’s worst-case- scenario instructions about putting on your own oxygen mask first and before helping others is spot on; the more we look after ourselves and the happier we are, it follows the happier our children will be.
Happiness is not a genetically endowed trait it is better thought of as a collection of habits and so there are lots of ways to increase your happiness – here are a few suggestions.
- Discover your passion and purpose. If you over focus on your children it just may be that you are putting them in the unhealthy position of trying to bring fulfilment to your life. So love your children, support their interests, be proud of them – but for their sake find your own passion and purpose; it might be something you pursue through a job, volunteering, study or a hobby it can be anything you want as long as its not your children.
- Learn to say No. If you are going to follow your passion you’re going to have to get good at saying no. Remember nobody will say no for you. You have to speak up for yourself even if others may resent you for wanting to step back. Compare your sense of passion and purpose to how you are living your life. Positive psychologists suggest that in order to live a happy life, 95% of our time should be spent on the five things that are most important to us. So step back and ask yourself what needs to change? Can you do some chores in a way that is good enough rather than `perfect’ so that you have more time for the things that really matter to you?
- Practice kindness and gratitude. Learning to say No is important because we can’t do all the things that people ask of us if we are going to live the life that we want to live. But what we can always offer is kindness and gratitude. Do kind things for strangers or for people you know. Smile at the cashier or barista and ask them how their day is going. Don’t rush pass the person carrying mugs of coffee and trying to open the door – help them out. Whereas kindness is about doing, gratitude is about recognising what’s been done for you. When someone does something for you, look them in the eye and thank them. Your words will make them feel valued and will make you feel happier too. Studies suggest that over time if you offer more kindness to the world and speak up about what you’re grateful for you’ll be inviting a lot more happiness and good health into your life.
- Prioritise your health and well-being. We are far less useful to our families when we not physically and/or emotionally well. Are you eating in ways that are good for your body ? Are you exercising in ways that you enjoy? It’s probably just as effective as drugs for treating some types of depression – it will also make you smarter, happier and boost your self-esteem. Most of us know that that we need to exercise more – but…… Just do it!
- Consider reducing your stress and increasing your self-awareness through meditation or mindfulness. If you’re thinking I can’t learn how to meditate now because I’ve got to do x, y or z, I’m suggesting that you stop that kind of thinking and seriously consider your priorities. In the spirit of putting your own oxygen mask on first these are not the things to deal with once everything else falls into place, these are the things to deal with so that everything else can fall into place.
- Pleasant Event Scheduling. In order to feel happy we need to be doing things that we enjoy, or pleasant events. This can be anything from doing a hobby or making time to meet up with friends and have a few laughs – our well-being depends on how well connected we feel to other people – so to increase our happiness we need to nurture our social connections. The laughter we share with friends causes our heart rate and our blood pressure to drop and our muscles to relax. As parents its important that we role model time out for ourselves to enjoy life. If children see us having fun and enjoying life they are far more likely to be happy too. So write down a few things that you enjoy or help you relax and plan when you are going to do them during the week. Scheduling relaxation and pleasure into our day, makes it far more likely that we will follow through with it.
- Get in touch with the natural world – spending time in the fresh air increases our positive emotions and clears our mind – so take a walk in the park, sit by a river- whatever you have available to you will work.
- Treat yourself to a massage or a manicure/ pedicure. Like social connections and laughter being touched in a positive way can trigger biochemical reactions that make us feel good by activating the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain where we feel pleasure.
- But don’t go shopping. Positive psychologists suggest that this is the one thing that many of us do for fun that doesn’t result in happiness – the more we seek happiness in material things, the less that we are likely to find it!
This blog was inspired by the work of:
- Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of: How to Raise an Adult; Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and prepare our kids for success. Read more here
- Listen to Julie’s Ted Talk: “How to raise successful kids without over parenting” here
- Christine Carter, author of Raising happiness, 10 simple steps for more joyful kids and happier parents – read more here
- The Sweet spot, How to accomplish more by doing less – read more here