"You're only as happy as your unhappiest child." or so says the old saying. If you have a lot of kids (or even a single infant with colic) there can be a good bit of unhappiness to go around. The sad fact is that as wonderful, delightful and fulfilling as parenting is, it's also very, very draining. In between wiping jelly off the windows and pulling doll shoes out of the vacuum cleaner hose, here are some ways to increase happiness:
Sleep - I’m lousy at getting enough sleep, but people can’t really do without it any better than they can do without food, water, or air. The studies keep showing that we’re happier and healthier with more rather than less. So hit the sack already! And remind me I’m supposed to be asleep too, would you?
Mindfulness – Ignore the fact that it’s a buzzword these days. What it really means is that your toddler is one up on you: he or she is naturally mindful without practice. It’s the reason toddlers’ tantrums are so very relentless. The moment where there is no cookie in a toddler's hand is the ONLY moment there is. After dinner does not exist. Next week does not exist. Three minutes from now does not exist. Toddlers can wholly focus on the missing cookie for as long as the cookie-less condition lasts. It makes them VERY effective in wearing down grown ups. I have no idea if mindfulness will help adults be happier. But I do know a little clarity never hurt anyone.
Zoloft - I’m a huge fan of antidepressants. I can’t actually take them because of the side effects. But I love the idea and highly recommend them for others. Talk to your doctor first though, because presumably there’s less chance you’ll sue me if the doctor told you to take them.
Smile! I’ve read that if you force yourself to smile, you sort of trick your brain into thinking it’s happy. It’s almost the physical embodiment of “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Counting blessings and being thankful is also supposed to be all kinds of good for alleviating malaise.
Plans - Somewhere in between conquering the world each day and sitting around on the couch like a lump lies the perfect activity level for your family. I tend to err on the side of double overbooking. It's hard to feel happy when you're chronically overwhelmed. But I'm pretty sure eating ice cream and watching TV only works short term. I guess they don't call it a "happy medium" for nothing.
Relationships - A friend was recently bemoaning the loss of the human tribe. As we talked about it, the kids played and the afternoon slipped away pleasantly. Unfortunately, the days when most people’s friends and relatives lived in their neighborhood are gone. Similarly, gone are the days when children go out to play and don’t come home until dinner. Modern parents are more likely to have work hard to find their “tribe” or “village.” But whether it’s a friend to hear us out or a neighbor who can babysit, the search for the village is well worth the effort.
Therapy - It’s a luxury to have someone emotionally uninvested look at your problems and give you an outside opinion. If you’re trying to get to Happyville, it might help to get a fresh set of eyes on the map.
Activities you and your child both enjoy - I love picture books. Between the stories and artwork, I’m almost as captivated as the children. But there’s a set number of times I can read “A Very Hungry Caterpillar” on any given day. It’s more than 9 times, but less than 868. To combat the repetition, I try to push myself to get to the library more.
At one point I decided that making my three year old’s food into fun shapes would be fun for both of us. Instead it was just more work that made her cry about whether her breakfast was in the shape of a flower or a sailboat. Obviously that one didn’t pass muster.
It could be museums or zoos or go-carts, but there are activities that are interesting to your children and don’t bore you to tears. It just might take a little research to find them.
Time to yourself - Yeah, yeah, MUCH easier said than done. But, you know, most people need some and it’s worth trying to arrange.
Trust - Many of us crazy souls jumped into this parenting thing with two feet, on purpose even. We knew the kajillion and a half things that could go wrong, but we did it anyway! Those couple-few times I’ve been able to regain the tiny bit of trust and realize that my kids will turn out okay because of me or despite me, I’ve been all the happier.
That’s what I’ve got folks! It so often seems that how happy we are is a roll of the dice, a mixture of genetics, personality and circumstances. The least we can do is attempt to make the most of things!