Things that used to make me happy before I had kids:
- Sleeping in ‘til 9 on a Saturday.
- Reading the newspaper, cover to cover.
- Going for a long drive with my husband and ending up wherever we ended up.
- Binge-watching HGTV and actually trying out some of the home-improvement ideas.
- Brunch with a girlfriend (which just might involve indulging in multiple mimosas).
- Co-hosting a dance party that lasted into the wee hours.
Now that I have two boys, I often reminisce about those free and easy days. As I wade through a virtual ocean of Lego pieces and Pokémon cards, I find myself wondering, Was I happier before I had kids?
The answer is no. I am just as content now as I was then.
Most of us tend to have a “happiness thermostat”. No matter what is going on in our life, our happiness level eventually resets to the same point.
But here’s the deal - our mind plays tricks on us. It makes us think that if/when we achieve (fill in the blank), we will truly be happy.
If I get pregnant. If I win the lottery. If my kids sleep through the night.
The good thing about these “if’s”? They keep us moving forward and striving for improvement in our life. The bad thing? They can prevent us from being happy in the moment and appreciating the things that are good right now.
I often hear my counseling clients say, “Life is OK. I know I should be happy, so why do I feel so discontent and restless?”
“Because you’re human,” I reply, “And you’re programmed to live life as if you’re driving a car, continually shifting your eyes between your rear-view mirror and the view down the road. Happiness might actually be right where you’re at, in the car seat next to you.” I then encourage them to try out some of the tried and true activities that can lead to an adjusted happiness thermostat.
- Move your body – because exercise and movement produce endorphins, natural happiness chemicals.
- Give yourself grace – be kinder and more forgiving toward yourself. You do rock, after all. You’ll find yourself feeling more content with your world and those around you if you are nicer to yourself.
- Get plenty of sleep – sneak it in where you can. When you’re overtired, you’re more likely to feel edgy, blue and/or anxious.
- Stay in the moment – An easy way to do this? Shut off all technology and tune in to your five senses. Quieting your mind and staying in the present will give you a sense of calm (especially if it is after the munchkins are in bed!)
- Practice gratitude – Spend a little time each day reflecting on things that are going well and all that you are thankful for. Your brain will automatically begin to focus more on positives versus negatives.
The other evening, my 7-year-old son and I were sprawled out on the warm pavement of our driveway. The cicadas were chirping so loudly we could hardly hear ourselves think. As we watched the full moon rise, inch by inch, over our neighbor’s roof, I thought to myself, THIS is happiness. It’s not glittery. It’s not expensive. But it is good.
Which leads me to my current list of non-fancy but pretty great sources of happiness:
Things that make me happy, post-kids.
- My first cup of steaming hot coffee in the morning.
- Hearing my 10 yr. old share about his day at school.
- Two hours alone in my house so I can attempt to clean my kitchen.
- Laughing at a comedy on Netflix with my hubby.
- The kids sleeping in past 6:30am on a Saturday.
- Watching my boys’ eyes when they walk up to the gate of an amusement park.
- Co-hosting a dance party that lasts into the wee hours. (OK, I admit, I’m still guilty of this one.)
Read more about increasing happiness, decreasing stress and hosting dance parties at my blog, Baby Proofed Parents.