During Sunday afternoon’s precious double nap, I sat at my desk, wrangling with WordPress, trying to format Katy’s guest post to have it ready to publish on Monday morning. My Internet connection was creeping its way along at speeds I haven’t seen since the early days of dial-up. I felt frustrated. I felt angry. I felt my blood pressure rise and a wave of heat wash over me. I felt like pounding my fist against the desk. (Well, okay, I did pound my fist against the desk. Strangely, my Internet connection did not move any faster as a result.)
The irony was not lost on me that I was losing my patience and feeling decidedly unhappy while trying to set up a review of a book called Raising Happiness.
That feeling of mounting frustration was one I was intimately familiar with last fall, when the seemingly endless needs of an infant and a toddler threatened to drown me in a tidal wave of diaper blow-outs, crying jags, and spilled sippy cups. Everything felt difficult and everything felt like it was being done for somebody else.
Yes, I chose to have kids. Yes, I love those kids beyond anything I could have imagined before having them. Yes, I would do anything for them.
I find it very, very hard to be selfless. And selfless is what I thought you had to be to be a good mother.
But then I stumbled onto this new hobby: writing. An outlet for the thoughts and questions that were percolating inside my tired mind. An entrée into a community of other people thinking and asking. A nap-time option other than washing dishes or doing laundry. A self-centered activity that made – and still makes me – happy.
So much in the early chapters of Christine Carter’s Raising Happiness resonated with me, but nothing felt truer to me while reading than her suggestion for parents to “put your own oxygen mask on first” and “take care of your own happiness before you try to teach your kids the skills they’ll need to be happy.”
According to Carter, “emotions in general are just plain contagious.” She goes on to tell us of the various studies that demonstrate the link between depressed parents and “negative outcomes” in their children – and of evidence that shows that kids “reap the benefits” when their parents are happy.
I found the second part of this equation particularly illuminating – an A-ha moment, to borrow Katy’s phrase – even though it rests on empirical observations that any parent can make: kids are skilled mimics. And they tend to mimic most the people they spend the most time with: so it’s no surprise that kids tend to be happier, the happier their parents are.
I saw this positive feedback loop play out in my own life this fall as I started to prioritize small things that made me happy. Grumpy Sunday afternoons notwithstanding, I became happier, the quality of time I spent with my kids became happier, and they became happier as well.
Happy begets happy begets more happy. So easy, right?
Well, not necessarily. There’s plenty out there threatening to derail our happiness: the economy, health crises, family drama, bad reality television. But Carter assures us that “[i]t is never too late to become a happier person,” if we approach happiness as a “collection of habits rather than a genetically endowed trait” and remember to put on our own oxygen masks first.
Where can we find the oxygen? She gives some suggestions:
- Hang out with people who make you laugh. (Laughter really is good medicine, according to the science.)
- Get a massage or a pedicure. (Embrace the healing power of touch!)
- Maintain a gratitude journal. (Anne at Life in Pencil first introduced me to this idea.)
- Get outside.
- Stay away from the mall. (According to Carter, “The more we seek happiness in material things, the less likely we are to find it.” To be continued in a later discussion…)
So what do you think? Is Carter’s mandate to put on our own oxygen masks first really just an excuse for selfishness?
What do you do to ensure your own happiness? What could you do to make yourself even happier?
P.S. Yes, I realize this is my second straight post with the word “Mama” in the title. What do you expect from a blog called “Motherese”?
P.P.S. Have you read Katy’s review of the first three chapters of Raising Happiness yet?