By: Cristina Trette
My days felt like marathons as I spent all of them doing the same energy sucking routine: wake up and make breakfast, change diapers, get my 5 year old to school, park with my toddler and baby, cook lunch, put babies down for nap, laundry, dishes, school pick up, park, soccer practice, play dates, dinner, bath, reading, put kids to bed. I was a stay at home mom and my kids were ages 1, 3, and 5. I did not want life to pass by and have them see me so unhappy. So I got my sh@t together and made some changes. I wanted to experience joy again. I realized it would not happen without effort and that I was going to have to generate it. Here is what I did to turn things around.
1. I sought out opportunities for peace and quiet
We are raising children in a world that is increasingly fast paced. Many parents today are stuck in a constant state of overwhelm. If you meditate or have a mindfulness practice, you already know the value in stillness. To get back to joy, I recommitted to the practices of mindfulness and meditation. Other times I soaked in the bath with a glass of wine when everyone else was sleeping. Most importantly I began to make breaks apart of my day and taught my kids to let me break when I needed it. When my kids played at the park, instead of hovering behind them, I sat on a bench and focused on breathing and allowed myself to relax. I made it a point to observe the beauty all around me and soaked up serenity in the small moments. Find what works for you to quiet your self and make it a priority.
2. I stopped complaining
As a species, we are consumed with the negative. Our brains are primed to pay attention to anything threatening while tuning out the good stuff. When we were cavewomen, even if most of our day was blissful, we had to be on the alert for the one tiger that may attack us. To read another article I wrote on this subject, click here. But here is the thing, the more we talk and think about the negative, the worse we feel. I had to work hard at ending the habit of complaining. It started with a challenge I was given to not complain for one week. This was inanely hard to do at first! But after the week was up, my mood has improved so dramatically that it became much easier to stay the course.
3. I practiced small acts of kindness
Every day I did one small kind act and still maintain this practice today. Sometimes this means texting a deserved compliment to a friend. Other times I place a nice letter on my son’s pillow thanking him for a way he has contributed recently. Once I picked flowers from the garden and put in a vase in my daughters room. If you can, extend gestures beyond the walls of family. Pay the parking fee for the man behind you in the garage. Offer to buy your friend a cup of coffee. Bring in a dozen bagels for the teacher’s lounge at your kid’s school. Kindness is contagious and can quickly turn a sour mood into a happy one.
4. I started a positive journal
Many people keep a journal as a space where they can express their negative emotions. This is valuable as it gets the thoughts out of your body-mind and onto paper, making it less likely that you will store it inside. I suggest that you also purchase a separate positive journal. Keep the positive journal as a space for writing down thoughts, dreams, goals, and actions that make you feel good. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, refers to these journals as Blessings Journal. You can learn more about research and practices of positive psychology at www.authentichappiness.com.
5. I made it a point to talk about what went well with my kids
One positive psychology tool is the “What-Went-Well” exercise. This practice involves taking the time to reflect on the positive aspects of our experiences. Seligman suggests that the practice of writing in a journal every night about three experiences that went well and why, has been correlates with decreasing depression. Examples can be simple such as my daughter got in her bed tonight gracefully and went right to sleep or my husband surprised us all with our favorite treat when he came home from work.
6. I became habitually grateful
There are many ways to focus on gratitude. Some tape a gratitude list to their bathroom mirror. Others find that silently extending appreciation works best for them. In my family we like to start family dinners with everyone taking a turn to say what they are grateful for and why. My partner and I like to take gratitude walks. As we walk we take turns saying out loud what we appreciate. I love doing this.
7. I became more comfortable with my mistakes
No one is perfect. Acknowledge and accept that mistakes are a part of the human experience. If you make a mistake, instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself what you learned from the experience. Teach your children to look for the beautiful purpose in mistakes too. Encourage your child to see mistakes or perceived failures as learning opportunities. There is a fantastic children's book called Beautiful Oops that helps kids see that everything mistake is an opportunity to create something beautiful.
8. I caught myself when I wanted to blame others for my feelings
Your child is not in charge of your happiness. If you blame your frustration and anger on the behavior of your child (or anyone) you will never find the joy that you are seeking. Allow your happiness and fulfillment in life to come from inside of you. Everyone is at choice in how they feel in any given moment. Once you start acknowledging that you create your response to every situation and event, you will begin to feel more freedom and contentment from within. If you are stuck in a rut, hate your job, want to go back to work, want to exercise commit to making one big change taht you know will bring you more joy. Everyone is at choice in how they feel in any given moment. Once you start acknowledging that you create your response to every situation and event, you will begin to feel more freedom and contentment from within.
9. I built my tribe
It takes a village to raise a child. The research on this is solid, individuals with a strong support system in place are happier and healthier than those who isolate. If you are raising kids in isolation, make an effort to reach out. I had some lonely years where most of my days were spent with my three kids. I made it a point to connect with other moms and pushed myself past my comfort zone in order to do this. Join a parenting group, plan a moms night out, sign up for a workshop or volunteer at your kid’s school. Getting involved in your community provides a convenient source for making friends and being a part of something meaningful. Sign up for the local 5k or volunteer at your local animal shelter. The list of ways to contribute to your community are endless. Bring your kids with you!
Do you tips to offer? I would love to hear what they are in the comments box below!