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Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

How I Learned to Be a Happier Mom

By
How I Learned to Be a Happier Mom—InCultureParent / Stephanie and her youngest daughter

I didn’t grow up in a very happy household. My parents saw the world as a menacing place, full of people out to screw you. “Life is a battle, you’ve gotta give it hell every day” was my mom’s rough equivalent of “God bless you” when leaving the house in the morning. Like many Americans, my parents placed a high value on material possessions. Making money and acquiring lots of stuff was the mark of having made it and by default “happiness.” I witnessed my parents exhibit fleeting moments of happiness via purchases and experiences related to all the stuff. But those moments were bursts of something that was not true happiness, just a moment that ran like water between the fingers of our otherwise unhappy home life.

 

For years I didn’t understand that happiness is something you create and are uniquely responsible for. I thought that was one of those bullshit ideas only highly evolved spiritual people or fake happy people really thought (because all those bubbly, smiley types had to be fake right? No one was actually that happy!). With no idea how to go about creating my own happiness and thinking of happiness as something life served you, I kept looking for it in things outside myself—in moments, temporary rushes, things that would take me away or make me forget, like buying stuff, a night of partying, trips, or even the rush of attaining success-oriented goals, much like my parents had done.

 

It took me until I was a mother to examine my own embedded beliefs about happiness— vestiges of an era that no longer served me—and begin to transform my own thinking. I knew I didn’t want to raise my kids in the “life is a battle” motif I grew up with and also was clear that a devotion to materialism didn’t serve us as a family. But when I asked myself the question of how I can raise happy children with an optimistic view of life, the answer I realized began with happy parents. And if I didn’t feel consistently happy or understand the sources of my own happiness then how could I possibly set the right example for my children and pass this on? Because I lacked the right skill set and knowledge, I set out to discover new tools that I now apply to raising my kids.

 

One of the first things I learned is you can actually choose to be happy (this was novel for me!). We have more control over happiness than we think and don’t have to be like a buoy to life’s whims—we can choose to be an anchor that doesn’t get knocked around every time things get tough. But it’s not quite as simple as a grandiose, “And I will be happy now,” said in a loud theater voice. We need to develop habits that cultivate happiness. This allows us to set a higher baseline of happiness and be able to regain it quicker when life gets us down. One such habit I cultivate at home is a gratitude practice. Happiness starts with recognizing the value and goodness in our own lives, which is in essence gratitude.

 

Every night my kids and I say what we are thankful for at lights out. Each one of us takes a turn as we go around the room recalling small things from our day to be thankful for, something as simple as “the fun conversation I had with my colleagues” or big things like family and health. I love hearing the things they say. They range from the to-be-expected kid stuff like a new toy or so-and-so coming over to the more profound: “I am thankful for Mama and Baba and my happy family and for my sweet little sister.” There is only one rule, that no one can interrupt whoever is talking. And if they don’t feel like participating then they don’t have to, but I continue my practice out loud to set the example.

 

Gratitude sets the foundation of happiness as you begin to see the joy in the everyday. Happiness ceases to be an experience you seek or a thing to be attained. How many times have you thought, if I just had X then I would be happy, like more money, a house, more vacation time, a better relationship. But even if you attain X, then there is Y and the cycle repeats itself. Studies have proven more stuff doesn’t make us happy, although we do need a baseline level of material comfort by way of food, clothing, shelter—freedom from poverty—to be happy.  For many years I didn’t understand that happiness is actually there in front of you, every single day, for the taking. You just have to be able to see past your own clouded vision, false beliefs and tightly held personal histories that encumber us to grasp it.

 

Gratitude is one small and simple way that I believe can help us not just appreciate the everyday moments in our life and live more fully in the present, but also help us rebalance when knocked off our equilibrium as you begin to appreciate the good things versus dwelling on the negative. But it’s just the beginning. Happiness, especially when you were raised as a pessimist, is a process not a destination.

 

I am hoping that through our daily gratitude practice, I am instilling my kids with a way of seeing the world that appreciates the good things, an embedded optimism instead of the pessimism I grew up with that took me years to identify and reverse. I hope it will become something they carry with them throughout their lives—a simple prayer of gratitude as their liner notes to life.

 

If you are looking for some resources on happiness, then check out one of my favorite blogs: Raising Happiness.

 

I also enjoy Greater Good—check out this article “What are the Secrets to a Happy Life” and Zen Habits—try the post “The Way of the Peaceful Parent” as a start.

 

This post was inspired by Giselle at Kids Yoga Stories who asked the question: “What makes you and your family happy? What are some activities/rituals/routines/special experiences that you do together that bring happiness? What experience did you have recently that made you all laugh and fill you with joy? What’s an important part of your culture that evokes happiness? What does “happiness” mean to you?” So tell me what makes your family happy! I would love to hear from you.

© 2013, Stephanie Meade. All rights reserved.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Stephanie is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent. She has two Moroccan-American daughters (ages 5 and 6), whom she is raising, together with her husband, bilingual in Arabic and English at home, while also introducing Spanish. After many moves worldwide, she currently lives in Berkeley, California.

Leave us a comment!

6 Comments
  1. CommentsKids Yoga StoriesHappiness Around the World » Kids Yoga Stories   |  Wednesday, 07 August 2013 at 2:30 pm

    […] Stephanie shares a heartfelt, moving story of how her family perceived happiness when she was growing up.  Happiness was linked to material possessions.  Now, as a mom, she has transformed her relationship to happiness and taken on a healthy approach of “choosing” happiness.  Stephanie’s family has a ritual that every night before bed, each family member says what they are grateful for that day.  The only rule is that no one can be interrupted as they are sharing their gratitude.  It is a powerful practice that has proven to have lasting effects on children learning to make happiness a daily habit.  Stephanie also refers to a fabulous book that I loved as well, Raising Happiness by Christine Carter.  The book points to recent research on the positive effects of family dinners.  The research is profound and the book is definitely worth a read. Stephanie Meade InCulture Parent […]

  2. CommentsJonathan   |  Saturday, 10 August 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this and hearing about the fun and creative ways you promote positivity and happiness in your family.

  3. CommentsHeather   |  Friday, 16 August 2013 at 11:51 am

    Great piece. Small suggestion: I don’t think the stock photographs serve the integrity and voice in the writing on the site. Maybe you guys could do without images unless it’s a real one from the writer?

  4. CommentsThe Editors   |  Sunday, 18 August 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Hi Heather- appreciate the feedback and totally agree with you on this one. It is too stock photo-y and glossy and I didn’t have any good ones of my kids and I for it….still looking though. Most writers don’t submit photos and not using photos wouldn’t really work as pinterest drives a lot of our traffic and without a photo, you aren’t findable there. Plus the majority of people prefer photos I believe. But we’ll keep your comment in mind when photo searching in the future!

  5. CommentsThe Editors   |  Monday, 19 August 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks for reading Jonathan!

  6. Commentsrebecca at thisfineday   |  Saturday, 14 September 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Great post! I thought you may enjoy how our family documents our happiness daily :-) It took me a long time to realize what you have described above and now that I have, I feel so much lighter. I love that I didn’t grow up this way (as you did not) but we still found it!

    http://thisfineday.com/blog/2013/6/23/how-do-you-follow-your-happiness









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