Tag Archives: Happiness

Creating happiness in ourselves and in our children

Kindness Matters

Historically, we have been much more interested in learning why people do bad things than why they do good. There are countless studies on what makes us feel bad or behave badly, what causes various psychological disorders, even what causes evil….but there has been very little interest in studying the science of happiness.

Fortunately, the pendulum is swinging. Scientists are now turning their attention to the brighter side of life. Goodness, happiness, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, altruism, mindfulness, meditation, prayer…formerly the territory of churches, synagogues, and kitchen tables, are now becoming the subjects of scientific research. And there are no surprises in the findings. Intuitively we already know the answers. Of course altruism is good for us. It makes us feel good. It improves our emotional well-being and we are now learning that it improves our physical well-being as well.

Research indicates that happy people are more generous (generous of spirit, time and money). But also, generosity makes us happier. It is a positive feedback loop that can only lead to better things. It reminds me of a song we used to sing when I was a child:

Love is something if you give it away,

give it away, give it away

Love is something if you give it away

You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny.

Hold it tight and you won’t have any.

Lend it, spend it and you’ll have so many,

they’ll roll all over the floor.

For, love is something if you give it away,

give it away, give it away

Love is something if you give it away

You end up having more.

So don’t forget that this is something in your toolkit. I know you are busy. I know you are overwhelmed. I know you can’t possibly add anything else to your plate. But if you practice compassion (genuinely wanting to relieve the suffering of others) and altruism (an act that benefits another person) on a regular basis it will positively impact your well-being. It will help decrease your stress, improve your health and make you feel better. Include your children in the process and it will teach them kindness as well.

You don’t have to devote a lot of time and energy to make a difference to others. A little help can go a long way and you will be modeling positive behavior for your children. Engaging in regular acts of kindness will help your children respond to their own natural instinct to be kind. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let your child pick out a couple of canned goods at the grocery store and drop them in the bins out front for the food bank.
  • Help your child pick out gently used clothes, books or toys from their things and donate them. Talk about the fact that not all children are as lucky as they are.
  • Donate books to the public or school library.
  • Make a pot of soup for a sick friend or relative.
  • Deliver cookies to the fire station or to your school staff.
  • Be kind and friendly to clerks, check-out staff, wait-staff, customer service people.
  • Don’t shield your children from all suffering. When we don’t let them see any suffering in the world we don’t give them the opportunity to develop their empathy and compassion (keep it at a developmentally appropriate level).
  • Help someone load their groceries into their car.
  • Offer to run errands for an elderly neighbor or family member.
  • Offer to spend an afternoon doing house chores for an elderly neighbor or family member.
  • If your child receives allowance help them donate a portion of it to a charity or cause of their choice. See http://www1.networkforgood.org/for-donors/tips-and-tools/kids-guide for a guide to help kids choose a charity.
  • Include a charitable donation as part of a Christmas or birthday gift. At https://www.justgive.org/ you can buy gift cards that can be donated to any non-profit organization. Your recipient can choose the charity. I have included these cards in Christmas stockings.
  • Practice gratitude. Talk about what you are thankful for. Help your children identify what good things happened to them throughout the day. The acts of giving and gracious receiving are closely linked. Help your children participate in both sides of the equation.

So here’s to raising a generation of kind-hearted people!

First Published 2013

15 Nov 2013

School Year’s Resolutions

Labor Day is over; the unofficial end to summer. Another school year has begun. We have new school supplies, new back packs, new shoes and new attitudes. “This year I will get my kids to school on time every single day.” “This year I will always make my son a healthy lunch – no more school lunches.”

I have always thought that New Year’s Resolutions made more sense in the fall. I’ve spent the majority of my life tied to the school year so I guess I’m programmed to think of fall as a time of new beginnings. Do you have resolutions this fall? What are you trying to do differently? What projects are you trying to get done? And what has stopped you from accomplishing it thus far?

There are lots of things that stop us from achieving our goals. Here are few of them:

1. Unrealistic Expectations – You have a to-do list that is three pages long and includes things like “re-finish the kitchen cabinets, plant a garden, read to the children every night, establish a family game night, get more sleep, make my own baby food… If you are trying to (like Mary Poppins) be perfect in every way then you are setting yourself up for failure. Choose one thing to focus on at a time and then break it down into smaller steps.

2. You Don’t Believe You Can Do It - If you don’t believe it’s possible you will sabotage your success. It’s important to get your emotional mind on board. You have achieved many things in your lifetime that have required skills and talents. Inventory your strengths and put them to use.

3. There is Never Enough Time - It’s true. There is never enough time. There will never be enough time to do all the things you want to do. But there is enough time to do some of them. If you decide to make something a priority you will do it. The tough part is that many of us habitually put our own desires (and often our needs) at the bottom of the list.

4. You’re Overwhelmed at the Thought of Adding Something Else to Your Plate - This is a sign that self-care needs to move to the top of your list. That doesn’t mean you need to leave your family for a weekend at the spa (though go for it if you can manage it!). For busy mothers, self-care sometimes means spending 2 minutes by yourself in the bathroom. Savor that cup of coffee in the morning instead of gulping it down without even noticing it. Stop to enjoy the sun on your face for a moment. Go to bed 10 minutes earlier than you did last night.

I struggle with all these issues – sometimes all at once! But I know that change is possible and I know that goals can be achieved. One of my School Year’s Resolutions is to finally start an online support group for you folks. I’ve been thinking about it for 3 years – 3 years! Do you have any projects that have been on the back burner for that long? Or worse, has your own self-care been on the back burner for that long? Are you ready take action – even a teeny, tiny action that you’re sure no-one will notice? Join me and work together in accomplishing something – anything! Watch your email for more details coming soon!

First Published 2013

15 Nov 2013

Are You Teaching Your Children How To Be Happy?

After the birth of my son (oops!  I mean our son), my partner kept telling me I’d changedstork and baby; that I was a whole new person and he didn’t know me anymore.  I vehemently disagreed:  “I’m the same person I’ve always been!  I’m more myself now than I’ve ever been!  I’m being  a mom!  This is what mothers do.  You just don’t know how to make the sacrifices of a parent!”  Never mind that he was a single parent to his six year old son before I met him.  Never mind that he knew me before I had a baby.  Never mind that we used to have intelligent conversations about adult things.  Clearly, he was wrong and he just didn’t understand me.  He just didn’t understand how important and special my (our) baby was.  He didn’t get how important it was to eat the right food, choose the right toys, provide the right experiences, censor out the inappropriate influences… He didn’t understand my need to be the perfect mom.

Now, in my defense, I was probably a little (or a lot) “postpartum-ish.”  I had hormones racing through my body.  I was sleep-deprived.  I was in the throes of that genetically programmed survival-of-the-species, must-protect-baby-at-all-costs thing (I learned a lot of clinical language in graduate school) that happens to new mothers.  Add that to my own I-can-do-everything-by-myself, I-don’t-need-anyone attitude and I’m sure I was a nightmare to live with.  It would have been fine if he didn’t insist on having opinions about things.  If he could have just understood my inherent “rightness” and his obvious “wrongness” we would have had a blissful time in our relationship.  Unfortunately, he could not get on board with that program.  So, we hit a lot of bumps along the way.  But, here we are.

Looking back, I can see that maybe, he was a teeny bit right (don’t tell him I said that).  I had changed.  Not in my attitudes toward motherhood.  I was exactly the kind of mother I thought I’d be.  I was not particularly surprised by the amount of work, the lack of sleep, the shift in all my priorities, the sacrifices I needed to make.  Many women are caught off guard by the demands placed on them by motherhood, but I felt (somewhat) prepared for this (though I believe that there is no way to fully understand the experience of motherhood without being a mother).  I still had my basic personality – with heightened emotional reactivity.  But what happened to all the parts of me that were active before motherhood?  Who was I before I was a mom?  Before every waking breath was about meeting the needs of my family?  Before my name became “Blake’s mom” or “Von’s step-mom?”

Quite simply, and perhaps selfishly, before I had a family my life was about me.  Before family, I was on a quest to deepen my knowledge of myself and others.  I sought experiences that stretched my comfort level, challenged my intellect, inspired my creativity and deepened my understanding of human nature.  I took classes, read books, watched people, traveled when I could.  I sang, danced, meditated, hiked, created art and spent time in nature.  I enjoyed philosophical debates.  I went to the theatre.  I lived a juicy life.

So what happened?  Where did all of that go?  Is it not important anymore?  I spent over 10 years in academia because I love learning.  Now my mental workout consists of keeping schedules straight, helping with homework, and trying to figure out how many ways I can camouflage broccoli.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I love being a mom.  I find it immensely rewarding and I truly believe it is the most important job on the planet.  My children never cease to amuse and amaze me.  And in many regards, my life is fuller than it has ever been.  But I still wonder if I’m not missing something.  I wonder if I have achieved the proper (and ever elusive) “balance.”
There are two things I know (well, I’d like to think I know more than that – but two things of relevance to this particular conversation):

  1. Children learn first and foremost by example.
  2. It is easier for me to be generous of time, energy and spirit when I feel happy.

These are the two biggest arguments I can think of to support the need for a mom to take care of herself – I mean, beyond the basics.  It is not enough to be fed and sheltered.  Mothers need to tend to their hearts.  They need to nurture their happiness with as much care and attention as they give the scraped knees and hurt feelings of their children.  Tending to my own well-being is supremely important to the well-being of my children.

Ok, so now what?  How do we take this from theory into action?  First of all, let me start by saying that I do not have this all figured out.  Plenty of days I can be found disheveled and disoriented dragging my kids through the grocery store and screaming at them to stop touching everything in sight and to give me a moment’s peace so I can figure out what to cook for dinner because we are all starving.  So, I have not yet achieved maternal enlightenment. But I do have a vision of something better.

I know it has to start with the basics and expand from there.  If I am hungry for nourishing food (note “nourishing” – that means protein, vitamins and all that other good stuff), thirsty (our bodies need water – diet coke does not count!) or tired (ok, I know this is a tough one, but we really need to try) I am not a fun mom.  Without taking care of those basic things, I am short-tempered, easily annoyed, have no energy and definitely do not want to go for a walk or play a game of Uno.  So, first we need to take care of our bodies.  But we can’t stop there.  We must also tend to our hearts.

It is true that mothers must sacrifice much of themselves for their families.  But we can’t give it all away.  It is imperative to find ways to replenish ourselves.  Now, a day at the spa or a weekend retreat might do wonders for our sense of well-being.  But it is not always practical and is next to impossible for most new mothers and mothers of young children.  I am talking about a need to integrate self-care into our daily routines.

A few years ago I was at one of those home parties with a sales rep selling skin care products.  As I was sniffing lip balms and trying creams I commented on the futility of me spending a bunch of money on anti-aging skin care because I would never take the time to use all the products.  The sales person looked at me said “if you can’t take six minutes for yourself every night, you have a much bigger problem than skin care.”  Now, I know she was trying to make a sale, but she spoke volumes of truth.  I may not be able to spend a weekend getting pampered, but surely I can find 10 minutes a day to do something nice for myself.

In You Are Your Child’s First Teacher (1989), Rahima Baldwin Dancy suggests a few important ways to increase our vital energy:  sleep (I know I already said that, but it is worth saying twice), creative activity, contact with nature, meditation and/or time alone.  My challenge to you (and me) is to take 10 minutes for yourself today (I will challenge you again tomorrow – but start with today).  First, make sure the kids are safe and occupied.  Get yourself a drink of water.  Find a (relatively) quiet place to be alone (lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to).  If you really want to splurge and feel special, light a candle and put on some tranquil music.  Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths.  Exhale as slowly as you can.  Relax.  That’s it.  Just 10 minutes of quiet time.  If you find yourself making lists in your head of all the things you have to do, that’s ok.  Just gently remind yourself that you can tend to your list in 10 minutes.  Then bring your attention back to your breathing.

Now, I know this is not a magic pill.  This will not end world hunger, fix broken marriages or solve child-rearing dilemmas.  But do this, or something similar, every day and I’ll bet something changes inside you.  You will be one step closer to living the life you imagined for yourself back when you had time to think and daydream.  You will be one step closer to showing your children how to live a fulfilling life.  Isn’t that what you want for them?

I know what I want for my children.  I want them to be actively engaged with the world.  I do not want them to live passively while watching other people have experiences on television.  I want them to live enthusiastically with curiosity and gratitude; to feel deeply, to love fully, to search for truth and to savor every moment.  The best way to ensure that happens is to show them, by example, how to do it.

So, I ask you:  “what is important to you?  What do you want for your children?  What do you want them to value in this world?  What experiences do you want them to have?“  And most importantly, “Are you teaching them, through your example,  how to be happy?”☺

First Published 2007

31 Oct 2013