What is happiness? Is it a moment? A mood? There have been plenty of studies that tell tired and stressed parents that their lack of happiness is down to some careless and messy creatures dominating their home. But is this true? Not at all! Research has shown that parenthood is good for happiness, so what does a parent need to do to be happy and keep their joy? Here are seven happy habits gleaned from researchers, and from a group of parents who shared their views on what makes them happy.
1. Accept the crazy side of life
Research recently published by Kate Nelson and Sonia Lyubomirsky with the American Psychological Association found that parents are unhappy because they have much stronger negative emotions tied to "magnified financial problems, more sleep disturbance and troubled marriages." However, they are greeted with "happiness and joy" when they "experience greater meaning in life...greater positive emotions, and enhanced social roles." Simply put, parents may have some low moments, but when your children do something wonderful or achieve something special, the happiness this brings is far greater for a parent than a non-parent. A bad day can be instantly transformed just because of your kids.
Jon Tullett, father of two twin boys, says that what makes him happy is: “Spending time with my kids. It doesn’t really matter how bad a day it’s been – just let it go and enjoy their fascination with the world, and it’s a little oasis of happiness.”
2. Cut the stress
In her book "Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs", Ellen Galinsky asked the children of a thousand families what wish they would like to make related to their parents. The result? Children wish their parents would be less tired and stressed.
For parents in need of ideas on how to do that, just follow the advice of Alec Meer, father to a two-year-old daughter: “One thing we do after the stressful insanity of a day looking after a manic two-year-old is over, is we look at photos of her. With space to breathe it helps us remember, appreciate and talk about how amazing she is.”
3. Live in the now
A report by the CDC found that 94 per cent of parents think that having a child is worth it, regardless of the costs. So stop thinking about tomorrow and worrying about next week and live in the now.
“The times when I’m happiest as a parent are when I am fully present in that moment,” says Shelli Nurcombe-Thorne, mother of a teenage girl. “Whether chatting about the day, playing card games or board games or doing something bigger like a day out. Especially as mums we try to multi-task so much that we often end up feeling frazzled and not truly present. I also think that one-on-one dates with each child is one of my best times with them. Oh, and getting spontaneous hugs."
4. Put yourself first
Parents often think that they need to set aside their own dreams and moments of peace in favour of their kids. They end up feeling tired and frazzled and stretched. This doesn’t mean that the highly involved parent is unhappy. According to research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, parents who spend a lot of time with their kids, regardless of age, and get very involved in their lives are actually happier and more fulfilled. However, taking time out for yourself means you replenish your happiness levels and centre yourself, and that’s never a bad thing.
“That rare perfect cup of tea, making time to read...[spending time] in the sunshine in the garden just doing nothing while the kids play, getting a moment to watch Neighbours on my own, these all make me a happier person and parent,” says Siobhan O’Neill, mother of one tween and one teen.
Nicholas Callegari, father of two, adds: “My Harley. I mean, don’t get me wrong, family is important and brings happiness, but if I truly want to clear my mind I climb on my bike and ride.”
5. Enjoy what you made
Your kids are something special. There's nobody else like them in the world. Happiness can be found in each and every moment spent with them.
“Watching my child play when he can’t see me, even just kicking a ball around the garden, at eight he’s so focused on what he’s doing at that moment it can be mesmerising,” says Simon Kensington-Fellows, father of one. “I watch and wonder and dream about all the possibilities ahead of this wondrous life and that makes me happy and joyful.”
“I am still excited at the end of every day to go and meet my son from school and I really hope that I never lose that,” says Kelly Rose Bradford, mother of one teenage boy.
6. Do something together
Research has found that child-centric parents gain more happiness from their children than parents who don’t give them as much focused attention. The study, entitled "Parents Reap What They Sow", found that child-centric parents experienced plenty of joy.
"Spending time together is the key to an open, honest, understanding and happy relationship between parents and teenagers," says Ingrid Lotze, mother to two teens. "It doesn't matter what it is - sharing time together on the way to a sports event, cooking together, raking the leaves, or simply cloud gazing are all opportunities to connect as human beings. When we as parents stop trying to fix and rescue our teenagers and start listening and seeing our youngsters as interesting human beings, then the mutual happy place comes to life."
7. Relish being a parent
Being a parent is hard work. It can make you tired and grumpy. You will lock yourself in the bathroom to hide from the kids and you’ll probably make a funny noise in your throat when they find you in there anyway. But you also get to be grateful for the fact that they are in your life.
"Being the mother of a teenager is like dating," says Natalie Rohrmoser, mother to one teenager boy. "Sometimes you send out a feeler and the teenager sends back the unspoken message of being 'just not that into you'. It becomes about when they are in the mood to connect and relax together and he invites me into his world. I get invited to lie and chat in the dark and talk about everything under the sun. So you store up a pocket of happiness until the next fortuitous collision."
“This is really cheesy, but I really liked it,” says Murray Geddes, dad of three. “I was visiting friends and before the meal everyone said something that they were thankful for today. It could be something as little as being able to have a meal with the whole family out in the sun. A simple, but effective daily reminder that there’s often more to be happy about than not.”
This article was commissioned via NewsCred's NewsRoom and written by freelance contributor Tamsin Oxford.