One mom's pursuit of happiness can make you happier, too ... no Prozac required.
Gretchen Rubin, mom of two, is a best-selling writer whose new book, The Happiness Project, is an account of the year she spent test-driving studies and theories about how to be happier. She sat down with momlogic to share her top happiness tips for moms.
Momlogic: What is the secret of happiness for moms?
Gretchen: One of the things moms often focus on is what their children should do differently. Instead, focus on what you can do differently.
Identify what's not working in your household. For us, the mornings were not working. I realized I had to go to sleep earlier so I could wake up before my two daughters woke up. That way, I could be organized for the day by the time they got out of bed, and wouldn't be playing catch-up.
I tried to keep things tidier. I realized I was racing around the house in the morning trying to tidy up, and it was stressing me out. So I started tidying up the night before, and that would make me feel much more calm in the morning.
ML: What are some other parenting truths you discovered during your Happiness Project?
Gretchen: There are so many! Here are four:
• Acknowledge the reality of how people feel. I would tell my children that they didn't feel how they said they felt all the time -- "You don't need another Polly Pocket"; "You're not afraid of clowns"; "You're not hungry" -- but this is how they were feeling!
Acknowledge the point of view. Say: "Wow, you really feel like you really don't want to go to that parade because you think you'll be scared." You just say what they say and acknowledge their feelings. Sometimes that's all it takes, and it makes a huge difference.
• Reframe the way you look at things. Instead of thinking, "I hate doing this," say, "I love doing this." For instance, I hated taking my kids to the pediatrician -- but then I realized I love taking my kids to the pediatrician. I asked myself: "If my mother-in-law told me she was going to take my kids to the pediatrician from now on and I couldn't do it anymore, how would I feel?" I would feel terrible! I realized this is something I love doing for my kids.
When my youngest daughter's birthday came around, I thought: "I hate buying the invitations!" I'll have to address them, stamp them, send them out -- the whole thing. But then I realized I love buying these invitations! She's four -- how much longer will I be able to buy pink, girly, glittery invitations? Deep down, I love it -- but hadn't even realized that before.
I always thought I hated making the bed, but then I thought: "I love making the bed!" It's easy, and the room looks so much nicer! Reframe your thoughts and tell yourself you love something. It's amazing what a difference it makes.
• Don't do it for your family -- do it for yourself. I am a person who wants praise, appreciation, and the gold star. I didn't always get it. Whether it was doing the family photo albums, cleaning the kitchen, or putting up Christmas decorations, I would want my husband and kids to be appreciative of my efforts, and then I would get resentful when they weren't.
You think you are doing something selfless for your family, but it's really quite selfish if you want the praise for it and get mad when you don't get it.
Now I do things for me.
I say, "I enjoy doing the photo albums because I love doing them." That way, no one else has to be appreciative, and I do them the way I want to do them. It makes me less resentful toward my family -- and I actually enjoy the task much more.
• Corral the chaos. One of the reasons having a kid is so stressful is that they have so much stuff. It's relentless! I got some fancier file boxes from an upscale office supply store. I fitted them both out with a pack of files. I labeled the first file "Baby" and put in some baby memorabilia -- birth announcement, invitation to the first birthday. Then I made a folder for each year of school. I only include a few samples of schoolwork, because I want to limit these files to special items. When the girls are older, I'll include report cards, school programs, and the like.
I also got a glass jar for all the little doodads that infiltrate the house. It sits up on a shelf and holds stuff like tiny pads of paper, magnets, and balls. It's very decorative, and when my kids want to play with the stuff, I just get the jar down for them. When they're done, they scoop everything back up and put it back into the jar. That was a really good solution for us.
ML: Are you happier as a result of your Happiness Project?
Gretchen: I was prepared for the project not to work, but I thought it would make a difference. Even I am surprised by how much happier I am now. You really can make yourself happier without making big changes in your life. That was my goal: To change my life without changing my life. I did that.
ML: What is your advice for busy moms who feel they don't have time to focus on getting happier?
Gretchen: I would say to try one very concrete little thing. For instance: Sing in the morning. It doesn't take any time, and you will see that it makes a difference in your mood. It's very hard to be crabby when you're singing, and it really changes the atmosphere in your house.
Next, try getting up twenty minutes earlier. Then make your bed in the mornings. Little by little, make the changes. As a change helps you become happier, you'll feel energized to do other things. It's not like New Years' resolutions -- where you want to do a big thing, can't sustain it, then give up. Pick one super little thing and give it a try.
ML: Anything else you would recommend for moms?
Gretchen: I would recommend a great resource. The all-time greatest parenting book is a book called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. It's great for dealing with children and people in general. It's so practical. Everyone I've ever recommended it to loves it.
ML: Did your Happiness Project make your kids and husband happier?
Gretchen: When I was doing this project, I realized you can only change yourself. But when I was happier, my husband and kids were happier. When I became calmer and more light-hearted, my family did, too. When I stopped nagging, they felt less harassed. When I stopped rushing them, they had more fun. So it's been a great thing for my family as a whole -- and we're all much happier.