Today we are so excited to share this amazing post from Thomasin McCoy (PhD) and Cindy Anderson (PhD, APBB, founders of Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants. This post is Part 4 of our January Series entitled “Live The Life You’ve Imagined”. If, by chance, you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 of this series, be sure to click on them and enjoy! For today, Thomasin and Cindy are sharing some great ways to be good, happy parents!
When our practice opened its doors 4 ½ years ago, our vision was to offer a different experience to parents and families. We wanted to focus on good things, uplift parents, inspire children, and provide them hope. We wanted to help people find joys in life, and stay strong through adversity.
This year, we have been offering a series of presentations to schools and communities on mindfulness, resiliency, and joyfulness. It has been wonderful to learn and grow with the parents in our community. In our work, we have reviewed articles, surveyed parents, and met with teachers and community members. Here are some of the things we have learned about being happier, more joyful, and better parents.
1) Happiness is an active experience. Happiness can encompass a variety of positive emotions, such as: joy, love, kindness, peace, gratitude, acceptance, satisfaction and contentment. It is something to work for. Happiness does not mean always being happy and never feeling sad.
2) We cannot wait for circumstances to be “just right” so that happiness will set in. If we strive first for happiness, rather than waiting for things to be perfect, we will be more likely to experience other positive outcomes. We need to find joys in the present, or in the moment, even though adversities are present. Helen Keller, a woman who experienced great challenges, once said, “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content”.
3) People are not good at predicting how we will feel about future events. Research has found that people overestimate the impact of potential future events–both positive and negative–on their emotional well-being. We expect endless joy and immeasurable satisfaction from promotions, new homes, and sports outcomes. We expect that faced with the death of a loved one, a job loss, or a breakup we will experience such despair that we won’t be able to go on. But what we know from research and from insights into the lives of those who have borne unthinkable tragedies and unspeakable pain and suffering (such as survivors of concentration camps) is that we, as humans, have a great capacity for enduring difficulty—and to not only keep going, but to grow, make meaning, and be happy—sometimes, not in spite of what we have been through, but because of it.
4) We need to practice happiness habits ourselves in order to promote happiness in our children. We must first care for ourselves, because, quite literally, our kids’ happiness depends on it: we need to practice self-care so that we are able to care for our children in the way that we want to. Another important reason for practicing self-care and “putting on our own oxygen masks first” is because our children are keen observers of our behavior, and it is what we do, not what we say, that has the most profound impact on our children’s learning.
5) Aside from our jobs of living, parenting is one of the most difficult things we will ever do. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. It is important to acknowledge our challenges and know we are not alone. Comparing ourselves to others, it turns out, is bad for our happiness (and perhaps our relationships, too). Everyone is different (unique and very special) and has her own struggles with which to contend. By supporting other parents, and showing compassion to them, you will also find contentment.
6) Happiness is found within us, not in the material world. Research suggests that extrinsic goals (for money, status, and image) lead to less happiness, less life satisfaction, and more anxiety and depression. Intrinsic goals, such as goals for personal growth or making the world a better place, in contrast, are associated with more vitality, and less stress. Surprisingly, once basic needs are met, happiness does not continue to rise with increasing money.
7) Gratitude matters. A simple practice that can help us to shift our focus from what we don’t have to what we do have is counting our blessings or generating a “gratitude list” at the end of each day. (And yes, there are apps for this). People who are more grateful sleep better, exercise better, and do a better job finding joy in life.
8) It is important for us to try to make the present a priority, even for a few moments each day. We can do this by trying a few simple things, such as noticing our environment for a few minutes each day. For example, we can practice noticing the sounds, sights, and smells of the world on the walk from your car to your office/home every day. It may take practice, but trying to absorb the joys our children provide rather than feeling pressured to get to the next task can be life-changing. Even smiling, laughing, skipping, jumping, dancing, and clapping can bring about important neurochemical changes that help us to feel happier and help us make the most of our experiences.
9) When thinking about how to help our children be happy, remember that little things matter. The joys of life really are in the small things; small moments, here and there, that over a lifetime add up to be very meaningful. If we think back, our happiest childhood memories are likely to be things like sitting at the kitchen table, in front of a rain-pelted bay window, reading the conclusion of a beloved book with a parent, rather than an expensive family trip (where our parents were probably stressed and there was pressure to have the “best time ever”).
So, in 2014, we encourage all parents to find compassion for yourselves and for other moms and dads. Find the simple joys and little things in your own lives that matter. Be grateful and be generous. Enjoy the present moment. And be prepared to have a happier year, and hopefully a happier life.
Dr. McCoy and Dr. Anderson are child psychologists at Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants in Coralville, Iowa. They practice with Dr. Amy Carroll-Collins, an adult psychologist. You can reach them at (319) 358-6520 or visit their website at www.hopespringsbc.com for additional articles, resources, and information. You can also follow them on Twitter or like Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants on Facebook.