Reclaiming Happiness in Motherhood

A new study is making the rounds and telling us what we already know. Early parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment, or losing a spouse. Becoming a parent tends to make us extremely unhappy. Of course if creates many other amazing emotional experiences, but parenthood makes it much harder to be happy. 

As a society, we are all super confused about what happiness even is in the first place, so it's no wonder we have a hard time finding it. And we're sold many solutions, do-this-then-that's promising to make us happy. But most of these solutions fail to create any lasting sense of well-being. 

But for mothers, I think things get even more confusing.

The cultural messages about what is supposed to make us happy are everywhere.

Being reminded, "They're only young once" = Happy Mom!

Tidy lunch boxes = Happy Mom!  

Chocolate flavored fat-free yogurt = Happy Mom!

In my work, I meet the most amazing, brilliant, beautiful, creative women and they each struggle silently with the secret that what's 'supposed' to be making them happy isn't really doing the trick. 

Here's why - Happiness comes from having certain experiences that are hard to come by in motherhood. 

Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at University of Pennsylvania found that people who experienced a stable sense of 'Happiness' regularly pursued these five things in their lives: 

1. Pleasure  

emotional and sensory experiences that you enjoy

2. Flow

a sense of being so fully engaged in something you enjoy that you aren't distracted by your thoughts or other stimuli

3. Meaning

believing that your actions are contributing to something important and larger than yourself

4. Positive Relationships

being in regular contact with people who stimulate, nurture and support you

5. Accomplishment

feeling like you've done something well and completely 

When I share this list with my clients, they are shocked at how little their lives reflect these five qualities. You may have one or two going well, but often the others are non-existent. 

One thing I love about this model of happiness is that it isn't about following any prescribed method of WHAT you should do. You don't have to wake up early, unless doing so helps cultivate one of more of these qualities for you. You don't have to meditate, unless it fulfills one of these for you. 

You get to be the decider, to lead with your own desires and needs and discern what experiences and ways of relating bring these five qualities into your life

The other wonderful thing about these ingredients is that you can find them in the mundane, everyday tasks of your busy life. 

Tonight, knowing I'd be writing this piece, I thought of these five qualities while putting my boys to bed. When I sang them their last song, A Hole in the Bucket, I was able to find each of these qualities. 

I found PLEASURE in sitting in the comfy rocking chair in the dark and quiet. 

I allowed myself to find FLOW in the singing, although I am no good at it, I let myself feel it in my chest and throat and was able to be totally in it for a few moments. 

I found MEANING in imagining my boys having memories of their mom singing their favorite song to them each night while they drifted off to sleep. 

I was engaged in a POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP with them as I sang, giving and receiving their quiet attention and full trust. 

I felt ACCOMPLISHMENT that I got through another day, balancing a business and a family and everything else. It was done and it was good. 

I have found that is a courageous act for a mother to prioritize these qualities in her life. Our culture still isn't totally comfortable with women deciding for themselves what they need in order to be well, and be happy. 

Where can you be courageous?

Which of these five qualities - PLEASURE, FLOW, MEANING, POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS, ACCOMPLISHMENT - are you most excited to cultivate in your life right now? What specific actions could you take today to bring that one quality to life?

Leave a comment sharing your desire and commitment and I'll be sure to respond with some concrete suggestions for how to make the most of your experiment!