I had a bit of a breakthrough this year with happiness, and I want to share it with you.
I’m not sure what it was, maybe because it was a lot of different things, but I definitely haven’t been as continuously happy over the past few years as I have perhaps been known to be.
Let’s be honest: the older you get, the more responsibilities you have. The more responsibilities you have, the more of your day you spend doing the things you “have” to do, and the less time you have to do the things you “want” to do. For me, it was work, then babies, then babies and work. I found myself desperately stretching my arms out with the hopes of grabbing on to some spare time. Two hours to lay on the couch and watch Netflix. An hour to think and let my thoughts run around and then settle down. An afternoon at the mall.
I even have the winters off, and I still have felt that same unhappiness creep in as soon as the spring busyness emerges. Everything seems to happen all at once, we work a lot and things get stressful and difficult.
My husband called me on my misery and basically didn’t give me the option of acting unhappy. I was mad at him for saying it, thinking that he didn’t understand how much I had to do when he worked such long hours all season long.
I had found myself in the deep rut of very often holding happiness an arm’s length out of reach. I put my happiness in different boxes. Happiness was vacations, parties and gatherings with friends, a two-hour block of time when my kids are asleep and I can do whatever I want. Happiness was coffee with my husband in the morning, the opportunity to go to a yoga class, the opportunity to get dressed up for something. The problem is that these things don’t happen all the time. They maybe happen once a week or in some cases, once a month, or in terms of vacation, once a year. Does that mean that for all the rest of the time, I am condemned to being miserable?
Then one day a voice inside said, “Christina, you’ve got to learn how to be happy all the time. Otherwise, what's the point?”
Somehow that simple lesson was not one I had learned.
Just because you are doing things you have to do doesn’t mean you can’t have fun doing them. I learned to find enjoyment in those things. It started with finding a couple of things that I was thankful for while running errands with the kids or cleaning my house. I was thankful that we have enough money to buy food, and I was thankful for big, bright grocery stores with so much food to choose from. I was thankful for the peaceful feeling I get when I am at home, and how much I love the feeling of clean floors when I walk on them (for five minutes until the kids walk into the house with sandy feet, but that is something that I haven’t found happiness in yet, so ignore that).
I learned to accept the fact that my life is structured the way it is right now and that’s OK—it's good, even! I learned to accept each moment I was in, and to appreciate all of the good things. I held up a positively bright candle and found happiness in dark corners. I learned to laugh with my kids and enjoy the phase of life that I’m in with them right now knowing that they are growing up so fast. I have started looking at my kids through the sad and longing eyes of the elderly people who look at my kids in the grocery store or the bank and say, “Oh, they grow up so fast” and “Enjoy this stage” and “Wait until they are teenagers!” (This was hard to do because I usually just disagree with these elderly people in my mind because they have clearly forgotten how difficult it is to raise small children.)
I threw away the mindset that when I’m taking care of my kids, it’s “work” and not necessarily what I “want” to do and try to remember my childhood, the special memories I had, and what kinds of memories we are constantly creating for our kids.
I thoughtfully appreciate all the things about the job I have and the people I work with. I appreciate the challenges and the relationships, the variety and the laughter.
Something really interesting happened when my mindset shifted: free time just seemed to emerge and instead of seeming like a limited resource, it became more than enough. I think this was because I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t always have a ton of free time, and also because I started enjoying all aspects of my day so much that I didn’t feel like I needed free time in the same way.
I found happiness in the moments, in the "right now."
Having things to look forward to is great, and of course it’s not all rainbows and sunshine with my kids, and of course I have to deal with things I’d rather not deal at work and with Joel's business. But if I think of those things as moments in time that will be over as quickly as the good moments, and things that help me to appreciate the good things that much more, and things that build strength and provide opportunities for growth, they don’t affect me in the same way they would if I was generally unhappy. To an unhappy person, every ounce of negativity is just another rock to add to an already heavy burden, but to a happy person, negativity is like a few pebbles that can be easily brushed away.
I still do the typical mom things like lose my temper with my kids and then feel guilty, or dread the late Friday afternoon Costco shopping trip with my kids and feel relief when it’s over (i.e. when everything is unpacked). I still get quite hormonal and feel like the world is crashing down on me on a monthly basis, and I still feel like I routinely start to fall apart by Saturday afternoon after a hard week. What has changed is my moment-to-moment mindset. That mindset is everything.
If you can light a candle and look into the corners for happiness, you will find it. It’s there, and it has the capacity to multiply into even more happiness. That happiness is the fuel that will help you not only get through your day, your week, your month (or even your year), but to enjoy the time, be enriched by the experiences and feel grateful for the moments.