So, how can YOU be a happier mom?

happy

my mug (a gift from Sarah!) is one little thing that makes me happy.

Recently, a reader named Lily sent me an email, and graciously agreed to allow me to post it here. Lily said:
“I envy you and other moms who can be happy most days taking care your children.  In the beginning of motherhood, I suffered from post-partum depression which was the first time since I can remember that I really felt down to the bottom.  I have been off anti-depressants for over a year now and have hoped that I can feel happy and peace with my daughter (who’s 2 year old) but in reality, I’m still struggling to find that ‘connection’, that ‘happiness’.  Therefore, I’d like to know how do you continuous to be happy with 5 children?  I understand it’s not peachy everyday but how do you keep sane and zen being a mom, wife, and with a full-time job?  It seems incredible to me.”
Lily’s question got me thinking: What does it mean, really, to be happy? Is happiness available to all of us?
 
When I first started The Happiest Mom, almost exactly four years ago, I attempted to define what being “a happy mom” means to me, and my personal definition still stands. Here’s what I wrote:
When I say I’m a happy mom, it doesn’t necessarily mean “I am currently in a state of bliss due to the awesomeness of motherhood as it is currently being experienced by me.” Oh no. I don’t mean that at all.
 

It’s more a state of overall satisfaction and contentedness, where even the self-replicating mound of laundry, even the needy phase my three-year-old is going through in which he wakes up the baby 12 times a day out of boredom or some kind of mom-sabotage, and even the rage I felt half an hour ago when I found one of MY Ghiardelli milk chocolate squares with caramel inside melted to the sofa (they weren’t supposed to have it at all but for the love of all that is holy why didn’t they at least EAT it once they got it open?)…where even in spite of all those things, I can look objectively at my life and feel pretty satisfied with it.

So, that leads us to the more important question, which is, how? How do you get from wherever you are, if it’s a sad/stressed/lonely/exhausted place, to a better place? How do you get to the point where you can look objectively at your life and feel content, even in the face of day-to-day pressures and crises?

I don’t think I can write anyone else’s formula, because so much of this is personal. And I do think some of that ability to “be happy” is a personality thing, and not one that’s necessarily easy to change. I am a resilient person, and always have been. It is relatively easy for me to let things roll off my back.

But while an easy-going tendency has been part of my nature as long as I can remember, I still have to work on making those best parts of me shine, or it’s only too easy to let negativity start to take over. On the other hand, somebody who is naturally prone to less optimism or more melancholy – or who, like Lily, is prone to depression – might have a rockier road to their own definition of happiness.

I wish I could tell Lily or any reader who’s struggling some sure-fire way to find their magical happy place as a mom, but so much is dependent on your circumstances, your personality, and where you are in your life. All I can tell you is what has helped me most:

  • Time. When things are really rough, there is almost always an easier time around the bend. Much of my early-motherhood melancholy was cured by simply being a mom longer, figuring out how to do it with confidence, and moving out of certain challenging stages (for me, the period from about 12 months to 2 years old was always the worst.) As I had more kids, I became better able to deal with rough times because I remembered that they always pass.
  • Small strategies. When I say that things like making your bed and taking a shower can make you a happier mom, I’m not being facetious. Adding structure, routine, and self-care to my days…day after day after day…has absolutely helped me face every morning with more optimism and contentment.
  • Finding pleasure in little things. Another cliche, right? But it’s true that turning small routines into soothing, pleasurable rituals (like my morning cup of tea) help me structure my life and leaves me feeling calmer and more peaceful.
  • Good friends. Having a strong tribe – whether that’s an online community or an in-real-life group of friends – has been absolutely essential to my happiness as a mom. Loneliness, isolation, and the stress of having no one to call on when you need help are major happiness busters, and good friends are the cure.
  • A clean(ish) house. It might seem superficial, but I start to shut down when things are too messy, and I’ll do what I need to do – including hiring help during busy times – to make sure my surroundings are reasonably tidy and clean. (Emphasis on the “reasonably” – I’m not a neat freak and dust bunnies love my house, but I need clean spaces and clear surfaces to function.)
  • Living with purpose. This one is hard to define. I suppose what I mean is that, I feel like the things I do from day to day have meaning, and are helping me live the kind of life I want to live.

About that last one: it’s a pretty big idea, I know. But so important. People love to say “let go of guilt” but I think this is impossible to do if you aren’t sure which direction you should be sailing your ship (or are totally sure that you aren’t steering it in the direction that feels right for you.)

This is where individual priorities come into play: if I were spending eight hours a day working at a job that was nothing more than a paycheck, I would not be happy, because loving my work is very important to me. On the other hand, you might place financial stability at a higher priority, in which case you may be perfectly content working “just a job” and watching your retirement account grow while pursuing things that interest you in your hours off.
 
The “living with purpose” piece is so personal, but I think it’s the #1 most important part to lasting, overall happiness. I have lots of little strategies that help me get through the day, but unless those days, all put together, are adding up to something I feel good about, I’m just not going to love my life.
 
On the other hand, some days, particularly in those intense early months and years of parenthood,  just getting by is good enough! Here are some more posts I’ve written on establishing routines and keeping your wits about you that might help in the day-to-day:
I’ve got another post brewing about how to live with purpose, because I think it’s the number-one key to overall contentment. I’ll share it with you soon.
 
Do you have your own “secrets” to happiness? What do you struggle with most?
 

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