Like any parent, you want to raise a happy child, and research tells us you can take steps to do that. One of those steps, and arguably the most important, is getting yourself on the happier end of the emotional spectrum. Put simply, happy children tend to come from happy homes, and you are the center of that home.
If you’re familiar with our BabySparks program, you know that our early experiences lay the groundwork for many outcomes, including whether or not happiness comes easily. Genetics can also play a role. Still, studies show that although it takes time and consistent practice, you can improve your mood and outlook.
The key is to create “happiness habits.” There are plenty of science-backed ways to do this, but like any habit they require focus and repetition. It’s the old muscle adage: Use it or lose it.
Speaking of muscles, exercise is always a good idea for many reasons, including increasing mood-boosting chemicals in your brain. But these five suggestions are easier, less sweaty ways to start moving the needle on your happiness level:
1) Spend time with happy people. Thanks to the discovery of “mirror neurons” in the brain, we’ve learned that happiness-inducing actions like laughter are contagious. Consistently spending time with upbeat people can lift your mood. This doesn’t mean connecting with friends who are on the serious side isn’t also valuable. Read on to find out why.
2) Cultivate close relationships. A 75-year Harvard University study found that the single most powerful piece of the happiness puzzle is relationships. Put simply, if you have people in your life that you love, and you love each other well, you will be happier. So whether it’s giggling with a funny friend, having a deep talk with a serious one, or nurturing your marriage or connection with your children, relationships matter. A lot.
3) Give thanks. Again and again, studies have established a strong link between gratitude and happiness. A simple way to reap the happiness benefits of gratitude is to keep a notebook next to your bed and write down 3 things you feel grateful for before you fall asleep each night. Other things that do the trick: Expressing gratitude to people in a heartfelt way. Text a friend to let her know you’re thankful for her friendship. Tell your partner you appreciate him or her. Mention to the neighborhood kid who mows your lawn how much you value the work he does.
4) Spin the story. Instead of beating themselves up for making mistakes, happy people tend to weave self-compassion and silver linings into the stories of their lives. The work of world-renowned researcher Kristin Neff has established that self-compassion is correlated with feeling content and fulfilled. Instead of criticizing yourself for a parenting moment gone awry, for instance, tell yourself that all parents stumble, you’re doing your best, and you’re learning along the way.
5) Compare carefully. As Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Not surprisingly, research shows that comparing yourself to people you believe have better lives than you makes you feel bad. This effect is exacerbated by social media, where the illusion of a better life is easily curated. What makes people feel better? Comparing themselves to people worse-off than they are. Spend less time measuring your value against the so-called supermoms, and instead give yourself a perspective-check by remembering that plenty of people in the world would love to have your life!
While practicing these research-backed suggestions can set you on a happier path, they may not be enough for everyone. If you suffer from clinical depression, postpartum depression, anxiety, addiction or another similar issue, you may need to enlist the help of a doctor, a therapist, or both.