Are you happier now that you are a parent? According to some studies, it’s not likely. Florida State University sociology professor Robin Simon created a stir with her suggestion that “bundle of joy” is perhaps inaccurate for most parents.
“Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers,” noted Simon, whose parenting study concluded folks with the significantly greatest emotional well-being were those who had never had children.
Wait a second! Can all those baby shampoo commercials with shiny happy moms bathing smiling, sweet children be wrong?
Sure, kids trigger negative emotions. But Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, suggests that although kids may not increase our average daily enjoyment, “they bring transcendent moments that outweigh all the hard work.”
How do we tap into more of those “transcendent moments”? These tips may help.
1. Sleep more
“Put on your own oxygen mask first and then help those around you” is how author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents Christine Carter terms it. Taking care of your family takes a lot out of you. You’ve heard “nap when baby naps” a million times, but it’s important. It’s tempting to stay up when the house is peaceful, but try to go to sleep at a decent hour. If possible, work out a shift schedule to get up with your infant, so you can bank on some good chunks of undisturbed sleep. Try to sleep an extra hour each night and watch the magical effect a less tired, new and improved you has on your family.
2. Recognize parenting is stressful
It’s easy to feel guilt for all those moments you don’t feel happy, but it’s completely normal. In their book The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living, Russ Harris and Steven Hayes say feeling unhappy does not mean you are defective. “The normal thinking processes of a healthy human mind will naturally lead to psychological suffering. You’re not defective; your mind’s just doing what it evolved to do.” Happiness doesn’t mean eliminating negative feelings; it’s about being prepared to cope with those feelings.
3. Communicate better with your partner
Parenting is stressful on a relationship. In Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, psychologists Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener remind us that the quality of our lives will suffer if we neglect to develop all the aspects of our true psychological wealth – one of which is loving relationships. Encourage each other. Talk about the highs and low of raising kids. Laugh at the daily craziness that is family life!
4. Think gratitude
It’s more than saying grace at mealtime. Counting your blessings every day helps you remember happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. Carter writes, “We can teach our children happiness habits, such as consciously practicing gratitude. Most important, we can model happiness in ourselves.”
5. Write a note expressing your gratitude
When you have a free moment, leave the note on your kid’s pillow – and, if your child is young, read it aloud. See the big picture. Gilbert says, “It’s easy to get caught up in the details, but you need to step back and realize how empty your life would be without these people in it.”
This post was originally published in 2010 and has been updated for 2016.