“I am the only one who can give my children a happy mother who loves life” Janene Wolsey Baadsgard
Sometimes seeing a simple truth in black and white can bring more clarity than many years of contemplation. This powerful and unapologetic quote has had such a profoundly positive effect on my outlook that since reading it a few months ago I’ve been intentionally reminding myself of it almost daily. It struck such a chord with me, shaking long held emotional beliefs loose while challenging me to ask myself the question; as a parent, is happiness a responsibility rather than a luxury?
Like most people, I’ve spent my life pursuing the elusive Western definition of happiness. As a teenager I wanted to become a veterinarian. I studied hard and thought my acceptance into veterinary college would instantly equate to happiness. And it did. But soon after graduating my relationship fell apart. I went into an emotional tailspin – I’d lost the man I thought I would marry. If I could win him back, I’d be happy. And I did and I was and we got married. But then we couldn’t conceive a baby. If only we could find a way to get pregant, I’d be happy. And we did, and I was.
Yet even now, as I have all the key ingredients I need in my life to be happy, including freedoms and privileges that many people in the world can only dream of, I still seem to find daily excuses to delay my own happiness. A few years ago I saw a brilliant yet undefinable natural healing guru who exposed hidden emotional blocks through a form of ancient massage. She, like this quote, always shook something loose in me. The biggest revelation I came to while seeing her was a personal subconscious belief that I only deserved to be happy when everyone else in my life was also happy, secure and fulfilled. Until they were, I simply wouldn’t give myself permission to shine as brightly as I possibly could.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Serenity Prayer
Saying it out loud immediately unveiled the fatal flaws of such a belief. Worrying about life’s circumstances of those I love, but over which I have no control is a dangerous, never-ending and pointless game to play. And now that I have a son the stakes are so much higher. For me, this quote is a stark reminder, clearly delivering the message that as a parent happiness is no longer a luxury I can take my time pursuing but an urgent and tangible responsibility. I owe it to my insanely happy child to proactively take control of my own happiness so that I don’t dim the lights that shine so brightly within his naturally optimistic soul.
“The most profound thing we have to offer our children is our own healing.” Anne Lamott
So how much of my happiness can I control? Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, suggests that our happiness is determined by three key factors; 50 percent genetics, 10 percent life’s circumstances (where we live, the quality of our love lives, financial security) and the remaining 40 percent is completely within our own control (how we think and choose to behave).
I’m incredibly grateful to be in a position of relative privilege where I have considerable control over my life’s circumstances; I’m acutely aware that most people don’t enjoy the first world problem of determining where they’d like to live for example. So that means I can control at least 50 percent of my personal happiness. I find that knowledge reaffirming; never having been a fatalistic person I strongly believe we make our own luck, control our own destinies and shape our lives through our actions not our words.
So I am committed to taking action. To focusing on those things over which I have the power to positively influence. I’m seeking out experiences that spark joy in my life. The simple things, such as being mindful, creating downtime and white space. Riding my bike. Swimming in the ocean. Hiking in wild places. Prioritizing time with people who inspire and uplift me. And being satisfied with what I already have.
It may all sound cliche. How many times have we heard that practicing gratitude, living in the moment and meditating can boost our happiness? But sometimes cliches are true. Perhaps where they fail is when we overlook the opportunity to make them a habit. When we fail to recognize protecting our happiness is serious business. Life ain’t a dress rehearsal. We don’t get a second chance. And as I approach a milestone birthday I am committed to taking my happiness more seriously. It’s not a luxury. Feeling guilty for being happy when others are still finding their way serves no purpose. And if I ever doubt or waver, I have a three-foot-tall physical reminder who I owe it to, to give it my best shot.
After all, I am the only one who can give my son a happy mother. If I don’t, who will