Are You the Happy Parent?

Happy father with daughter

It turns out, what we bring to parenting impacts our happiness in parenting. That may not be a surprise result of psychological research, but grasping the idea can make a difference in your approach to your job as parent.

As my children are older, I’m honest with them about how difficult parenting can be. I don’t want them to have unrealistic expectations, if they decide to be parents, but I also don’t want them to block all desire to be parents. It’s a hard job—and the hard job is worth it. My 14-year old son is less likely to just accept such talk now, so I decided to dig into the research to figure out if I could tell him how the ideas of “hard job” and “worth it” could go together.

The research turns out to be fascinating—and not at all simple.

I’ve been writing about paths toward happiness with our children over the past month: cultivating compassion, grateful kids, and teaching mindfulness for self control. All of that addresses helping our children to ground their own happiness, though. What about your happiness as a parent?

A study published earlier this year asked “when, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?” Studies that ask a simple question of “Are parents more or less happy than non-parents” contradict one another. This study (Nelson et al.) reviewed studies to ask the more nuanced question. Their review finds a complex relationship between parenting and happiness.

“We propose that parents are unhappy to the extent that they encounter relatively greater negative emotions, magnified financial problems, more sleep disturbance, and troubled marriages. By contrast, when parents experience greater meaning in life, satisfaction of their basic needs, greater positive emotions, and enhanced social roles, they are met with happiness and joy” (Nelson et al.).

What the parent brings to parenting can make the difference. The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center broke down the links to happiness, as outlined in the study, in age, gender, parenting style, and emotional bonds. Though there are still questions to be asked in more research, it is quite clear from long research that attachment leads to secure adults. If we are the parents are not secure in our attachments, though,

For us, that could mean that

“parents who do not feel secure in relationships seem to be more susceptible to declines in their relationship with their spouse during the transition to parenthood” (Nauman).

The review study (Nelson) looked at that transition to parenthood as a particularly important time. That is the phase many of our customers are going through as they meet us to talk about baby stuff, but we always understand that their underlying needs are much bigger than a cloth diaper or a pair of socks. We try to address the immediate needs as well as the deeper needs.

If you are interested in a review of the review, I suggest you read the full article at the Greater Good Science Center for an outline of factors in well-being and characteristics of those parents found to have greater well-being.

The conclusion may seem obvious that parents who know what they are getting into are more likely to find happiness in their parenting.

It’s important to know, as well, that

“happy parents often mean happy kids: Research has shown that happier parents engage in more positive parental behaviors and also influences positive outcomes in their children, like their child’s motivation, achievement, and relationships with peers.” (Nauman)

It’s worth finding your happiness in parenting. It does matter for the happiness of your children.

Resources

S. Katherine Nelson, Kostadin Kushlev, Sonja Lyubomirsky, “The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?” Psychological Bulletin, Vol 140(3), May 2014, 846-895.

Emily Nauman, “What Makes a Happy Parent?” August 19, 2014.

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Personal Index of Wellbeing

Happy woman

Do you get too busy to really know how you feel? Do you give yourself a moment to check in and ask whether your busy-ness is helping you to be a happier, healthier person?

Several of my friends are so busy that they aren’t making space for that downtime check-in, and I worry about them. Then, I realize I do the same to myself. I’m looking forward to New Year because I know I will have some slow days when I can sit back and assess what I’ve been through in the past year and where I want to go in the year ahead.

Looking at the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), I was surprised to see that the index isn’t just applicable on a national scale but on a community scale and even a personal scale. They give a few suggestions in the Other Ideas section of the CIW website.

Am I going to let someone else tell me what happiness is? Well, no. I have been talking with my children a lot about the balance each person, each family must find between order with firm, often external rules and chaos with a constant renegotiation of rules. All of us have to decide where on that continuum we find our greatest happiness.

The CIW has brought together experts from around the world to determine what quality of life means for all people. Granted, not everyone is going to meet happiness the same way, but perhaps they have determined some of the most likely commonalities for all of us. The list is general and easy to personalize.

To give yourself the gift of a personal index of wellbeing, ask how you can improve your life in each of the CIW domains of wellbeing.

Democratic Engagement for you might be voting, responding to elected officials about national issues, writing a letter to the editor about your opinion on a Canadian government stance on an international issue, or attending a town council meeting.

Community Vitality could mean for you volunteering at a local charity, attending a family reunion, walking alone after dark, or taking a meal to a sick neighbor.

Education on a national level mostly addresses basic literacy, but you could expand it in your life to learn a new skill or share a skill that you have spent some time developing.

Environment on a personal level isn’t always about individual choices. You could become involved in an environmental organization working to improve environmental policy or encourage stores you shop at to make an accounting of full costs of goods (including those social and environmental costs often externalized) as well as shopping at the farmers market and repairing old appliances or clothes.

Healthy Populations for you might be as simple as not smoking and losing weight or it might mean improving nutrition for your whole family to avoid diabetes or debilitating allergies. Health also includes mental health, so you might reassess your lifestyle to ask whether you are making space for your own basic happiness.

Leisure and Culture should start with whether you allow yourself time not dominated by necessary activity. Do you give yourself leisure time? If you do, are you spending it how you want to? You might plan a vacation to a national park, get a family pass to a museum, or just go to a game every once in a while.

Living Standards is probably a more difficult domain to address personally, but you might reassess your career choice in the context of your changing life circumstances, get more training or education to give yourself a better chance of promotion, or adjust your overall spending to bring it in line with your income.

Time Use differs between how you spend your time and how you experience your time. If you start with an objective log of what you do, that might help you evaluate whether you want to change how you spend time.

If you use the end of the year as a time to assess your own and your family’s wellbeing, perhaps setting New Year’s Goals, maybe the Canadian Index of Wellbeing domains could help give you some structure to start, so you don’t have to reinvent the grand measures of human happiness. If you are feeling really ambitious, set up your personal index of wellbeing and schedule regular times to check in with yourself.

The first step is becoming conscious of your own desire to assess and adjust your life to reach greater wellbeing. Best of luck and good fortune to you.

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Canadian Index of Wellbeing

Canadian Index of Wellbeing infographic

How are you doing? How is your quality of life? And, how is your government measuring your quality of life?

Around the world, there are governments making efforts to measure the genuine wellbeing and happiness of their people when they find that GDP (Gross Domestic Product or the market value of the stuff produced) doesn’t give an accurate measurement of what really counts. How a country counts its worth and value says a lot.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) was created over the past 12 years by scholars, government officials, and other experts to create “a holistic, integrated approach to measuring wellbeing.” Right now, they are measuring eight domains of wellbeing:

  • Democratic Engagement
  • Community Vitality
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Healthy Populations
  • Leisure and Culture
  • Living Standards
  • Time Use

The CIW Network has issued their first CIW composite index, something like you would expect from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, to give a snapshot of Canadian quality of life. Hearing that there is a rise of 11% might not mean much yet, but maybe it will in time. They have found that, though the GDP has risen, wellbeing is not rising as quickly. Wellbeing is falling in the areas of Environment, Time Use, and Leisure & Culture.

One of the most interesting points I have found in the CIW is the encouragement of partnerships, including regional partnerships. The first community user has been The Barrie Community Health Centre, which is quite close to bynature.ca in Orillia. This local group includes the county government, the United Way, the local community college, the public health unit, an environment network, and the school board who have come together as The Resilience Collaborative.

“Whenever the CIW produces a national report on a specific wellbeing domain, the Collaborative piggy-backs its own report onto it that compares regional data to the national data and makes suggestions for local policy changes. So, for example, when the CIW released the Environment Domain Report in April 2011, the Collaborative released its own report the same day.” CIW

This is just one idea from CIW how the index can be used. They also suggest ways individuals can use the index. I’ll write more about that later this week. In the meantime, how can you see governments, community groups, and others using the index to improve quality of life?

Minimize Stuff, Maximize Happiness

Woman taking time for herselfThe choice is yours. Knowing that makes you very powerful. You choose the life you live.

Our happiness comes not only from having our needs met but from power to choose our own way forward. As you green your life and reach for the ideal of sustainable living, own your choices. Set your own priorities. Check your own happiness.

That’s where I sometimes forget to act. Taking and making the opportunity to check in with yourself takes discipline.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned making enough space for your children to play and be themselves. The same goes for you. You need space to focus on yourself and the people you love. Checking in to ask yourself if you are happy encourages that moment of consciousness where you can make a course correction if necessary.

How do you change course? Look at what you are doing and ask yourself if this is what you want.

This involves asking yourself as you make changes, am I happier when I do this? I’m not saying you should avoid painful choices. Sometimes we look more for our long-term happiness. For example, eating Girl Scout cookies makes me happier in the short run—sugar high, feel-good support of girls, evoke happy memories of being a Girl Scout myself—but will the ingredients in a Girl Scout cookie bring me long-term happiness? The sad truth is: no. Simple, maybe even superficial choice to be made, but a surprisingly sad one for me as I read this article sent from a friend this morning. Would I be happy eating Girl Scout cookies right now that I know more about the potential long-term health effects of the ingredients? No. When I suggest that you ask whether you are happier when you take an action, you may need to think about your long-term happiness.

To give a more immediate example (and to stay on the subject of sweets, for some reason), there has been less chocolate in my house since I wrote about choosing fair trade chocolate. That’s mostly OK. I’ve tried some great, dark, flavored chocolate recently. What about cookies, though? I needed chocolate chips to make cookies. As my husband left with a shopping list, I told him, “Don’t buy the chocolate chips unless they are fair trade.” I thought this would be a difficult choice, but it was so easy. He found bulk fair trade chocolate chips that were the same cost as major-brand chocolate chips. Choice made. Happiness maintained—both mine and, presumably, that of the people who grow and process the chocolate.

If what you are doing doesn’t make you happy, either short-term or long-term, STOP!

Maybe you will start to see patterns in your answers as you check in with yourself. You may not need to go as far as the country of Bhutan, whose Gross National Happiness measure finds that plastic bags don’t make people happy, therefore they are banned. Actually, maybe you will go that far! The important point is, you get to and you NEED to decide what drives your happiness as you create a more sustainable life for your family.


Resources

There are many people sharing their experience of creating more sustainable lives. There are many organizations dedicated to helping you wade through your choices. I love the positive approach of the Center for the New American Dream. Their actions list includes a narrative on why each is important.

Throughout March we will offer guides to getting started with some of the basic practices of attachment parenting and sustainable living. This is Environmental Living Week with tips, products, resources, and personal experiences.

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