Gretchen Rubin is one of our very favorite experts on living life and making the most of what we have—in other words, on being the kind of parents that we really want to be. So we started thinking: how can we apply her Tips for Being Happier specifically to life with small children? As Newsweek magazine reported a while back, many recent studies have shown that having children often doesn't contribute to happiness in the way that we imagine it will. Much as we love our kids, the studies say, they don't always make us happier. Given the inevitable stresses that do come with raising children, it's all the more crucial for parents to make happiness a priority. So here's an attempt to think about how some of Gretchen Rubin's smart ideas can make family life more joyful.
"Don't start with profundities."
Rather, start with the basics: sleep and food. We all quickly learn that our kids need to get plenty of sleep and eat at regular intervals in order to stay cheerful. But we often forget that the same is true of ourselves! Parents, don't let yourselves get too hungry, and go to bed earlier: you'll be a lot happier!
"Do let the sun go down on anger."
Parents are more prone than most to snappish moments of anger because we are worn down, tired, and provoked over and over again by children's naturally rambunctious behavior. Sometimes, in irritable moments, it's hard to know whether you're angry for good reason, or just because it's the seventeenth time you've wiped up something from the floor today. In such cases, try not to vent, says Rubin, and the anger will dissipate more quickly. Then, get some sleep. (If possible!)
"Fake it till you feel it."
This idea comes in very handy with young kids. If you're tired and grumpy, playing games is often the last thing you feel like doing. And yet, if you can manage to fake interest in building blocks or a doll's tea party, your child's joy and enthusiasm will create a wonderful feedback loop of happiness.
"Realize that anything worth doing is worth doing badly."
An extremely important mantra for us all in this age of parenting perfectionism! This saying is also the epigraph to one of our favorite new parenting memoirs, Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs.
"Buy some happiness."
And some babysitting! And a back massage, a weekend away from the kids, a date night - whatever it is that will help you recharge and get fresh perspective as a parent.
"Don't insist on the best."
Parents often tell themselves that they just want "the best for their children." But is this actually a helpful concept? Whether you are choosing a stroller or a school, it's important to remember that there is no objectively, universally "best" stroller or school, there is only the stroller or school that will work for your child and your family. In doing so, you'll have made your search a lot easier, and yourself a lot happier.
Rubin talks about this idea in the context of marriage, but it's so important with children as well. The wonderful book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, And Listen So Will Talk offers lots of better alternatives to nagging kids -- what a relief on both sides!
The best piece of advice Gretchen Rubin gives is this: there are concrete things you can do to make your life happier. It's easy to feel literally and figuratively stuck when you're tied down with small kids - but Rubin's Happiness Project reminds us that small changes can have a big impact on our families' lives.
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