When I look back over the last 20 years I am aware that one of the big shifts I made as a wife, stepmom and mom … as an adult really is that I am often my own best advocate for my happiness and that my happiness is a priority for me.
What’s funny about that lesson is that I feel like this is something that I knew when I was a kid. There was a brief time where I needed a refresher when I was in my late teens and I had to learn it again in my late 30s and early 40s.
There are layers to this lesson. I don’t cover them all here.
I want to begin by saying that I’m not always bursting with happiness. That is not my reality. Like everybody or most people, I experience a full range of emotions. I do like it though when in my life I have an overall sense of contentment in my life.
I can think of 2 very clear times in my life where I’ve realized this was lacking and I’ve worked hard to make this shift and learned this lesson and both times it felt a little weird and also wildly transformative once I did the work.
In my lived experience, I can see that I just assumed it would be easier to be happy in the roles of wife, stepmom and mom than it turned out to be. All of those roles are harder work than I anticipated.
I tend to read books about things when I’m trying to make sense of what’s happening and over the years I’ve read a fair share of books on happiness. Not tons but at least three.
I recently re-read a book about happiness for my book club called, “The Art of Happiness.”
The book was sitting on a table next to a couch and my teenager saw the book I was reading. He shared with me that thought it was “weird” that I’m reading a book about happiness.
At first, I shrugged off his commentary as just one of the many things that teenagers think is weird about adults. As I thought about it, I realized that he hit on something that might be a little more than just teenager / parent dynamics.
I clearly remember thinking that it was surprising that it didn’t feel easier to be happier as a new stepmom and again as a mom. I also generally think that happiness as a kid did seem pretty easy for me. Even if some things were not great a little bit of free time on a playground, a funny joke, a new movie or a good dessert always seemed to make things feel good.
So, maybe it makes sense that from a kids perspective it is a little weird to read about happiness but as an adult it might make more sense.
This is why I say, your happiness is a worthwhile goal.
I believe that it’s true.
I believe happiness is worth the work.
Maybe your happiness is already a priority for you.
If not, I have a question.
I want to emphasize that when I ask this I do so very gently. All of the times in my life where my happiness was waning or at lower levels I was kind of grouchy about that.
If you were in the room with me I would lean in and speak this question softly because I think this can be a hard question.
Why isn’t your happiness a priority for you right now?
There are lots of reasons that this can be.
I bring up this topic cautiously because there are people in my family who have experienced clinical forms of depression. In those cases it is in my opinion a whole different conversation. Acconversation that should be with a therapist. I am a life coach – not a therapist or a doctor of any kind. This (depression) is not what I’m speaking to. I don’t think you can just think happy thoughts and make clinical depression go away.
In my experience there can be lots of really good reasons that things get in the way of happiness.
Fear. Fear is a pretty direct impediment to happiness for me.
Also, an overbearing sense of obligation, or duty or just general hardship.
A truth that I have experienced is that life can be really hard.
I do believe that this is true for everyone. When hard things happen I don’t think this is a value judgment about a person. I don’t happen to think that anybody escapes hard times in life. This is helpful to me to remember because sometimes hard times can feel very lonely and isolating. Remembering that everybody experiences hard things in life helps me when I’m looking for support in speaking up for myself.
Sometimes I have wished that my happiness was the responsibility of others in my life.
As a new mom I can remember feeling overwhelmed by the transition, the work and all of what I perceived as obligation. I wanted others to see what was happening and fix it for me. Often the first place I tried to make change was in others.
When the baby wasn’t sleeping through the night I tried to get the baby to sleep more. Truthfully – eventually the baby did sleep and so did I but not before I had to adjust my goals and expectations.
Truthfully that never really worked out for me. I’ve definitely had support and help from people around me at many times. It has often come in the form of people helping me get clear on what was wrong but usually I needed to do the work to make change.
Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.”
For me that quote is helpful because if the situation is my one and only life that I have today then I personally think I do want to choose to rise to the challenge of working on myself in order to create happiness.
I have learned that usually I am my own best source of knowing what will make me happy.
This is not always easy. I speak from personal experience that it is very possible to lose connection with what you desire and what you want.
Even though it’s happened to me when I write it down … I think to myself that seems weird. That doesn’t seem like that’s how it should work. However, my experience is that it has happened.
Once upon a time a life coach asked me what I wanted. I gave her a whole list and then she pointed out that everything I told her was for other people. I was nowhere on the list.
I also have a friend who got so disconnected from her own personal desires that when she was asked what her favorite color was she looked to her spouse for help with the answer.
This does happen.
In my case, the likes and preferences and desires were all still there they were just buried. And the effort of keeping them buried was part of what was exhausting me. Which is why I think doing the work to uncover your desires is worth it. It feels like work but it’s work that allows you to have a lot more ease in your life once you do it.
Happiness can be a clue
I’ve never suffered from depression. I don’t know why but I feel like I should keep mentioning this that I’m not talking about depression. One reason is that I know that my mom who did have clinical depression once told me that she didn’t know how to be happy. I don’t think she was lying and she really needed the help of doctors with that. I am not a doctor – I am a life coach.
In my early 40s when I knew I was deeply unhappy I tried to get the help from a few therapists who all told me I wasn’t actually depressed. This is one of the things that pushed me to life coaching. Today I am a life coach.
The two times in my life where I’ve dug deep into my personal happiness work while I was unclear on many things I knew that I wasn’t happy. That by itself was a clue.
In both situations it didn’t help when people tried to suggest things that they thought would make me happy. In fact, sometimes those suggestions pissed me off a lot. Even if they were right. Don’t you like running … yes I do and that’s not helping. Learning to pay attention to what I did like even in tiny bits did help.
I do like running. I like running in the morning when the sun comes up by myself or with friends. Having to squeeze my run in after the kids go to school or over lunch … that makes me grouchy. Yes, I know other people love that. They should do that. More on that in a second.
There are many people who I consider mentors who teach a version of this same type of methodology. This is not something I invented. I was taught this although I teach it my own way. Some people call it reclaiming or awakening. I like the idea of dowsing or divination. When you feel or sense even the tiniest bit of happiness or joy …notice it, pay attention to it and maybe try to do a little bit more of that to see if it sparks a bit more happiness for you.
In my experience picking up or divining our personal sensation of happiness often requires solitude, quiet and sometimes movement. This is one reason why I think so many people recommend solo walks in nature.
This is why I say we are often our own best advocate for our happiness.
In a family caregivers are socialized in the western world to put themselves last. So advocating for yourself can feel really really uncomfortable. I think it’s some of the most important work any of us can really do.
I think this shows up differently for everybody. For me the first step has often been speaking up and saying that I don’t want to do something when asked directly.
I’m not precisely sure why the no comes before the yes for me. I once had a human design expert tell me that it’s because of my human design chart. Maybe she’s correct.
For example, there was a time where I was feeling very ignored in my family meal choices. Until one day my husband said, do you want to order chinese food. I just clearly said, no I don’t want that. And then I said, “I don’t like Chinese food.”
Even I was surprised by this popping out of my mouth. Immediately after the surprise wore off I was like…is that true? Then I was like yes …it is. It was a huge relief to say it and admit it outloud. The tricky thing about this was that I was admitting it to myself. That’s a little weird, right? I can eat Chinese food. I’m willing to eat it. I actually do enjoy crab rangoon if it’s not too sweet and I have had some lovely meals of Peking Duck over the years but overall I don’t choose Chinese food restaurants as my first choice and I had been tolerating it on a regular basis for years because other people in my family liked it so I felt like I yield to their preference rather than voice what I would choose.
The word “should” can sometimes be a clue in this process. This is why sometimes you hear coaches say things like, “stop shoulding all over yourself.”
It’s not just your thoughts
What I’m going to say here may seem slightly controversial in the world of life coaching. This is only because there is one big school for life coaches which I think teaches a rigid and thought-centered model of relating thoughts to emotions and actions.
I do not believe that it is just your thoughts that create your emotions.
I also do not think that it’s always a good idea to simply choose new thoughts and force yourself or others to practice them until you believe the new thoughts.
I do not subscribe to this ideology because I consider that quite possibly to be coercion or indoctrination. I admit that it can be effective. I also just believe that individuals can convince themselves of things that are not true and I think that’s not helpful.
There are people who believe that the world is flat. I don’t personally think that’s accurate.
Perhaps if I repeat 100 times daily that I am a purple dinosaur I will begin to believe that. I just don’t think that would be helpful.
I believe you can be happy in your family
I believe this with all of my heart and soul that if you want to be happy and you follow the clues you can be happy in your family.
Sometimes when I say this people think I am saying that they need to stay in their family in its current configuration. There are many excellent reasons to not stay in a family. This is up to you.
If you want to be in your family and you want to be happy there then I believe that it’s probably possible.
Even if your family doesn’t look like some others.
Even if your family is small.
Even if your family is complicated.
Even if it means that you might choose to redefine or reconfigure who is in your family to make happiness happen.
I think that these things can coexist. If you want to find out more about working with me click here.