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Why women aren't happy

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Overcome obstacles to optimism

The back-to-school madness has begun and moms across the country are letting over-scheduled stress sap their energy and joy.
sad woman on bed

According to Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, there is no reason to accept unhappiness as the norm. She shares the most common obstacles to optimism for women along with ways to have a happy heart.

Hindrances to happiness

Dr. Lombardo believes that happiness is not a trait that some people are simply born with. Rather, happiness is a skill. "Some people are born with more inborn ability than others, just like some people are better golfers than others," she explains. "However, if given the right training and practice, anyone can get better at golf. Same thing with happiness."

The problem with many women is that they get caught in a cycle of negative thinking and never have a chance to practice happiness habits. Dr. Lombardo says the most common obstacles to happiness for women are:

  • The "if only" syndrome: Women who think "if only" something would happen, they would be happy, are looking for external sources of happiness. "Many women have this sense that 'if only I could _____ then I would be happy.' The blank may be 'lose weight,' 'have a baby,' 'get a promotion'... or anything else," explains the happiness expert. "But happiness is an inside job, and if we rely on external events to be happy, we may feel temporarily happy when we achieve them, but we are unhappy until we get them." She also warns that once the external source of happiness is achieved, women often then look for the next "thing" to find happiness.
  • Unfair comparisons: Many women don't feel good about themselves — and thus are perpetually unhappy — because they compare themselves to others. Dr. Lombardo adds, "When you compare yourself to someone else and are disappointed by yourself because you are not smart enough, thin enough, rich enough or whatever, you will never feel good about yourself."
  • The use of "should": According to Dr. Lombardo, another cycle of negative thinking is when women "should" on themselves and on others. Women who frequently think "I should have done this or should have done that" feel guilty or upset with themselves. Further, when women think other people should do something or be something (e.g., "My husband should be more helpful."), they feel angry and resentful. The happiness expert says the fix is simple: "Get rid of the word 'should' from your vocabulary and you will feel happier."

Protect your happiness from stress

There is no doubt that stress can sap your happiness, but Dr. Lombardo doesn't see stress as an excuse to stay unhappy. For example, for moms who are in the midst of back-to-school madness, she recommends adopting the following action plan to happiness:

  • Take care of your needs. Get the sleep, nutrition and exercise you need so you can go into the school year feeling your best physically and be better apt to manage stress.
  • Schedule fun time for you. Get a manicure or massage, have lunch with a girlfriend, do something that is fun for you. Schedule regular activities and look forward to them — knowing something fun is scheduled in the near future can help you get though an immediate stressful time.
  • Stop the perfectionism. Don't feel pressured to have the perfect clothes, lunch box and school supplies for your kids. Chances are that you care more about these things than your kids. Instead of thinking how you are failing as a mom, focus on the many things that make you a great mom.
  • Reduce after school activities. There is no need to sign your children up for everything under the sun. Focus on a few activities that they really love and prioritize quality family time on the weekly agenda. You will feel less harried, and you will boost your happiness as you bond with your kids.

Set a happy example for your kids

It's not news that children observe and learn from their parents. The happier you are, the happier your children can be. Dr. Lombardo says it's not even close to enough to simply tell your kids to be happy. You must model happiness. Her advice? "Teach them how to have self-confidence, and they will be happy in their own skin. Teach them how to be resilient, optimistic, and that they can make the best of any situation, even if it doesn't go their way. Most important, teach them gratitude and to focus on the positives in life."

- Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness"

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