As a busy mom juggling multiple demands, you are likely to think there’s too much going on to take the time to figure out how to “be happy,” but research shows that if you increase your happiness first, you can accomplish even more in less time. This is called the happiness advantage, and it’s easy to create.
Rewire your brain to reap happiness
Research shows that in just two minutes a day, you can literally rewire your brain for higher optimism, which is great because busy moms can use any advantage they can get. Right now I am applying that research to moms with multiple sclerosis (MS) in a special program with the National MS Society and Genzyme called Everyday Matters.
Look beyond your limitations
Whether it’s a chronic illness or an unchangeable life situation, don’t let limitations drain away your happiness. For example, Sallie, a mom of three and a fourth grade teacher, was diagnosed with MS last December. Throughout her life, Sallie has never taken time for herself and has always gone the extra mile at home and in the classroom for her kids. Now that she is living with MS, her longtime pattern of giving 150 percent to everything has become even more challenging. As she learns about positive psychology, she has found simple ways to tweak how she approaches life to cultivate more happiness and make her everyday life more manageable.
Adopt the the Zorro Circle approach
If you are feeling overwhelmed by big goals, narrow down tasks to one small circle you know you can be successful at. Instead of cleaning your whole house or office, defend one circle from clutter. This gives your brain a victory helping you to achieve the happiness advantage. We sometimes take on too many challenges that are unrealistic, setting ourselves up to be unhappy.
Be intentionally grateful
Instead of focusing on the negative things in your life, put your sights on the positives. A great way to foster gratefulness is to turn the dinner table into a happiness experiment. At every meal, have each person share three things they are grateful for — let this replace tendencies to complain. This simple act significantly improves happiness and even raises kids’ grades in school. As a parent, you should do this before bed as well — keep a gratitude journal for 21 days and you will have a long list of things to be happy about.
Flex your smile
One of my favorite studies shows that smiling helps cultivate happiness. Make a goal of adding to your day three smiles that you wouldn’t normally give, maybe in an elevator or at the grocery store. Happiness is contagious. Smiling results in a release of dopamine in the brain, which also increases your happiness. This is something that works with strangers, neighbors and family members!
Prepare to be positive
If you have a positive habit you want to start, like exercise, you can make it easier by giving your willpower an extra boost. Pack a gym bag before you go to bed at night or put on your exercise shoes when you wake up in the morning. If you want to curb sweets, put the cookie bag in a harder-to-reach place in your pantry. By making small energy adjustments, we can reroute the path of least resistance and replace bad habits with healthy ones.
Scientifically, happiness is a choice that can make our busy lives easier and more meaningful. But research is useless unless lived, so start one of the happiness habits today!
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