What formula of work and family will truly make you happy? In this issue of Working Mom 3.0, Stephanie Taylor Christensen explores a positive psychologist’s theory on the paths to happiness, and how working moms can shift their focus to get on it.
How to find the path to happiness
Working moms and happiness
Scientists often study the difference between the lives of working moms and stay-at-home moms. More often than not, findings reveal that working moms actually report lower incidences of depression than stay-at-home moms who don’t work for pay. The findings lend support to the belief that despite all the stress and chaos working motherhood entails, maintaining a career and work/family balance is positive for a mom’s mental well-being. Yet prescriptions for anxiety, depression and stress also run rampant in America. Amid our drive to have it all, might we be pursuing the wrong path to happiness?
According to Dr.Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology, there are actually three paths to happiness — and two of them have nothing to do with money or material goods.
The pleasure principle
On “the Pleasant Life” path to happiness, the focus, according to Dr. Seligman, is on having money, material items and being physically attractive. Given that the role of working mom, by definition, hardly ranks Mom’s own pleasure as a priority, very few working moms would likely self-identify as being on this path. But without realizing it, we may indeed be on it. The pursuit to be “the perfect mom,” as modeled by Hollywood standards, or buying items we really don’t want or need just to keep up with neighbors, friends, family or co-workers, is related to this path. While on the treadmill of pleasure pursuits, working parents devote their lives to maintaining a “happy life” that is full of material wealth but lacking real life satisfaction.
The good and meaningful life
The second type of happiness is called “the Good Life.” On this path, your overall life, work, friends and parenting styles are structured to complement natural skills. In turn, the path leads to life fulfillment, because you are using, and nurturing, the best parts of yourself. On the third path, which Dr. Seligman calls “the Meaningful Life,” a person still uses so-called ” signature strengths,” but they are applied to a cause that is larger than themselves.
According to Dr. Seligman, two separate studies have indicated more life satisfaction by way of the the Good Life and the Meaningful Life compared with those on the Pleasure Life path, which shows no correlation between pleasures, material goods and happiness. It’s an important finding for all working moms, in terms of both self-development and the values to instill in kids. Focus energy on that which “fills” you and pursue the instinctual interests you have, even if they pay little or nothing, and defy all logic. Once working moms ditch the pursuit of the “perfect family,” there is an opportunity to discover and model what true life satisfaction looks like.
Working Mom 3.0
The modern woman is redefining what it means to have a successful career. Rather than feeling torn between climbing the corporate ladder and having a happy family life, many women are choosing to merge the two and transition careers from a traditional role to a more flexible one. Working Mom 3.0 is reinventing the definition of “working mom,” as office hours are held at home and revolve around nap times.
This column begins by chronicling the experiences of Stephanie Taylor Christensen, a former marketing professional turned self-employed stay-at-home mom, writer and yoga instructor, as she strives to redefine “having it all” on her own time and terms.