Every year, leading up to my birthday, I take some time to reflect on the year that has passed and to think about what lies ahead in the year to come. It’s always an interesting experience to look back on accomplishments, failures, the high moments and the inevitable low points. A few weeks ago I was reading about a 75-year study by Harvard researchers on what makes a fulfilling life. It inspired me to think about my life as a kind of study. I decided that this birthday, instead of looking back over the year that just past, I’d look back at my life to date and — based on my 42 years of experience— I'd share my findings on what constitutes happiness.
So, here are the results of my (completely subjective and randomly documented) study: 11 components for a happy life.
Movement. I’m simply happier when I am moving my body each day. Whether it’s yoga, running, walking, swimming, playing soccer with the kids, exercise makes everything seem better. I have more energy, I am more positive, and I simply feel good in my body.
Sleep. Without a doubt, getting enough sleep gives me the energy to get through even the most challenging days. Sleep sets the reset button on my body, and on my mental state. It also is the best cure for when I’m fighting off sickness.
Positive relationships. Spending time with people I love, who make me laugh, who are positive influences, and who support me has a profound impact on my happiness meter. There is not enough time in life to nurture negative relationships. Loving friends and family are true soul food.
Food. I am happier when I’m eating well. Food tastes better to me when it’s fresh or home cooked, and especially when it’s prepared with the help of my kids. There is also something special about a well-made meal out at a favourite restaurant with my husband or good friends.
Fun. Laughing and doing ridiculous things feeds my happiness meter. There is a direct correlation between finding ways to play in life and going to bed with a smile on my face.
Mistakes. Part of recognizing what makes me happy is learning from what causes my unhappiness. The more I can learn from my mistakes, acknowledge and be accountable for my failings, the easier it is to be content with my choices.
Vacation. Whether it’s a half-day spent walking the local trails or a two-week trip to England, holidays are an essential ingredient for my personal fulfillment. Getting away from the daily tasks, the regular minutiae, going off the grid is like pressing reset on life.
Not Worrying. I could worry all day every day about everything. It’s in my nature. But I’ve learned that worrying does absolutely NO good. It doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is spending all of the time I used to waste worrying actually doing the things that make me happy.
Solitude. Being with people I love makes me happy, but I also truly savour being alone. Solitude is essential for my happiness. It’s a chance to connect with myself, regroup, listen to what messages my body, mind, or life in general are trying to tell me. Taking time for myself alone refuels me in order to connect with everyone else.
Giving Back. Whether it’s donating to charity, practicing a random act of kindness, volunteering or simply being there for a friend, giving (with no expectations attached) is pure feel-goodness.
Nature. Everything is better when I'm overlooking water or walking a nature trail or hiking a mountain. Nature gives us beauty, perspective, energy, and a reminder that life is so much bigger than just ourselves.
What would the results of your life study on happiness be?
Last week I sent my son to school in his pajamas. It was one of those mornings. “I don’t want to go downstairs, I don’t want to eat breakfast, I don’t want to brush my teeth, I don’t want to pack my backpack, I don’t want to get dressed.” When he dug his heels in over changing out of his pajamas, I asked myself, "Does he really need to put on day clothes?" And I decided it wasn’t a fight I was willing to fight. So I put a pair of “proper clothes” in his backpack in case he needed them during the day, and off to Junior Kindergarten he went. For the record, I would never have let my daughter (first child) go to school in her pajamas unless it was Pajama Day. Let’s file this under Things I’ve Learned In Seven Years of Motherhood: pick your battles.
The situation got me thinking about all the things that happen in our households that no one ever really hears about. That so much of what we see are the smiling Christmas card portraits or the proud Facebook updates of how Johnny cleaned his room without asking, or how Poppy made rainbow loom bracelets for her class AND her little brother’s.
So, in the interest of keeping it real, here are a few things that have been going on in our household lately:
Sometimes, we use bribery.
One Friday night a few weeks ago, we promised our kids a couple of toonies each (yes, four dollars each) if they had breakfast, played quietly, didn’t fight, and didn’t come into our bedroom until after 8:00am the next morning. For kids who get up at 6am, we thought it might be a pretty tall order for the weekend. But they did it. And the routine has stuck. We paid them that one time and every Saturday they still wait until after 8:00am to come into our room.
My house is rarely spotless.
I regularly roll out my mat in my living room and do yoga even if the house isn't tidy. Sometimes, in my downward dog, I can see dirty dishes piled in the sink. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and remind myself how much better my body and mind will feel after doing yoga. I’ll get to those dishes, I’ll fold the piles of laundry eventually, but taking care of myself needs to be a priority. The place gets cleaned, but it’s not always tidy. And I’m learning to be okay with that.
My kids fight. A lot.
They fight about anything and everything: who got their vitamins first; who knows how to sing Oh Canada better in French; who has a nicer teacher. The latest thing is who gets to click in their seatbelt first. My son is younger and it takes him longer to buckle up, so he’s always asking his older sister to let him go first. Most of the time she complies but after a while her competitive nature takes over and she just can’t let him win every time. WWIII breaks out in the backseat of our car on a regular basis. My husband and I talk ad nauseam about respect and kindness, etc., etc., etc., but some fights I’ve come to accept. Because I know that when they’re in a school environment — or out of my earshot/eyesight — they totally look out for one another.
My husband and I sometimes push the boundaries, and pay for it.
A couple of weeks ago, we were having a great time at the family bingo night at our kids’ school. We even won a prize (Lucy Waverman cookbooks, at that!) Our eldest was having so much fun playing bingo — okay, my husband and I were too — we didn’t pay attention closely enough to the tired cues of our youngest. And lo and behold, family bingo night turned into total-meltdown-screaming-kicking-tantrum-craziness on the front lawn of the school. Our youngest, not me. Although I almost went there as well. Totally our fault. And we know for next time…
We order in every Friday night.
We eat healthily most of the time, but on Friday nights we have family movie night and order pizza. And not the whole wheat or spelt crust option either. It’s always the same order: pepperoni, mushroom, and pineapple. Dee-licious. Most weeks I make up a platter of raw veggies and hummus to serve on the side, but not always. There’s nothing I love more at the end of a busy week than knowing I don’t have to cook, to prep, or to even think about what’s for dinner.
So, the next time you see a happy picture of my family, you’ll know it wasn’t taken on family bingo night, or after a car ride. It may have been taken on a Saturday morning — after I’ve stayed in bed until 8am (but before the kids have started fighting) — or on a Friday evening once the pizza’s been delivered. And my son might be in his pajamas.
By the way, that day I sent my son to school in his pajamas? I fully expected him to be wearing his day clothes when I picked him up. But no. He marched right out of his class with his pajamas still on, smiling the happiest smile ever. God love him.
What’s been going on in your house lately?
It’s that time of year again: the time when school photos start coming home. Lots of my friends have never and will never buy these pictures. The envelope with five proofs of five sometimes-goofy faces and five different backgrounds are sent right back with their kids’ Thursday folders. But I have yet to send one back without an order attached.
Every family has their own family traditions. One of ours is ordering school photos.
They’re not always the best shots. Some are pretty cute and some are quite ridiculous. Regardless, I’m that mom who will continue to buy school pictures every year.
1. The grandparents.
My parents and my husband’s parents want these photos; they love getting the pictures each year. Whether they’re framed on the mantelpiece, stuck on their fridges, or carried around in their wallets, the grandparents take great pride in showing off their grandkids.
2. The cousins.
My brother, his wife, and my nephews live in Virginia. My nephews are exactly the same ages as my kids. We see them as much as we can, but it’s not often enough. And just as we have school photos of my nephews on our fridge, they have our kids’ photos on theirs. I can’t tell you how often my kids talk about their cousins over breakfast because they’ve seen their pictures on the fridge.
3. Growth and change.
I love looking at my husband’s school pictures from over the years, and the kids do, too. There are so many photos with siblings or other family members, so it’s a special record to have pictures just of him from year to year. Being able to see him grow and change through the photos is pretty amazing.
4. Creating their timeline.
Sure, living in the digital age, we have thousands of pictures of our kids, but there’s something about having a similar style of picture, taken exactly one year apart, that will create a timeline of my kids as they grow up.
5. You take the good, you take the bad.
There are going to be many awkward moments in my kids’ growth. When I look back at my school pictures over the years, there are A LOT of photos that make me cringe. But they also remind me of all the parts of my life—awkward stages included—that have made me who I am. I hope that one day my kids are able to look at their photos this way.
What about you? Do you order school photos?