The holiday season is upon us and with it comes a barrage of messages about preventing weight gain, signing on for diets in the New Year and committing to a healthier lifestyle. As you take a moment to contemplate whether or not to eat that extra slice of pumpkin pie or holiday cookie from the staff break room, remember another important diet that need not be forgotten during the New Year; The Happiness Diet. What can you gain more of or have less of this New Year to lead to personal fulfillment, happiness and flourishing?
Happiness Diet Phase One: Less Juggling
In his book Find Your Strongest Life, Marcus Buckingham explains that many parents, more so women than men are in pursuit of having it all. Hence, parents become jugglers. With many different balls spinning in the air, they learn to juggle multiple responsibilities and parenting becomes cumbersome. Think about your efforts to meet the deadline at work, pick up your child from school on time, get dinner on the table, help children with homework assignments and finish housework all in the three hours before bedtime routines begin. In one hand you hold a career, in the other your family life, mixed in with balls for your social life, health, and community commitments. Now think about the act of juggling. Most of the energy comes from throwing away. You are essentially getting rid of one ball to make room for another. This constant motion and giving away of time, energy, and psychological resources is depleting and leads to stress and fatigue. In a national study, 1,000 young people in third through twelfth grade were asked "If you were granted one wish that would change the way that your mothers or father's work affects your life, what would it be?" A parallel study asked mothers and fathers the same question. The parents thought that 56% of children would wish for more time, but only 10% made that wish about their mothers and 15.5% about their fathers. In fact, children wished that 34% of mothers and 24.7 % of fathers were less tired and stressed. These revelations are not confined to working parents. Stay-at-home parents experience the same juggling act. Regardless, when we as parents juggle too much, we are dropping the ball with our kids.
Happiness Diet Phase Two: Gain More
What does a less-stressed and better rested parent look like? Many parents envision the pathway to less stress as balance and harmony in different life domains. Buckingham debunks the idea of the search for balance and illuminates the fact that balancing is stationary and involves very little movement. There is occasional teetering and recalibrating, but the act of balancing is static. He suggests imbalancing your life and tipping the scales in the direction of your strongest moments. By doing so you create movement and gain more of what makes you really come alive. Then, the goal becomes fulfillment, not balance. Feeling fulfilled as a parent means paying attention to the inner experience you bring to your parenting, which in turn affects your interactions with your child. You need to secure your own oxygen mask before you can help your children
Happiness Diet Phase Three: Best Possible Parent
A step towards tipping the scales and becoming more fulfilled begins with reflection. One intervention that has been empirically tested is Laura King's exercise "Best Possible Self". Possible selves are idiographic representations of goals that encompass all of the futures people can imagine for themselves. Writing about your future can improve self-regulation because it allows you to learn about yourself, reprioritize and gain better insight into your motivations. Take twenty minutes out of your day for four consecutive days and respond to the following prompt:
"Imagine yourself in the future after everything has gone well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all your life goals. Think of this as the realization of your life dreams and you own best potentials. Identify the best possible way that things might turn out in your life, in order to help guide your decisions now."
By doing this exercise, you create your strongest moments now and your life will tip in the direction of the self you have imagined. As a parent, you can't have it all, but you can do something each day that will keep you on your happiness diet. Here's wishing that you gain flourishing and fulfillment this holiday season.
I want to hear from you. How have you tipped your life in the direction of your best possible self?
Buckingham, M. (2009). Find your strongest life: What the happiest and most successful women do differently. Nashville, TN. One Thing Productions.
Sheldon, K., Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1 (2), 73-82