When I was in middle school, my mom was battling stage 4 cancer. She was bald and she had a constant port in her neck to administer medications. When she was admitted to City of Hope for treatment, we had to scrub our hands up to our elbows and wear hair nets, surgical masks and booties over our shoes just to see her. Still though, I remember happiness and laughter because she never lost her sense of humor. She told me, “Happiness is a choice, and I choose to be happy.” This has stuck with me my whole life. I learned from my mom that I cannot choose what happens to me or around me, but I can choose my response and ultimately my own happiness.
Now that I am a mom in my own home, happiness is something I work to cultivate and facilitate daily. It can be a struggle with busy schedules and toddler tantrums but here are the rules by which I try to live:
- We are present: Not just physically present, we are emotionally present. We do not have electronic devices at meal times. When our children want to tell us something, we are sure to look them in the eyes. This may mean kneeling down or sitting on the floor. Ultimately children want to be heard and understood just like every person does. Identifying that need and accommodating it (within reason) helps us all to feel happier.
- We serve: I do my best not to miss an opportunity to be of service to others, particularly when my children are watching (spoiler alert – they’re always watching). At least once a month I make meals for someone in need. If a friend is sick or going through a tough time, they can expect a lasagna on their doorstep from yours truly. If we’re shopping and see greeting cards, I suggest we get one and mail it to a family member. No occasion, just for the sole purpose of brightening that person’s day. Then, several times a year we donate clothes, toys and hygiene items to local women’s shelters. My four year old understands what we’re doing and how much it means to the people who are less fortunate than us. Giving to others reminds us of how much we have and I find gratitude to be the best cultivator for happiness.
- We have fun: Even on the busiest no-fun days, we usually have time between dinner and bedtime to squeeze in a silly dance party (bonus points if Dad participates). Fun should be on everyone’s to-do list, in my opinion.
- We sleep: Sleep is one of the biggest priorities in our house. We make exceptions like any normal family but the children’s bedtimes and nap times are usually sacred. It’s for their development and state of mind as much as it is for us. That said, my husband and I have to make sure we are getting to bed at a decent hour to have a positive attitude to tackle the next day.
- We minimize: We try to keep all good things in moderation. This includes social engagements and items on our to-do lists. Families that are too busy won’t have the time or ability to be present, serve, have fun and sleep properly.
Sadly, there are people who struggle with mental health and often for these people happiness is not a choice they are able to make. This fact is not often far from my heart. For many of us though, we forget that we can choose our reaction to most things. We can establish happiness rules and guidelines by which to live that will contribute to happy habits and ultimately, a happier life.
After being given less than a 50/50 shot, my mom fought cancer and won. She’s now a happy and healthy Grandma. Maybe there is something to this happiness thing, after all.