Have you ever heard the old saying “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? Or how about the more polite version, “Happy wife. Happy life.”? Have you ever thought about how true those phrases are? Whether you can think of examples from your childhood home, or your own marriage today, there’s something powerful about these clichés. There is an assumption that a woman’s mood is influential enough to affect everything and everyone around her.
What’s been bothering me, though, is that I think most of the time when we hear these phrases, we automatically put the ownership on that woman’s husband and family to “make Mama happy,” or at least avoid making her mad. This got me to thinking. What if we, instead of blaming our foul moods on those around us, took ownership of our attitudes and responsibility for the emotional temperature of our homes? What if, knowing how influential we really are, we could become a pleasure to be around instead of someone to avoid? What if, when you called for your kids from the other room, they didn’t assume they’d done something wrong?
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, spent a year devoted to being happier. One of the by-products she found of her own attempt to keep a happier mood is that it affected the mood of her entire household. She noted that:
It’s true that “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” and it’s also true that “if Daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” and that “you’re only as happy as your least happy child.” Each member of a family picks up and reflects everyone else’s emotions– but of course, I could change no one’s actions except my own.
Tony and I know this to be true in our house. There have been many times when Tony and I have decided, using our parental secret code language, to take the girls out for frozen yogurt after dinner, only to halt all of our plans because our three year old inexplicably decides to be rude, push her sister, and then have a complete meltdown. The daydream of a family outing thwarted by a three year old! Claire wasn’t happy, so nobody else got to be happy either. But, as a mom and wife, I should have much more control over my emotions than my toddler.
So, do we choose happy and bring up the entire mood of our home? Or, do we choose to indulge our negativity and flippantly allow those around us to suffer? Choosing happy is not necessarily easy, but it is not impossible. Psychology professor David T. Lykken, author of Happiness: The Nature and Nurture of Joy and Contentment, says that “trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.” We each have a “happiness set point,” he argues, and move away from it only slightly. And yet, Lykken and other psychologist believe we can still pursue happiness. But, how? We’ve put together a few ideas for you…
6 Tips for Being a Happy Influence in your Household
# 1: Choose Happy
First we need to recognize that other people and circumstances only have so much influence over our mood. In the end, it is our choice and our perspective that determines our happiness. Will you allow an offense to seep in and be dwelled upon, or will you choose to let it roll off your back?
#2: Cultivate Gratitude
Ever have one of those days when you look at your closet full of clothes but still have “nothing” to wear? Me too. It can often send me into a downward mood-spiral and I find myself getting short with my kids or lashing out at my husband. If instead I were to look at that closet full of clothes and be grateful that I can afford a new shirt every now and then, I’d realize mine is just a “first world problem.” Thankfulness is a great antidote to a bad mood. Feeling grouchy? Take a moment to think of one thing you’re grateful for. It’s tough to be both bitter and appreciative at the same time.
#3: Foster Forgiveness
Like gratitude, real forgiveness can take the place of frustration. Though it is not easy, removing a debt from someone, whether they know they are forgiven or not, is extremely empowering. Did you know that someone doesn’t even need to be sorry in order for you to forgive them?
#4: Don’t Expect Your Stuff to Make You Happy
I’ve been wanting a new dining room table for a few years now. The one we have is so small that we have to pull out a folding table when we have company. This feels unwelcoming to me, and I can get easily irritated about it sometimes. The problem is that the table is completely inanimate, so it has no desire to either make me happy or to make me mad. Studies show that there is, in fact, an increased level of happiness achieved when a person makes a new purchase. But, that increase is incredibly temporary. What I need to do is remember that my happiness is a heart issue and not a stuff issue.
#5: Nurture Friendships
Nothing keeps you down like focusing on yourself. Bummed that you didn’t get invited out to that fun dinner your friends posted pictures of on Facebook? How about becoming the inviter? Bake some cookies and take them to your neighbor just because. Write a note to a friend that you treasure and tell them why. Doing something kind for others, investing time and energy in your friendships, is a great way to climb out of a rut.
#6: Enjoy Now!
Often what keeps us from being happy is that we aren’t ready to be happy yet. Oh, we’re sure we will be as soon as we get that promotion, start having kids, get our book published, or reach one thousand followers on Twitter. This is what is known as the Arrival Fallacy. Gretchen Rubin discusses this in her book and on her blog, too, and remarks:
The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because arriving rarely makes you as happy as you expect. Why? Because usually by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. You quickly become adjusted to the new state of affairs. And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals a new goal. There’s another hill to climb.
In fact, working toward a goal can be a more powerful source of happiness than hitting it – which can sometimes be a letdown. It’s important, therefore, to look for happiness in the present…
Choosing happy only works if you choose to be happy now. Looking forward into the future and saying, “I will be happy when I pay off my student loans and am debt-free,” does nothing for your current happiness. Deciding, “I know that having kids is going to make me really happy, but I choose to fully enjoy the freedom we experience now before starting a family,” can have an instantaneous effect on your current happiness.
Try it! Could you choose to incorporate just one of these tips today?
When You Can’t Choose Happy
There are times, I know, when happiness does not seem to be a choice at all. Just a few short months ago, there was nothing I wanted more than to be happy and no matter what I did, I just couldn’t muster it. My children were beautiful, happy, and healthy. My husband was caring and funny. I couldn’t find a single thing to complain about, and yet I couldn’t escape the worthlessness I felt or the hopelessness I saw in my life. I had no energy to invest in my friendships and everything I thought about doing seemed utterly pointless. I was depressed in a very real sense and if my husband and a good friend hadn’t insisted that I see a doctor, and then drive me to the appointment, I would very likely have continued down the spiral.
I share this with you because if I had read the list above during the time I was suffering, it would likely have made me feel even more hopeless. If you are in a place in your life that “choosing happy” just doesn’t seem to be an option, check out these signs and symptoms from Mayo Clinic. There are things that can help. Beginning to take antidepressant medication and seeing a therapist have been life changing for me, and a good doctor can help you figure out what is right for you. Tony shared more about our experience with depression in Living with My Partner’s Baggage a couple of months ago.
Mama Makes Mama Happy
Depression notwithstanding, as much as we are able, we should strive to set a happy tone for our families in our home. When we hear the phrase “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy,” instead of using it as a threat to our families, let’s think of it as a reminder to ourselves to keep our attitudes in check. Our children and our marriages only benefit when we take our joy into our own hands. An effort to stay happy is an effort to #staymarried.
P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read To Nag and to Scold from this day forward… Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
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