At the time that I’m writing this post, Emily is 11 months, and Oliver almost three (in March)
Happiness has been a recurrent theme in my mind in the past many months of sleep deprivation, it’s very easy to lose focus of what really matters when you don’t sleep. And that’s a step away from not feeling happy at all, from second questioning everything, your life, your job, your relationships, your marriage, your meaning.
A while ago I wrote about teaching happiness to kids, which started a whole bunch of cobweb thinking in my mind.
Often, when Alex asks me how I am, I complain. It’s my natural tendency—I’m a negative, pessimistic person by default. I might not come across that way, because over the years I’ve been making a HUGE effort to change that trait of my personality, but ask my husband and, oh boy, will he tell you!
Lately, I complain A LOT. In my experience, complaining about things out loud not only helps you release the negativity and see things more rationally, but it also makes people more empathetic and prone to help you (except my husband, he hates my complaining ;-). And let’s be honest, empathy (and a few days of UNinterrupted sleep) is the only thing a sleep-deprived mom desperately needs at all time.
The past months of sleep deprivation have been the hardest in my life so far, and have made me reevaluate happiness. I was so exhausted that I often felt unhappy, like my perfect life—with my supportive and caring husband, my two heathy and adorable children, my job that I simply adore, a respectful family, and wonderfully thoughtful friends—like all that was not enough.
So when it became clear that our sleeping patterns were not to change in the short term, I knew I had to make a conscious effort to regain control over my emotions and make myself feel happy again. So I’m trying something new (I’m still really bad at it, but perfection takes time).
Happiness is about thin slices of joy
It all started when I read an article about Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s former happiness guru (yep!), where he says that happiness doesn’t have to be a constant overarching feeling. It can come as sweet, short moments throughout your day.
He calls them “thin slices of joy”, which is a concept I can really relate to lately. In his own words:
“Right now, I’m a little thirsty, so I will drink a bit of water. And when I do that, I experience a thin slice of joy both in space and time. It’s not like 'Yay!', it’s more like, ‘Oh, this is kind of nice'. Usually these events are unremarkable: a bite of food, the sensation of stepping from a hot room to an air-conditioned room, the moment of connection in receiving a text from an old friend. Although they last two or three seconds, the moments add up, and the more you notice joy, the more you will experience joy. Thin slices of joy occur in life everywhere… and once you start noticing it, something happens, you find it’s always there. Joy becomes something you can count on, and that’s because you’re familiarizing the mind with joy".
Reading this was for me one of those lightbulb moments.
So although my husband probably hoped for a no-more-complaning strategy, I made a much smaller and less noticeable change: when something feels good, I say “Oh, this is a thin slice of joy!”, which makes me smile. Also, a few times a day, I stop to consciously think about the good in my days, acknowledging it and remembering it. Sometimes it’s easier and good memories just flow by in front of my eyes, but more often I have to really dig deep to find the good in a bad day.
It’s a habit, and like every habit it has to be built, it takes time, but I like it, because it’s something I can work on privately, much like meditating or mindfulness.
Some while ago, I had a very bad morning. We were late for school; the kids cried to get ready, to have breakfast, to brush teeth (I hate their crying); on the way to school, I could see the traffic to go back home—an endless line of cars—so I had to change all my plans and stay out all morning while waiting for Oliver to come out of school (I hate changing plans); I was dressed way too much and uncomfortably hot; Oliver had cried in the car because of some meaningless trivia (meaningless in my mind, clearly, not in his) and Emily was awake all morning so I didn’t get anything done.
That same morning Emily didn’t scream desperately in the car for the first time in a long time; despite my exhaustion, I was able to be patient and supportive with Oliver during his crisis and I could actually turn his mood around; I had a bathroom around when I needed to wee; my coffee was extra good; and by the time I picked Oliver up the traffic had disappeared and we got home quickly. HIN SLICES OF JOY.
This is probably just another exercise in mindfulness: noticing those thin slices of joy and actively thinking about the happiness they brought to me was enough to make me feel better about an otherwise bad, unproductive morning.
After all, I believe that happiness is like a muscle. We all can (and should) train it.