The Measure of Happiness

I recently discovered that there are organizations whose sole purpose it is to help people live happier lives. Really, there is an organization called, The Happiness Institute. And, actress Goldie Hawn has an association called The Hawn Foundation that serves to help children live happier lives.
To those that know me, it will come as no shock that I learned this information while watching Oprah. She had Goldie Hawn on stage promoting her foundation’s work with children and another man there from The Happiness Institute. The show centered on asking you, me – the viewer – Are you Happy? And to find out, all you had to do was follow along with the quiz they were doing at the show.
Oprah asked questions, and the audience, Oprah and Goldie all had do-dads with A’s, B’s, Cs and Ds on them, so that when they pushed their own responses to the questions, their answers collectively popped up to create a poll. Then they compared their poll with national surveys that gave us the answer to the question, Are You Happy?
They started off by asking, Do you think happiness is genetic? Are you born with it?  72 percent of Oprah’s audience said, No, they do not believe that happiness is genetic. (Me, at home, I said, Yes, I do believe it is genetic. Look at someone like Paula Dean’s, the cooking personality, disposition and tell me she wasn’t just born happy.)
The answer was: Researchers at the University of California found that people can be born happy – up to 50 percent of your happiness is genetic. (40 percent can be learned and 10 percent is influenced by life circumstances).
Question number three was, Do you make time in your day for complete silence? 51 percent of Oprah’s audience said, Yes.
The Happiness man said, A Harvard University study has shown that spending just 10 minutes each day sitting and breathing – doing absolutely nothing – will increase your happiness.
Question number four was, How often do you have sex? Sadly, 37 percent (the largest percent of the quizzed) said they could not remember the last time. But on a happier note, the next largest percent, 36 percent, said once a week.
The Happiness man said, According to a study by Dartmouth College, the more you have sex, the happier you’ll be.
And I say, if you are not getting the recommended dose, there is always chocolate. Didn’t I hear somewhere that eating chocolate releases the same chemicals as having sex? I also heard once that shopping has the same effect on the brain as having sex.
OK, so I’ve shared some of the quiz questions to give an idea of what was going on and how this quiz works. But the Happiness man asked a question that got me thinking. It was, Do you think having children makes people happier?
Goldie got an interesting look on her face and said, “Can we talk about this first?” I actually found myself holding my breath before they pushed their buttons.
If I look at the surface of this question I would have to say, no. Not because I think having children makes a person unhappy, but I also cannot say that the childless people I know are any less happy than me just because I have chosen to have kids. In fact, they are foot loose and fancy free compared to me. They come and go as they please, they travel a ton more, their houses have to be much neater, and I guarantee they are not bitching as much as I am on a daily basis.
However, I might say having a child versus not having a child is like looking at a work of art. Say, an artist like Jackson Pollock or Picasso would be someone without children. They do great work, those two. Pollock is the artist that splatters paint all over the place and Picasso was well-known for not following the typical “rules” of his craft. He created weird shapes within his work and his efforts have a certain whimsy. These guys, they were free to do whatever they wanted. And their work is fun to look at, I think. You can see they have little boundaries set for themselves.
Compare Pollock or Picasso though, if you want to follow my analogy, to someone like Michelangelo. His work would be someone with children. Of course everyone thinks of the Sistine Chapel when they think of Michelangelo. This particular work is filled with color, and it is structured – divine even. Every inch of it is filled up with something. When you look at it as a whole, it may seem chaotic – all of those angels and people and cherubs, but individually each scene clearly has meaning that contributes to the whole of the image. His work is rich and looking at it gives me a feeling of completeness and divinity.
This is how I see parenthood. It’s structured – I can’t do everything I want. Many days I am frustrated and if someone saw me in that moment, they may say I wasn’t happy. My life, my home, can be chaotic. Sometimes I feel like a failure and other times I feel like a maid, a cook, a driver, a psychologist, and, yes, even a mad-woman.
But I do feel happy because I am a parent. The happiness is much deeper than the day to day doings of being a parent. It comes from my soul, like my soul and my children’s souls are meant to be together. I love them so deeply that one look at their little faces or their laughter can send me to a place I didn’t know existed before they were here. No kidding, I might be cleaning my kitchen (it does happen occasionally) and the kids are playing in the living room (nicely for a change) and if I hear them laughing together, I immediately come to the present moment and just listen. For me, they have been the clearest path to my soul, more than anything else in my life.
I love to hear my children say something I didn’t expect, and they do that often. I adore my son’s eye color, and it is fun to me that my daughter looks just like me – we draw a lot of comment about it. I can’t believe how talented my son is at drawing or how compassionate my daughter is towards others, even so young I can see her compassionate heart and it makes me want to be a better person with her.
Being a mom is funny too. Just yesterday I was at the pediatrician for the second time this week, and a lady in front of me checking out with her young baby said, “It has been the worst winter for sickness.”
“I know,” I said, “I was just here in December and my daughter just had bronchitis and now here we are again, bronchitis again. And, I was just here yesterday with my son for the same thing. I gave up trying to protect them from both getting it.”
Then the lady said, “Me too. I was in the kitchen and I hear my son, who is sick with fever, yell to me, ‘Mommm, the baby just stuck her finger up my nose… and put it in her mouth.’”
She had me cracking up, not just because what she said is funny, but because it is so darned true to what being a parent is like. That one statement from that lady summed up the hilarity of parenting young children in a nutshell.
But even more than being a humorous experience, being a mom has taught me much about myself. How I am under pressure and what kind of kid is still inside me. I love to turn on music and dance with my kids. To see my son “break dance” is comical. To see my daughter put on a princess dress and dance to “Rebel Yell,” by Billy Idol, is pretty darned delightful.
I could keep going, but I’m sure you get it by now. I am happy being a mom. I cannot say I would trade it in for a life of complete freedom and whimsy. Well, I would be willing for a weekend if anyone wants to come babysit.
And what did the Happiness man say? He said, Research from Dan Buettner’s book, Blue Zones, shows that while having a child is stressful, a parent’s happiness rises after the child turns 18 years old… and keeps rising!
Me, I’m happy to hear that.
The Happiness Institute:
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3 Responses to The Measure of Happiness

  1. Brenda says:

    Wow! Your blog this week brought tears to my eyes. So beautifuly written. You really nailed the emotions of parenthood!

  2. Monti says:

    Me too Brenda! I love you Jen!

  3. Terri says:

    This was a great read and so true. Being a parent will forever be the best thing I did in my life. My "baby" is 35 now and still amazes me. What a gift from God!

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