Are you filling in your happiness?

communicaiton what to do when May 16, 2019

“Hey Julie, My kiddo is graduating from high school soon, and, as much as I want to be happy, I’m also incredibly sad. I’ve been so wrapped up in my life as a parent that I feel like now that my kids are getting older, I’m losing my happiness.”

This question certainly hits home as my oldest is graduating from high school in a few days, and for some reason, I started thinking about a game, Mad Libs, I played as a child and then I played it with my kids when they were growing up. Mad Libs was one of my absolute favorite things to do. If you aren’t familiar, Mad Libs is a word template game that prompts you to substitute words in the story resulting in a humorous and very silly tale, like this:

  “One day, a __________ went to ________ and __________ a ______.”

                   name of animal       place past-tense verb  noun

Mad Libs has certainly stood the test of time as it is just as popular today as it was in 1977. However, Mad Libs can lose their appeal as sometimes those stories are neither humorous or silly. Our lives can be a little like that – especially when we are in the midst of parenting teens.

And, every year when the graduation season opens, I find that when I speak with parents, the excitement for their child’s hopes, dreams and plans is palpable. As the topic shifts to their own dreams and finding our happy comes up, the excitement continues with ideas like …

“Maybe I’ll start a business.”

“I’d love to travel more. Oooh, a trip to India is on my bucket list.”

“Wouldn’t it be cool if I went back to college, too?”

“I want to skydive!”

 You can feel the enthusiasm right up to the moment it stops abruptly. The next response sounds a lot like this:  “This sounds absolutely amazing to me, BUT ...”

That big but is typically followed with an “I have to do/be/see/work, so I can pay my mortgage or their college tuition/care for my family/take a trip/be successful …” It’s like excuse-themed Mad Libs. All you have to do is insert your excuse, justification, and lack of momentum and responsibility to fill in the blanks.

It’s enough to drive a person, well, mad. However, these people are on the right track regarding one thing. There is a blank they have to fill in, and the caption for that blank reads “your happiness.” It can be absolutely anything you want. (Side note >> If for any reason what you have inserted into the blank doesn’t make you happy, change it.)

Years ago, I worked at a job where I was miserable. I would dread waking up each morning. Often, I would wish for a cold or a flu bug so I could stay home. It was a horrible feeling. However, I felt I didn’t have a choice. I was young and “needed” the job to pay my monthly rent. Many years later, the same thing happened in my marriage. I felt I didn’t have a choice in our happiness, my happiness.

In both cases, most people said, “Well, just stick it out a little longer. Things could be worse. Work at the job until something better comes along. Stay even if you are unhappy. You have to do it for the kids.” So, you know what I did? I stayed … for awhile. And, then I didn’t.

There is no situation that absolutely requires you to stay in it – society, religion, certain beliefs may tell you there is, but really there isn’t. If you really want to change, you can do it at any time, because you are responsible for your own happiness. Let me repeat that.

You are responsible for your own happiness.

So, what does that have to do with feeling sad when your child graduates? When a parent’s happiness is attached to their child’s success or even presence, it puts pressure on the child to make sure you are okay. Basically, it leaves them one-foot-in-one-foot out of their new pursuits. Being responsible for your happiness purely based on what lights you up gives a teen permission to grow and go confidently into the next stage of their life.

Being responsible for your happiness also gives YOU permission to grow and go confidently into the next stage of your life as well.

So how do you fill in the blanks to “find” your own happiness?

  1. Acknowledge your feelings … all your feelings whether “good” or “bad” and let them run their course. There is nothing inherently good or bad about a feeling; it simply is a feeling. If you are feeling happy, acknowledge “I am happy.” If you are sad, nervous, _______ (fill in the blank), acknowledge it by saying “I am sad, nervous, ________.” Once you’ve acknowledged the feeling, let it run its course. Allow the feeling to have movement through crying, laughing, or anything else you need. (Emotions need motion!)
  2. Be grateful.  Write a list of everything you are grateful for - including your child’s graduation and their future plans. It may contain things like my house, my car, my partner to the taste of coffee in the morning, the smell of pizza on a Friday afternoon.
  3. Appreciate yourself. After you have written down your gratitude list, add a few self-appreciation items to the list, such as “I appreciate my wicked sense of humor,” or “I love how I am drawn to philosophy books in the library.” All too often we express gratitude towards others but forget to appreciate ourselves.
  4. Notice your focus. The old adage of sprout where you are planted holds true. As you look at your gratitude and appreciation list, take note of the “seeds” you have planted. These are the things that you tend to focus your attention on in your list. If you find you talked a lot about food, perhaps there is joy in culinary arts. If you find yourself fascinated with crime dramas, maybe you want to take a course on criminal behavior. The things you note are where you may find the seeds of happiness and joy that aren’t dependent on anything or anyone else but you.
  5. Celebrate this moment. You have come a long way. I may not know your full journey but I do know that you have pulled, prodded, stretched, crumbled, and stumbled. You have grown in ways you never anticipated and guided your child to this point where they are ready to launch into the world. Celebrate that and celebrate you.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. How do you cultivate your own happiness while still celebrating your childs? Where do you find happiness to “fill in the blanks?” Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And, as always, if you know someone who is looking to understanding teens on a deeper level, I’d be infinitely grateful if you passed this post along.

With appreciation,