Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Becoming Happier

guest blog by Marie S. Paxson

Ever feel like your kids took a look at that chart of all the bad things that can happen to young people with ADHD… and started using it as some sort of to-do list?

I believe these difficult episodes reinforce the theory that those with ADHD may have a thirty percent lag in brain development. So their growing years are going to last longer.

Last week I talked about managing unhappiness. While you will need to master that skill, that’s only part of the equation. You’re going to need some ways to become happier while raising challenging children.

These suggestions may feel contrived. We all want happiness to just appear as needed, but it doesn’t work that way. Genuinely happy people invite it in and make room for it. The elements of ongoing happiness and contentment include gratitude, spirituality, and pleasant memories.

Let’s start with gratitude. Ugh!—right? I’m not a sunshine-and-rainbows kind of gal. I embrace my tendency towards snark, since I’m not mean spirited. But it is hard to argue with the scientific evidence that gratitude increases one’s ability to be happy. Research also suggests that expressing gratitude should be done frequently, not just while one is unhappy.

If you don’t know where to begin, you can start with saying a quick thank you for your food, clothing, and shelter. Since you are doing this to increase happiness, the habit is more important than the topic.

Here’s what I do, since smelling the roses doesn’t come naturally to me. On a regular basis, I express gratitude for all of the near misses in my daily life. My dog didn’t chase that jogger? Check. Spilled beverage didn’t ruin my paperwork? Check. Husband didn’t bring up the topic I asked him to avoid at a party? Check. You get the idea.

This leads us right into spirituality. Research has shown that those with strong faith or spiritual beliefs are happier. If you are part of a faith that you like, you could delve deeper. If aren’t finding meaning with your current method, you might consider changing congregations. If you don’t know what you believe, exploring different spiritual paths can be comforting as well as enlightening. The point is to connect with something outside of ourselves.

Another strategy to increase happiness is to think back on a time when you were happy or happiest. What were the elements of that time of your life? Can some be replicated now?

Suppose you recall being really happy at your cousin’s wedding. What enjoyable elements were present? The people you were with? Staying at a hotel? Dancing? After identifying this, you can add these as “essentials” to be enjoyed regularly. If you have adult ADHD, you may need to create a reminder to scan your weekly schedule to ensure it includes joyful activities.

Remember that suggestion from last week’s post about radical self-care? Take it seriously. Popular culture describes radical self-care as making a priority of stress reduction and engaging in enjoyable activities. It is moving self-care to the top of your to-do list. It means dropping everything and putting your needs first.

Why do it? It seems counterintuitive to do relaxing or interesting activities during a crisis. But radical self-care can break the cycle of obsessive thoughts and useless worry. It can restore balance to your thoughts and prevent erosion of your general health. Also, do you want your children to remember you as a depleted, frazzled parent with weak coping skills? Do you want them to think that is an appropriate response to life’s difficulties?

Look online for examples. The most important aspect is that it is individualized. Don’t just follow a list created by others. Do what speaks to YOU.

The bottom line is that you are going to a parent for a very long time. Your role will not end when your child turns eighteen, twenty-one, or even thirty, although your daily involvement will change. Making the effort to increase your happiness will maintain your health and improve your ability to problem solve, which will pay off for your entire family.

A longer version of this post appears in the April 2015 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Marie S. Paxson chairs the editorial advisory board of Attention magazine. A former member of the organization’s national board of directors, she is a past president of CHADD.

1 comment:

  1. This was a terrific article. Thank you for sharing.