Ask any homeschooling parent what she wishes for her child’s future, and happiness will be at the top of the list. Of course, between trying to master the facts of multiplication, battling over how many episodes of Mythbusters a person can legitimately watch in one day, carpooling to co-op too early on Tuesday mornings, and trying to squeeze in a load of laundry so that you’re not perpetually out of underwear, happiness isn’t necessarily something we homeschooling parents float around projecting every day. In fact, 87 percent of moms and 58 percent of dads say that feeling like they’re falling short as parents keeps them from feeling happy in their parenting lives. It’s not that we don’t want to be happy—it’s that we trick ourselves into believing that we should only get to be happy when we’re doing it all just right.
Well, I’m here to tell you: You’re doing it right, and it’s time to put your own happiness back at the top of your to-do list. Next time your friend’s fabulous homeschool Facebook updates make you question your own choices, or your kid has a Target meltdown in aisle nine, or you have to choose between guitar lessons and drama classes because life on a homeschooler’s budget can be a little pinched, make a conscious effort to find your happy place with these practical tips to beat the homeschooling blues. You’ll find that happiness is sometimes just an attitude adjustment away.
Smile more often.
Just the act of smiling can make you feel happier, says Dacher Kellner, Ph.D, who conducted a study at the University of California comparing women’s high school yearbook photos with their self-reported happiness levels decades later. Across the board, the women who flashed the biggest, happiest smiles for the yearbook photographer in high school had better marriages, more mental focus, and reported a greater sense of overall wellbeing than the women who barely cracked a smile in their yearbook photos. Next time you catch your reflection in the mirror, make a point of smiling a big smile, even if your brain’s not in it at first—it may be all you need to turn on your inner happiness.
Spend less time on Facebook.
Every time you log onto your social media accounts, you run the risk of sabotaging your good mood. Nearly 33 percent of Facebook users say spending time on the site makes them feel unhappy because their friends’ lives seem so much better than their own. Rationally, we know that social media posts are just part of the picture—we’re not seeing the piles of laundry or preteen pouting off-screen — but it’s not easy to hold onto that knowledge when you’re scrolling through happy photo after happy photo of fabulous homeschool vacations and cool science experiments. This holds especially true when we’re checking Facebook because we’re bored, frustrated, or tired—which is when so many of us log in to our Facebook accounts. Instead of fretting over how your friends’ post-worthy moments compare to your not-so-photogenic morning, enjoy a glimpse into the lives of other families. Take a moment to interact—leave a comment, post a photo, or, better yet, write your own status update. The same Facebook study found that lurkers on the site were the most dissatisfied, but the more people interacted with their online friends, the better able they were to keep their own lives in perspective.
Schedule a girls’ night out.
The more time you spend with your pals in real life, the less likely you are to feel like they’re having Pinterest-perfect lives while you’re missing out. People who get the majority of their social interaction online tend to think their friends are happier and having more fun than they are, suggests research published earlier this year in the journal Cyberpschology, Behavior, and Social Networking. When people had more face-to-face interaction with friends, they tended to feel that they were as happy as their pals. But the benefits of friendship aren’t just perception: Researchers at the University of Illinois found that the number-one thing the happiest participants in a 2003 study had in common was strong relationships. Study participants who consistently described themselves as very happy all had strong ties to friends and family and made spending time with the people they cared about a top priority. If a night out is hard to pull off, consider forming a once-a-month get-together group. Bring the kids, a potluck dish, and a bottle of wine to share. Even with the occasional “Mo-o-om” from the kids, you’ll reap the benefits of a night with your friends.
Evaluate your week, not your day.
We experience happiness in two ways: The happiness of the moment, which can get knocked around by miserable math moments, squabbling siblings, or dysfunctional dishwashers, and remembering happiness, which reflects the experience as a whole. When people use their remembering happiness, looking back at an experience, they tend to see it more positively than they do if they’re asked to evaluate their happiness at a given moment during the experience, found researchers at the University of Texas. That’s why studies like the one conducted by Time magazine in 2005 can show that people say their children give their lives the greatest happiness, while the everyday job of taking care of the kids falls fifteenth on a list of nineteen happiness-generating activities—just barely more fun than house-cleaning. The more you focus on the homeschooling big picture, the more confident and happier you’re likely to feel. In other words, don’t let a bad day trick you into thinking you’re a bad homeschooling parent. Shifting your focus from a rough morning to the big picture may be all you need to boost your mood.
You don’t always need to make big changes to feel happier about your life. Sometimes a little adjustment can be all you need to see your way to the bright side. Little things—like getting a good night’s sleep or breaking for a snack when you’re hungry—can have a bigger impact on your happiness than big-ticket fun like taking a vacation or buying new shoes, says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Even better, little changes like these build on themselves, creating a happiness momentum that keeps growing. Next time you feel stuck in a rut, think of one thing you can do to boost your health or happiness—and do it. Something as simple as starting your homeschool day with a walk around the neighborhood to get a little exercise or buying a pretty scarf to wear over your wrinkled T-shirts and jeans can make your everyday life a little happier.
Write it down.
If you’re not keeping a homeschool joy journal, you’re missing the opportunity to pat yourself on the back—and the opportunity to feel happier about your homeschooling life. In a study at the University of California at Riverside, a team of researchers led by Sonja Lyubomirsky found that people who kept a gratitude journal for six weeks felt much happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who didn’t jot down the good stuff. A gratitude journal helps prevent you from fixating on little problems and steers your attention toward those just-as-valid little successes instead. Keep a notebook on your night table, and make a point to pencil in one good moment of each homeschooling day before you go to sleep at night.
Make some alone time.
Me-time may seem impossible, but it’s essential, says Meg Meeker, M.D., author of The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming our Passion, Purpose and Sanity. Not only does a little alone time give you a break from the constant pull of double-duty mom-teacher responsibilities, taking a break literally lets your body recharge physically and emotionally. Eighty-five percent of moms feel guilty that they don’t spend enough time with their kids, found researchers when they compiled data for The Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, but that same data suggests that parents today spend more quality time with their kids than any previous generation. That’s why it’s not too surprising that 71 percent of parents say that the one thing they really yearn for is a few minutes of alone time. Especially if you’re spending the vast majority of your days homeschooling and parenting, taking a me-break is essential for your mental health. If you truly feel like your homeschool schedule won’t accommodate any parent time-off, it may be time to rethink your to-do list.
Do something different.
Here’s something interesting: When she was working on The Happiness Project, Rubin found that the more comfortable people were in a given situation, the more likely they were to unfavorably compare themselves to other people. When you’re moving through life on autopilot, you have time to obsess over what that cute mom at co-op is wearing (seriously, how does she find time to brush her hair, much less put on eyeliner every day?) or how much better your neighbor’s lawn looks than yours. Change your focus by changing your routine: Start a book club, take a sewing class, bike to the park, do anything to change your everyday pattern. When you’ve got something new and interesting to occupy your mind, you’re less likely to fixate on things you feel might be missing from your own life—and at the same time, you’ll be making your life the happy place you always knew it should be.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Atlanta Homeschool.