Three simple happiness practices for busy parents

When Instagram came around, I was super excited for a new way to share my photography. It felt like a great space to share photographs, and to give love to others brave enough to post.

Very quickly, Instagram turned into a place to mindlessly scroll. A place where I got paused mostly by things that hit home a bit too hard.

I compared my successes and failures to photographers who were further along than I was. I compared my experiences to an influencer’s nomadic travel adventures. I compared my home, my clothes, my hobbies – heck, my life – to the big lump fantasy that I had created of everyone else’s highlight reels.

I realized that being too caught up in everyone else’s lives dulled the happiness in my own.

When I catch myself in the spiral, I will delete the responsible accounts. Then I remind myself of a few happiness tricks that I’ve picked up along the past couple years:

Practice appreciation

Traditional gratitude practice is a little too vague for me, because something like “I have a roof over my head” is too broad and simply doesn’t do the trick.

Being grateful for something often also carries a negative counter-part (we are grateful for our home because we would otherwise live on the street, we are grateful for the help of our in-laws because we would otherwise have been without a sitter for date night, we are grateful for our meal because many others are without).

But appreciating something does not have to come with any of that baggage! Appreciating things and beauty as they present themselves in the world simply requires you to be in the moment – and not scroll your Instagram feed.

Some examples:

  • how the beam of sunlight warms up your face when you’re at the park during a cold fall morning
  • how creamy the chai latte form the new place around the corner turned out to be
  • how effectively that organic non-toxic child-friendly cleaning spray got the raspberry finger stains off of the marble counter
  • how your son’s curly hair lights up in the golden light streaming through the window
  • how encouragingly that fellow grocery-shopper smiled at you, when you had to drag your fire engine red kiddo away from the cereal aisle

Appreciation is accessible to you in all kinds of situations.

Summon the feeling you crave

The more specific I get about what exactly I want to feel during a particular (maybe stressful, overwhelmed, or sad) moment, the easier it is for me to think of things that will make me feel better.

If I want to feel comforted in a given moment, for example, I think of a couple things that make me feel comforted:

  • My dog curling up by my feet in the morning.
  • My best friend checking in on me when I have a rough day.
  • A hot shower. (Sometimes I will just hop in instead of just thinking about it.)

Simply thinking about those very specific things makes me feel that feeling I crave. I have had those happy feelings once and they’re accessible any time I choose – and remember – to slow down and summon them.

Practice natural awareness

During meditation, I have a hard time focusing on my breath or a phrase without my thoughts pin-balling around. While it is normal for the mind to wander and the key thing in meditation is to be aware of distractions and to come back to the breath… I have had a hard time feeling good about my meditation attempts.

Meditation has felt like something I need to accomplish, instead of something that gives me peace, relaxation and joy.

Recently the 10% Happier podcast published a short bonus episode by Diana Winston. Diana talked about “natural awareness”, a state of being fully immersed in a moment where you feel peace, a deep connection, or a flow-like state – often in nature, sports or around people.

The way she talks about natural awareness feels relaxed and joyous, like going back to childhood wonder. Like a connection with yourself, the world, and what matters to you.

Natural awareness is something you can choose to lean on at any point in your day, without having to make the time or the effort to officially meditate.

  • Maybe it’s when your toddler falls asleep in your arms, and you soak up the warmth you feel against your chest.
  • Maybe it’s when you notice the rosemary smell of your short rib stew filling up your kitchen.
  • Maybe it’s when the new baby is finally asleep, and the entire house is silent.
  • Maybe it’s when you dip your feet into the ocean on your family beach day.
  • Maybe it’s a silent moment spent water the garden.

Finding these moments takes a bit of practice. A good clue into what may relax you the most is thinking about which things made you slow down and relax when you were a kid.

Final thoughts

I am the first to confess that I do not manage to do all – or sometimes any – of these things every single day. But I know that when I do, I feel much happier.

These practices don’t cost you any money, potentially a little time.

You already possess everything you need to be you, to feel what you want to feel, to take action, to set intentions, and to surround yourself with inspiration rather than perspiration.

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