With Emma in full day kindergarten, I have been blessed with the opportunity to spend some quality time with my second-born. Without the pressure of competing with her charismatic sister for my attention, Phoebe is able to just be herself. The more I get to know her, the more I adore her…but at times question if she is really my child or was potentially switched at birth. Why?
Because the kid is happy. Like, pretty much all the time.
Certain things in life have come easy to me. Reading (both words and music), yoga, identifying the celebrity voiceover in car commercials…these are things that come to me somewhat naturally and without a great deal of effort. But being happy? Not so much. Even as a little kid I was described as “sensitive,” pensive, and moody. When I was on, I was ON – but when I was off, well…put on your helmet.
Emma, God bless her, seems to have inherited these traits from me. Our time spent together, while always lively and exciting…can be a little draining. Emma’s overall experience of life is intense. She is a sponge in her tendency to absorb the emotional muckety-muck of the world around her. Taking on collective global suffering is a lot for a kindergartner.
Phoebe, on the other hand, appears happily oblivious and/or has mastered the art of denial. If it’s raining cats and dogs, Phoebe throws up her hands and says, “It’s not RAINING! It’s a sunny day!” While Emma was speaking in articulate sentences before age 1, Phoebe kind of….energetically babbles. While I may not always know exactly what she is talking about, I figure it’s a happy commentary: most of her sentences end with “Ok? Sound Good?” “You like ‘dat?” “Lets DO It!” or, my personal favorite, “You wanna?? C’mon…it’s wheely wheely FUN!”
She also seems wired to see life as one big opportunity for pleasure. For Emma (and myself), too much sensory stimulation can quickly become….too much. A trip to one of those moon bounce places can quickly turn into a bad acid trip.
With Phoebe, however, it’s more like spending the day with a stoner. Just last week Phoebe was sitting at the kitchen counter while I prepared her lunch. I heard her talking to herself, so I turned around and said, “What did you say, Pheebs?” She was scooping hummus out of the container with both hands and then into her mouth. With her eyes closed she murmured, “This is goooood stuff, Mom, mmmmmmmm!” And then just this morning as I was getting dressed, she touches my shirt as if it is the most amazing thing she has ever seen: “Mom! Your shirt has striiiipes! And they are bluuuuue! Oooooh, I like ‘doz stripes!”
Perhaps the key skill Phoebe possesses is her ability to self-soothe. I have learned not to crowd her when she wipes out at the playground, because she prefers to talk herself through it: “Is Ok. Is ok. I fine.” I hear her talking on the baby monitor as she goes to sleep: “Dat’s a GHOST! Is Ok, he not scare-wy. Hello, Mr. Happy Ghost!” And while she’s always happy to see me, I could be abducted by aliens and Phoebe would blow kisses to the mother ship and say, “Ok Mom! You have fun at yoga!”
So what’s the deal with happiness? I have two kids raised in the same house, yet one sees the glass as half full while the other sees the glass as something to be recycled before our landfills explode and we all drown in garbage. Is it genetic? Did Phoebe happen to make off with the happy gene while Emma scored the long blond hair?
Is happiness hereditary?
Many researchers on this topic believe that we are genetically predisposed to a certain “happiness set point”, not unlike our body type or weight. Oprah could work out 4 hours a day and still not look like Kate Moss. That being said, it is still within her control to formulate habits that will create the healthiest, most fit version of herself.
It seems the same applies to improving our happiness set point. By cultivating and then committing to certain practices, we are able to strengthen our feel-good muscles. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”, highlights some of these happy habits in this blog post. Lyubomirsky had a bunch of great ideas, but in the spirit of starting small, here were my favorites:
Count Your Blessings: Because I do everything Oprah tells me to do, I already keep a gratitude journal. But the idea of doing one as a family practice once a week is something I am going to add to our Sunday night dinners.
Savoring Life’s Joys: Experience life like
a stoner Phoebe. She stops to feel the wind on her face, immerses herself in the joys of puddle jumping, and really, really enjoys her food. Don’t just eat the hummus, become one with the hummus.
Random Acts of Kindness: I have found the best way to approach this is to start small. Obviously signing up for Meals on Wheels or organizing a clothing drive are awesome ways to give back to your community….but so is picking up trash while walking around your neighborhood or calling your grandmother. I have found that the simple act of holding the door for someone puts some pep back in my step.
Give Your Body What it Needs: When Phoebe DOES gets cranky, I know she either needs to eat, sleep or move. Phoebe’s preferred method of exercise? Dancing. One of the many things I have learned from Phoebe: It’s hard to be pissed when you are dancing: http://youtu.be/KPTkwCiL5VU