happy parenting

Happy Parenting Is About Synthetic Happiness

Wouldn’t you like a magic “Happy Parenting” wand you can wave in the air to become happy instantly? It sounds far fetched, but it is more real than you think. It is called synthetic happiness, which is the idea that we get to create happiness for ourselves when things do not go as planned. When something goes wrong, we may choose to say a conspiracy has happened or life is against us. But instead, we could synthesize our happiness.

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert defines it this way: “Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted.” Synthetic happiness is the magic wand. It is a mental switch in our outlook. Here are 3 ways to create happiness out of thin air when life gets you down.

1. Expect the unexpected.

To create happiness, we have to stop focusing on having a perfect life and start looking for joy.

Always expect the unexpected so when things outside your control go wrong, you easily can let them go. You might have expected to spend the day golfing with a buddy but forgot about the important meeting your wife had scheduled. Rather than being unhappy to have to stay home with the kids, you can view this as an opportunity to plan a spontaneous day with your children. To create happiness, we have to stop focusing on having a perfect life and start looking for joy. You will feel happier when you let perfection go and mentally prepare for the worst. Happy parenting begins with this change in mindset. 

2. Learn to enjoy what you receive.

Children kick and scream when they get something they don’t want. Many parents do the same thing. If we develop a one-track mind, happiness is a distant fantasy. What if we enjoyed and appreciated our gifts, even the unexpected ones? Maybe your daughter snuck into your room at 2 a.m. because of a nightmare. Sure, your sleep cycle has been interrupted by pacifying her back to bed, but this is bonding time with her that solidifies your purpose as a father. We can bring more happiness to our lives when we enjoy what we have received rather than complain.

3. Balance natural happiness with synthetic happiness.

Having a magic wand does not mean we should merely go with the flow. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to wield that wand. We should still strive for excellence and enjoy the things that make us happy (natural happiness), but if we balance it with synthetic happiness (like being the only one who wakes up early enough to make your whole family breakfast when it is your birthday), then we will find ourselves living a happier life. As Mick Jagger sings, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need.” The “trying” he refers to is utilizing synthetic happiness.

Earn some points: Are you married? If so, share this iMOM article with your wife: 10 Habits Happy Women Share.

Sound off: In what areas of your life do you need this mental switch in order to build on synthetic happiness? 

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How do you deal with frustration?”