Have you ever met someone who seems happy all the time? Maybe it’s that person who always has a cheery, upbeat greeting for everyone, or someone who inexplicably manages to remain positive amidst challenging circumstances. But it might make you wonder, “Why am I not one of those people?”
Why is happiness so elusive? For many caregivers, the answer seems obvious. Physical fatigue, emotional exhaustion, lost sleep and the general stress of juggling caregiving responsibilities with your children’s needs and a career all can make it difficult to find happiness in life.
Then again, if you think of happiness as an object to “find,” you may be looking at the situation the wrong way. According to science, happiness isn’t something you find–it’s something you make.
Philosophers have discussed the nature of happiness for more than 2,500 years, and modern psychologists began more recently to study happiness from a scientific perspective. Contemporary researchers have crafted studies to examine what constitutes happiness and whether or not people can create happiness for themselves. The answer? Yes, they can.
Best of all, creating more happiness in your hectic caregiving life need not be labor-intensive or time-consuming. Try these three tactics to help start increasing your happiness right now.
1. Stop looking at your cell phone so much
Technology can be a boon for family caregivers. You can carry a loved one’s medication inventory with you on your phone, and you have all emergency numbers literally at your fingertips.
Yet a study by Kent State University of 500 students in the United States showed that frequent cell phone use made students feel anxious and less happy. Perhaps this is because many people use their cell phones as a distraction—checking social status updates, flipping through news headlines—and researchers have linked distraction with feelings of unhappiness.
The antidote to distraction as a happiness-killer? Focus. As a caregiver, you may be able to increase your feelings of happiness by setting down the phone and interacting with the person sitting across from you at the table, preparing a complex recipe or reading a book. These activities all require your brain to focus for an extended period of time, and happiness usually follows when the brain feels engaged.
2. Hug a few trees
The Japanese call it “forest bathing,” and we North Americans could learn something from this practice. Since 1982, people in Japan have been encouraged to spend more time in nature because science supports a direct link between nature appreciation and increased wellbeing.
Caring for a spouse, older adult relative or friend over a long period of time can lead the care partner to feel housebound. After all, most caregiving activities take place indoors. But this lack of exposure to the outdoor environment can cause a distinct decrease in general happiness levels.
And if the idea of hiking or cycling outdoors turns you off, you’re in luck. True forest bathing does not involve any sort of arduous effort. Indeed, the point is to relax and commune with nature, not to turn the activity into an exercise session. So take time to regularly sit on a park bench or enjoy a picnic beneath a mighty oak. You may find your happiness levels increase tree-mendously.
3. Keep a gratitude journal
Some caregiving days go smoothly, while others can be filled with challenges. And while you may feel a tendency to focus on all the things that went wrong on a particular day, you may be better off focusing on all the things that went right.
One 2003 study found a correlation between happiness and focusing on gratitude. Fortunately, recording the blessings in your life is an easy exercise that takes little time. Simply purchase a small notebook and jot down each evening all the things you were grateful for during the previous 24 hours.
Beyond making you feel better at the end of each day, consistently focusing on the positive aspects of your life can actually reinforce the neural pathways of your brain, leading you to naturally develop an optimistic outlook that increases your feelings of overall happiness.
The life of a care partner can be hectic and stressful. But these three simple techniques can help you increase your happiness no matter your life circumstances.