If It Makes You Happy: Using Positive Emotions To Practice Self-Care

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Parenting can be very challenging. It certainly takes a village to raise a baby, and in our individualistic world, many parents have few relatives or friends to support them in their daily struggles. This can be literally exhausting, particularly for first time parents, for those living under conditions of financial hardship and stress, or when parenting a child with a difficult temperament [1].

One of the most important things to make parenting a more manageable experience is to engage in self-care, which is a term used for activities that allow for rest and meaning making in one’s life. Self-care may include concrete tasks such as getting more sleep and asking for help with daily tasks; another way to view self-care is by making time for certain activities that generate positive emotions such as joy, awe, compassion, connection to nature, inspiration, spirituality, and closeness to loved ones, among others.

Positive emotions are important, they aren’t frivolous or momentary sensations. When experienced consistently, these emotions have real and lasting benefits in our lives. When people experience a higher ratio of positive over negative emotion, they [2]:

  • Have better health outcomes, as is seen through improvements in their immune system and being less prone to stress-related diseases.
  • Can cultivate better relationships that are more trusting, less judgmental, and have little conflict.
  • Can build resiliency for when challenges arise.
  • Can broaden their perspective, making them more creative.

Although it may seem unrealistic to busy, new parents to engage in self-care, finding ways to schedule in activities that address your physical and emotional health is key to being a more balanced parent. We encourage you to start with anything that you might already be doing once in awhile and gradually increasing the frequency or length of time you can engage in that activity. Additionally, consider self-care that makes you feel inspired, loved, serene, grateful, hopeful, enthusiastic, proud or simply content. A walk at the park? Watching the sunset? Having a cup of coffee with a dear friend? Expressing gratitude to your own parents? As the song says, If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.

Notes:

[1] Nelson, S. K., Kushlev, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being? Psychological Bulletin, 140(3), 846-895. doi:10.1037/a0035444.

[2] Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803.

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