Why I Stopped Focusing on Happiness and Learned to Be Content

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A happy family embracing.How often have we, as mothers, said, “I just want my family to be happy.”

“I don’t care if they are [smart, rich, popular]; I just want my kids to be happy.”

Or “As long as they are happy, I’m happy.”

Even look at the often-quoted saying, “Happy wife, happy life.”

We’ve been trained to feel like happiness is the end goal.

We feel like it is something we can and should be able to provide for our family. I want my kids to be happy and hope my husband is happy. I try to find ways to be happy myself. Heck, I even want the dog to be happy.

The truth is happiness is fleeting.

It is an experience of joy, pleasure, or even laughter based on a moment. It is a wonderful feeling, but it is not sustainable because it is based on forces outside our control. We can only feel happy when things are going our way.

But what about when things aren’t going our way? What if our kids don’t get the part in the play they wanted? Or if our husband doesn’t get the promotion he expected? What if our couch is worn out and out of style, but we can’t afford a new one? How about if the dog wants to go for a walk, but it’s pouring outside?

How can we still find a way to feel good inside when things are crummy on the outside? The answer is contentment.

Contentment is a feeling of gratitude and satisfaction, no matter the circumstances. It is a feeling of peacefulness, a way of feeling thankful for the way things are right now, whether we are getting what we want or not.

I don’t know about you, but this type of sustainable feeling of peace is definitely what I want for my family. I don’t want to teach them that they will only be happy when they get what they want. Or that they can only feel happy when things are going their way. I want my children to learn that they can have daily satisfaction and gratitude.

So, how can we practice contentment?

1. List the things you are thankful for every day.

This habit has helped me focus on what I have rather than what I don’t. I try to list three things each morning when I wake up. I’m encouraging my children to list one or two things at dinner or before bed to help them reframe their day.

2. Put limits on purchases.

Sure, there are times when we can go overboard on holidays, vacations, or birthdays. But I’m working on not giving in to impulse purchases. Stuff will never make us happy, even if we think it does when we first buy it. I ask myself, do we need or want this item? Or do we already have enough?

3. Get Outside

Take a break from whatever you’re doing, and get outside. Just a change of view and some fresh air can help shift your perspective. Even better if you can spend some time outside doing something you love.

4. Practice Mindfulness

Every moment can help us find peace. Notice little things like the smell of a favorite candle, the taste of your coffee, and the cushion of your desk chair. It sounds cheesy, but it works.

5. Take Breaks from Social Media

Compare and despair! Social media is a highly curated highlight reel of the best moments. Don’t flood your mind with images of what everyone else is doing. Live in your moment.

6. Build Your Community

Find people who also value contentment over happiness. Spend time with people who look on the bright side, aren’t always chasing the next shiny thing, and don’t think happiness is always just out of reach.

Is chasing happiness actually making you feel worse? What changes can you and your family make to find more peace in your days?

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Kate S. is a mom at home in Fairfield with her 4 kids (2 girls and 2 boys) and one puppy. Kate's sister introduced her to Chris, whom she married in 2010. They welcomed their first daughter in 2012, a son in 2014, another daughter in 2016, another boy in 2018, and finally a puppy in 2021. Kate and Chris's parenting motto would probably be, "Just take them with you." As a family, they continue to enjoy activities like skiing, kayaking, and hiking by taking turns to teach the older kids or strapping babies into backpacks. Kate can be found out and about exploring with her kids, volunteering at their schools, or laughing with other moms at the beautiful chaos of life with children.

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