Whenever I start a conversation with someone, I ask them, how’s life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I don’t exactly know why I started doing that, or even when I started, I just know it’s been a part of my standard greeting for most of my adult life. If I dig a little deeper, it’s probably because I’ve always been fascinated by what this idea of the pursuit of happiness. I mean, really, what is happiness, why does it feel so elusive sometimes, and how do you hold on to it when you think you’ve finally got it in your grasp? I think these questions provide me with my own clues about why it’s been such an interesting chase.
It’s been said that as a parent, you’re only as happy as your least happy child. Yikes. Fortunately I don’t believe that. But I do believe that my pursuit of happiness as a father, impacts my daughters ability to recognize and embrace happiness in their own lives. Sometimes I wonder how I’m doing. I grew up in a household where showing emotions, particularly for the men in my family, was a rare or non-existent thing. So even if we were supposed to be excited about something, it was hard to tell. I had a lot of unlearning to do in adulthood around processing and articulating my emotions, and I’m still working on it now. This challenge locating myself is often what’s behind my own inability to embrace the happiness that might be right in front of me.
Fortunately, I’m growing and surrounding myself with people who are on the same journey. Just this week, I met with a group of other parents at my daughters’ school to discuss “how to help children avoid getting in their own way by making a feelings and needs plan.” Sounds useful. I thought, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot about how to help my daughters deal with their messy emotions. (lol, of course it was about them and not me). What I wasn’t expecting (but probably should have given the nature of our school), was how much I would personally grow as a result of the conversation.
We began by asking ourselves a series of questions using a resource from a website called Feelings Wheel. Here’s a bit of my own edited notes I took for myself that I then talked through with a few other parents in our small group conversation.
How am I feeling right now? Honestly? I’m feeling a bit anxious, worried, and possibly overwhelmed given the multitude of things I feel like are on my plate for today to get done [all while my 3 year old is home on Covid quarantine this week]…and stuff that i’d like to do that i haven’t even gotten to yet- and perhaps some inadequacy given that the things i really want to do (shower, bike ride w/Sloane), i’ve deprioritized to do other things like responding to email and putting out (or starting depending on who you ask) fires at work…
Why am I feeling that way? didn’t i just answer that?
Based on how I’m feeling, what might I need today? A nanny would be nice…along with some time to myself, definitely a shower…did I mention that? Space. Some reflecting and processing time to think about how I want to show up for the rest of my day, so that I’m not on edge or defensive, but instead open…Oh, and it would be nice for no one else to annoy me today.
We were then prompted to brainstorm for ourselves what might we do to get those needs met. Before we went too much further though, we were prompted to audit our plan.
Does your plan of getting your needs met involve other people? If so, how can you create a plan that doesn’t involve other people? Well, I guess that means I can’t count on either the nanny or for folks to read my mind about not annoying me….
By the end of the conversation I’d had a few good laughs and felt much lighter (my favorite line was when another dad remarked, “I’m dead inside.”). Just by being present for those brief 30 minutes of my day, I’d found the happiness that was already right there. It all began with an acknowledgement of what was going on with me right then in that moment, and why it mattered. Then of course, I made a plan, one that didn’t involve other people to meet my needs, but instead relied on me to be honest and open with myself about where I was and what I needed.
I think I’ll keep asking people, how’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? Especially my daughters. Only from now on, I’ll actually be listening to their answers. Hopefully they’ll observe mine in real life.