by EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, Ph.D
We sometimes think of parents as harried, tired and exhausted. In fact a recent study showed that the first year of a child is worse than divorce, unemployment and even the death of a partner! Despite the blissful photos pasted on social media, parents often feel overwhelmed and pushed to the brink.
- You stop being attached to plans and outcomes.
When non-parents plan to go out on a fun outing or decide to go to bed early to get a nice long night of sleep, their plans usually work out (and if they don’t, they get pretty upset). Parents, on the other hand, simply stop expecting things to go a certain way. Things may go great, but they also may not. You may have a great experience or be doing damage control the entire time. As a parent, you stop being fixated on things having to go your way. You become more accepting of what is and learn to regulate your emotions. You become humbler because you realize that you don’t really have full control. A parent is always like a beginner because every moment is new, every age is different, and every child is a new experience. You’ve learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And you’ve learned to have that proverbial Zen beginner’s mind.
- You Gain a Deep Sense of Purpose.
Researchshows that becoming a parent gives you a sense of purpose – and happiness. All of a sudden, you aren’t the center of the universe anymore. Your children come first. You begin to live with a sense of service—taking responsibility for the lives of others. Research on psychological well-being shows that both purpose and living with a sense of service are tremendous determinants of a fulfilling life—not to mention that it boostsyour longevity and cardiovascular health. Moreover, with that sense of a larger purpose, you automatically stop sweating the small stuff. So the kitchen is a mess and the cat is drinking out of the faucet again, you forgot to take the trash out on trash day and the oil change on your car is way overdue. That’s A-ok. There are bigger fish to fry.
- You Become Poignantly Aware of the Passage of Time.
Children— whose rates of growth and development are often staggering—are daily reminders that things are changing and that time is passing quickly. As a parent, you know you need to enjoy the moment now because soon your tots will be teens and then twenty-going-on-thirty-somethings. As a mom friend shared with me: “The days are long but the months are short.” Why does this awareness make you more mindful and happy? Research(link is external) shows that the more you are aware of the passage of time—especially that things are changing and coming to an end—the more you start to live in the present, savoring every positive experience and giving less weight to the negative ones.
These psychological boosts may be the reason that parenthood significantly increases your happiness and health biologically. The bonding you experience with a child, for example, releases hormones associated with trust, connection and well-being. Research shows that the cuddle and feel good hormone oxytocin courses through both mothers and fathers who bond with their child. The more affectionate a mom is with her child, and the more playful the father, the higher the parents’ levels of oxytocin.
Finally, while sleep deprivation and other costs of parenthood can seem taxing on the body, research shows that parenthood may also have health benefits like lowering blood pressure(link is external). In fact, parents are 52% less likely to develop a cold (and this was not due to having been exposed to the virus from their kids!)
Emma Seppälä, Ph.D is Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and is the author of The Happiness Track (HarperOne, 2016). She is also Co-Director of the Yale College Emotional Intelligence Project at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, and Scientific American Mind. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Fulfillment Daily, a popular news site dedicated to the science of happiness. Her work and research have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, VOGUE, ELLE, CBSNews, Oprah Magazine, Fast Company, U.S. World and News Report, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Inc, Huffington Post, ABC News, Business Insider, SELF, GLAMOUR. She has appeared several times on Good Morning America. She was also interviewed for Huffington Post Live and TIME/MONEY and is featured in the documentary film The Altruism Revolution. She is the recipient of a number of research grants and service awards including the James W. Lyons Award from Stanford University for founding Stanford’s first academic class on the psychology of happiness and teaching many well-being programs for Stanford students. She graduated from Yale (BA), Columbia (MA), and Stanford (PhD). Originally from.