How to Be Happy – Consider These 3 Pillars

by Sally Shepherd May 07, 2021

young family camping

Sitting around the board room table at work on Friday, somewhere between hearing about the “monthly updates” and eating my 14th Jelly Baby of the morning, I had an epiphany. My manager was talking about the book “How to be Happy at Work” by Annie McKee, and asking us to reflect on whether we were, in fact, happy at work, and how to utilize McKee’s principles in our jobs. As it turns out, I am happy. I’ve never been happier at work, actually. I’m a psychologist and find it extremely rewarding, challenging, and fulfilling. But my reflection was on my “second job,” aka my life’s work, my main priority: parenting. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy at home. I love my two-year-old son and my husband to the moon and back. I feel happy much of the time. But this book is about thriving, about long-term, sustainable, fulfillment within your employment. If I’m honest, sometimes this toddler parenting gig feels like a day-by-day type of “March to the finish line” (perhaps the finish of a seemingly unending whiny car ride, or to the blessed relief of bedtime). The principles that McKee refers to in her book are important pillars that she says must be present in our lives to find happiness at work and I guess I started reflecting on whether they were present for me in my most important work. Are they there within our parenting? I think we all need to reflect on that (well, I do, anyway). So what are the pillars?

1 | A sense of purpose

This is us needing to have the chance to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Yes, arguably, being a parent is doing this in and of itself. But what about those things that we actually used to care about before becoming parents? Are they still a big part of our value system, and if so, are we still fully us if we are neglecting them? Are our kids and families seeing all of who we are and valuing that in us? Think about your passions, causes, the things that gave your life meaning BC (Before Children). The things that you used to happily debate with your loved ones. Are we keeping up to date with the issues that we care about most? Whether it be the environment, social justice issues, health, hobbies, artistic endeavors, international aid, I bet most of us have something apart from parenting that weighs on our hearts daily. I feel like sometimes when we become parents our worlds suddenly shrink. We become fixed on debates like breast vs formula, co-sleeping or not, and yada yada yada, until we become personally offended if someone makes a different choice to us. We become fixated on all things parenting! We forget that the world is a larger place. That we are larger people. What is our purpose, and who are we beyond parenting? How can we incorporate these things into our home lives and parenting, in order to be more fully engaged in ourselves, the world, and our families?

2 | Hope

We all need to have a vision that is personal to us. A vision that inspires hope in us. Not just hoping to make it to the next nap, or milestone, or next phase. At work, we often write down our vision statements, our goals, our five year plans. How often do we do that as parents? If every family is like ours (heaven help us all if that’s true) not very often. Where do you see your family in one month, one year, or five years? What would you most like to accomplish within your home life? What would “success” look like, feel like, smell like even? Would you like to travel, gain a family hobby, support a charity, renovate your backyard as the kids grow, improve your communication? What would that be like? How would it make you feel? Once you have reflected on this, visualize it – visualization and repetition of it actually work to increase the likelihood of something happening. This is because then our behavior is more likely to align to our vision (think motivation, perseverance, and self-fulfilling prophecies).

3 | Relationships

Resonant, friendly, deep relationships are another key to happiness. Relationships are a crucial component of our parenting journeys. We need friends! Not just people that we can hang out with occasionally and watch our kids play, or people we know because our kids are the same age. (Relationships of convenience, those are called.) We need deep, soul connections to thrive. I have been guilty of not prioritizing these connections in life. I am an introvert and I have grown up really close to my family. I guess I have subconsciously been of the mindset that I don’t “need” anyone else apart from my husband and family. This mindset followed me when I moved two states away from my family. I have thought I did not need people. But I do. Not all the time … I definitely value my alone time! But I need them in my life. Without them I do feel lonely, separate, different, and lack that sense of belonging in a village that is so necessary. Not only for practical reasons (though they matter) but also for that feeling that is the world not on my shoulders alone. As well as friends and family, we need positive relationships with our partners (if we have them). It is so, so common for our romantic relationships to be pushed to the sidelines when we have kids. Whether it is feelings of abandonment, neglect, feeling disrespected or put-upon, differing parenting ideals, exhaustion, different priorities, or simple lack of time, our relationships get put under a lot of pressure when we become parents. We need to put some thought into how we can prioritize our relationships, and keep them strong and growing for the sake of everyone’s happiness! It’s so toxic when they are not okay. These three reasons, McKee concludes, are the keys to thriving and being happy at work. For many of us, parenting is our full-time 24/7 work. It can be incredibly difficult to suddenly be fully emerged in the lives of little humans, 24 hours a day. It can be easy to lose ourselves, our sense of purpose, of hope, of identity, and of our own relationships. For others, me included, parenting is still our 24/7 job – we just may not be physically with our kids for part of the day, while we go to paid work. It is also easy in this case to lose our identity, purpose, and hope, or for it to be directed into our employment rather than into ourselves, our home lives, and our job as parents. Whatever type of parent you are, can I encourage you to think about McKee’s proposed elements for happiness at work? What is your purpose? What are you here for? What are you passionate about? What contributions do you want you and your family to make to the world? Who are you? What did you do before children that you miss, and want back? What hope drives you? What is your vision, plan, mission statement for your family? Who is important in your life? Who is your “person?” Who can you rely on? What do you need from them, and they from you? Have you guys communicated that to each other? What steps can you take to grow these relationships, and help them thrive? What are the barriers to that, and some potential fixes to these? I think it would help to write these things down, talk about them, and reflect on them sometimes. Visualize yourself living in good relationship with your family and your people, living out your purpose and being hopeful for the future. Think of it often. Be happy!

Sally Shepherd


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