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Turning Sadness into Contentment

Many Ways to Feel More Contented
There are many ways to break the spell of sadness on your mind. Here are some suggestions.

Enjoy your children. It's easy to get so caught up in the tasks of daily life that you can miss opportunities to enjoy your kids. But there are always at least a few occasions each day when you could take the time for an extra cuddle or linger a few seconds longer when they're being extra lovable. You can also plan activities that you particularly enjoy yourself - something besides knocking down a tower of blocks over and over.

Accommodate the changes in your life. There's a kind of wishful thinking in our society that says a woman can simply graft motherhood onto her old life with nary a change. But if you don't accommodate to the changes that children bring, it's like trying to hold back the tide. For example, you can't interact with young children with the same mind-set that propelled you forward in your career, keep your house like you used to, or (usually) get back your old figure. It's just not possible. Raising a family takes up space in a person's life. It has to replace some things and push others to the edges, especially during the years when your kids are little.

You can help yourself by seeing what, if any, wishful thoughts still linger in your mind about somehow returning to business as usual. Or unrealistic expectations about motherhood that you are straining to live up to. Or any ongoing underestimates of the new needs that have come with children. If you find any of these, you can use the methods you learned in the previous chapter, such as talking back to unrealistic expectations or letting in the reality of new priorities.

Laugh away the tears. Sometimes it's so awful it's funny. One mother told Rick: I'd had a string of bad days, and this was another one. Just as I got the baby to sleep, I heard a noise in the kitchen. My boyfriend was on the phone in our bedroom, so no one was watching Tucker. I found him squirting catsup on the floor and finger painting with it. He looked up and smiled proudly! It was so ridiculous, I started laughing and laughing. We had to clean it up, but it was the first time I'd felt good in a week.

You can draw on your sense of humor in lots of ways. Just taking a few big breaths while you smile gently can improve your attitude. You could try to spend more time with lighthearted friends or coworkers, watch comedies, or read a humorous book about motherhood. Perhaps imagine the weirder moments in your day as if they were scenes in a sitcom with a laugh track. None of these is a miracle cure, but over time they can help. And it's good for your kids to hear you laugh!

Shine a light. Bright light, particularly sunshine, can lift your mood, especially if you get gloomy during dark winters. Try to spend more time outside during daylight, clean dingy windows, or pull the drapes back. Even brighter lights might help.

Get exercise. Regular aerobic exercise (i.e., three or more times a week, half an hour each time) will increase the serotonin in your brain and lift your mood, sometimes as much as an antidepressant would.

Keep good company. Few things can improve your mood like the empathy, kindness, and emotional support of other people. If you are wrestling with a loss, look into a support group; for example, most counties have groups for women who have become single mothers or who have lost a child. And above all, really try to notice the support that's actually there for you, including all the little things; studies have found that perceiving support is a key to alleviating mental and physical distress.

Have some fun. A mother tells this story: My sister came to town; Jeff watched the kids, and we went out to dinner. Afterward, on a whim, we stepped into a local jazz club. We had a great time, and it reminded me that a whole world exists outside of shopping for groceries or going to work.

How much fun did you have this week? If it wasn't much, make a list of activities you enjoyed before you had children, and think about how you could start doing some of them again. It's usually surprisingly easy; you just have to make a commitment to yourself, as one mom did: I've always loved riding fast downhill on my bike. . . the feeling of the wind and the freedom are so exhilarating! But when I got pregnant, the bike went into the garage. Every so often, after Carson was born, I'd think wistfully about going for a ride, but there never seemed to be enough time. One weekend, though, I was feeling just blah, and sick and tired of being blah. I decided to get the bike out and to heck with everything else. Well, when I got going again, that old thrill came right back. I couldn't stop smiling. My whole mood changed. Since then, I try to ride every day, even if it's only down the street and back. It's a little thing, but it makes me feel so much better.

Make a contribution. When you're depressed, putting out more energy is about the last thing you'd ever want to do. But by finding some form of community service - such as volunteering once a month to serve meals at a homeless shelter, or tutoring a disadvantaged child - you'll feel good about yourself, spend time with other people, be distracted from your own pain, and even access a kind of self-nurturing source inside as you nurture others.

Look on the bright side. When you appreciate what you have, rather than longing for or grumbling about what you don't have, feelings of contentment naturally fill you. A mother told Rick a story about straightening up her six-year-old's bedroom one night. The usual debris was everywhere and she was grumbling to herself about him: Why won't he pick up this stuff? Don't I remind him over and over? Why clean up at all? He'll just clutter it up again. I'm sick of housework. Then she happened to turn over a National Geographic magazine whose cover showed a famine-stricken mother holding an emaciated, naked child. In an instant her perspective changed as she compared her own life to that of the woman in the photograph. She suddenly appreciated the dirty socks on the floor because they meant her children had clothes to wear at all. She thought about the other good things her family had, how they were safe and could enjoy life. Days later, when she was feeling down, she thought back on the realizations she had had that evening, and became grateful again for her good fortune - which immediately helped her feel better.

Sprinkling moments of thankfulness throughout your day is like taking sips of cool water while working under a hot sun. Try to notice the little occasions of beauty, pleasure, or growth. You could say some kind of grateful blessing at a meal. You could tell another person what you appreciate about him or her, or about life in general. In the morning, you could take a moment to ask the universe or God for what you want, and then just before bed you could take another minute to appreciate what you've got. Or set aside more extended occasions to reflect on all the good things in your life (see Mothers Meditation on Gratitude).

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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