Tip: On October 17th, Choose Happiness

being-happy-doesnt-mean-that-everything-is-perfectI realize this sounds pretty obvious. Choose happiness and you will be … happy! Ta-daaaaa! It is not so simple or so easy. If it were, we would all be walking around with a perma-grin.

Today is a benchmark day for me though, and I am in a really sad place which is, oddly, inspiring me to discuss joy. Today, October 17th, marks the 9th anniversary of my mother’s death. It continues to be surreal and is something you only understand when you suffer this kind of loss. There are still no words, but I occasionally try to put some down. Usually, when I write about my mom, Madelyn, my purpose is to make people aware of the warning signs of ovarian cancer. Knowing them can save your life, so definitely take a few minutes to learn them or review them. Today, I want to share some thoughts on a different aspect of wellness — happiness.

My mom was one of the happiest people I have ever met, and I believe this stemmed from her constant contentment. She did not live in the past. Having never taken a yoga class, having never heard the word mindfulness, she successfully existed in the present. She would say, while she loved babies and raising little children, she would never want to go back to her young mom days. She didn’t look at infants wistfully, or pine for days of little handprints on the wall. She enjoyed each stage in her life thoroughly. She didn’t harbor regret. In this aspect, I feel very much like her. Pregnant women make me cringe.

My mom didn’t worry about the future. She did not have an easy life on paper. My parents lived paycheck to paycheck and there were very few luxuries in her life. This kind of financial insecurity would paralyze many, but she never let it get her down. She believed everything would work itself out, and other than the f*&king ovarian cancer, it always did. She went back to work, commuting on NYC buses and subways, still had dinner on the table every night and a smile on her face, rain or shine. In this aspect, I feel a little like her. I am not a huge worrier, though I believe I have less to worry about than she did. I appreciate the little moments in life, avoid catastrophic thinking, and I inherited her ability to simply “not think about it.”

Finally, and here is where I am failing in the happiness hunt, she did not over-parent. I reflect on my childhood and am amazed at how intensely loved I felt, at how strong my relationship with my mom was, but at the same time, how disconnected my life was from her’s. She had no need to know every detail of my life, but would listen if I felt like sharing. She didn’t obsess over my grades, but I would ask her to pray for me if I had a particularly challenging test. She knew my friends, but she had her own friends. She would feel badly for me if things weren’t going well, but she didn’t own my problems. She would lose sleep if I stayed out too late, but she never lost sleep over my social, academic or emotional issues. She was proud of my accomplishments, and she was appropriately concerned about my failures, but she didnt take credit for either one. It isn’t simply that she didn’t live vicariously through me, it is that she let me live my life, because she was content to live her own.

I have often thought of the way I was raised in terms of how it effected me. Now, with my older kids navigating their own lives, I think about how my mom’s mothering style effected her. It is easy to see how viewing your children as their own people —  struggling, loving, losing, succeeding or failing on their own terms — can be liberating. As my mother would say, “I have already done that. Why would I want to go back?” Not only did she not want a redo of her own life, she didn’t see her children as a second chance. Putting your happiness in someone else’s hands is a recipe for discontentment. “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” – Marcus Aurelius

So, bottom line, while my mother is a terrible example of happy people living longer, she is an amazing example of how to live a happy life. Forget the past, stop worrying about the future and find contentment in the moment. If you are a mother, love your children but don’t suffer personally through their ups and downs. One life is enough to live. On the days it feels like I am living five additional lives, I think of my mother, remember her smile, and recall how by allowing us to make our own mistakes, she allowed herself to choose happiness.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at drkarenlatimer@gmail.com to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.


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