Family dynamics are the invisible force behind every caregiving journey

Caring for your aging parents can bring happiness

We often wonder what makes life worth living. The really good news for daughters and sons who are caring for aging parents, is that many of the building blocks of well-being and happiness are part and parcel of caring. Happiness is about connection with others, service, living beyond our own needs and wants, and appreciation for and acceptance of what is.

It’s really hard not to be seduced by myths that pin our happiness to both material possessions and our circumstances. We obviously get some temporary pleasure. I truly love my new high-end coffee maker and I like driving my new car more than I did my old one. The key word, however, is temporary. It just doesn’t last. Why not? Hedonic adaptation—that’s why not.

What is hedonic adaptation?

In Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The Myths of Happiness, she explains that hedonic adaptation means that we become habituated to all life changes. The initial excitement that we experience wears off after a certain amount of time. Ahhhhh. Good to know. When the sheen wears off my latest purchase, it’s not that I can never be satisfied, it’s hedonic adaptation. I can hardly wait to drop this concept into a dinner conversation with friends.

My stuff isn’t going to make me happy. What other myths of happiness are there?

Other myths of happiness

Happiness and well-being come exclusively from pleasure and avoiding pain.

Wrong, wrong, wrong! We now know that it is actually our resilience that is the recipe for increased happiness and well-being. Resilience  is the ability to bounce back or get through difficult or challenging circumstances. Hmmmm… This rules out blaming unhappiness on what is happening in my life at any given moment! Ultimately it means there is no excuse not to be happy, or be well (is that relief or pressure I am feeling?)

Genetic predisposition determines our happiness.

This is another way of saying that happiness is not within our control. Research shows that happiness is a choice even in the midst of difficult circumstances. It has been estimated that 50% our happiness may be genetic, 10% is related to our circumstances, and 40% is determined by our mindset and our habits.  We are going to focus on this 40% by practicing happiness habits that can improve the quality of our lives. These habits don’t need to take any longer than the time it takes to brush your teeth (well, okay, brush and floss your teeth!)

What does make us happy? The happiness model

PERMA™ is an acronym for a model of well-being put forth by a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, Dr. Seligman. According to Seligman, PERMA™ describes the five important building blocks of well-being and happiness.

I know, I know. Models can be a little ho hum, but these building blocks give such a great foundation and reference point. They can be directly applied to your relationship with your aging parents and taking care of yourself while on your caring journey.

  • Positive emotions: Feeling good.  This isn’t about smiling and pretending. It is about generating authentic positive emotions about the past, present, and future. There are many effective exercises/practices that cultivate positive emotions. What do you do now to foster positive emotions?
  • Engagement: Being completely absorbed in activities.  When we are fully engaged in what we are doing, we create flow. We lose track of time and really lose ourselves in the activity. This can be literally anything, from listening to music, reading, working out, gardening, whatever (and whatever includes the so-called mundane activities like making a bed or washing dishes). What activities do you get fully engaged in? What activity captures your attention so much that you lose track of time? Are there activities related to caring for your parents that fully engage you? That could fully engage you?
  • Relationships: Being authentically connected to others.  Meaningful relationships and connections are crucial for our well-being. How are you connecting with people in your life that matter to you? Do you feel connected to your parents? How can this connection be deepened?
  • Meaning: Purposeful existence.  Having meaning and purpose in life provides more happiness than seeking pleasure and money. Usually, it means serving something greater than ourselves. What are you doing in your life that has meaning and gives you a purpose? What meaning do you attach to the care you provide to your parents?
  • Achievement: A sense of accomplishment and success.  Our goals and ambitions give us the drive to achieve things that give us that sense of accomplishment. This is true no matter how big the accomplishment is. What are your current goals and ambitions? What have you accomplished in regard to caring for your parents?

There we have it. The ingredients for a happy life.

It may be worth repeating that important stat:  “40% of happiness (within our control) is determined by our mindset & our habits.  What is one thing – within your control – that you are doing right now to make yourself happy or happier?

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  • Lgh
    Sun Jun 23 2019, 07:32
    Parents need us as they're aging and often unwell....priceless time spent together. ?