Finding Purpose In Parenting: The Other Kind Of Happiness

So, how was your day? 

Filled with pleasure? Unbridled joy? Relaxed, comfortable contentment?

Yeah, ours wasn’t either.

From 6am it's been go time. We haven’t stopped putting effort into helping someone or something else get better since then. We are tired. We want to go to sleep most nights at 8pm. One of us has a huge hole in her sweater and it will be a long while before she is near a shop with enough free time or money on her hands to buy anything to replace it.

 As parents we can go days and days and days without a single person saying or doing anything particularly kind for us. We don’t think we are unusual in this respect.

 Parenthood is really hard and can feel not so great some of the time.  And so we are left wondering..rational decision makers that we are meant to be...Why do we keep doing it?  

Why do we become so happy when we hear a friend is expecting? Why do we end every gripe about our days in the trenches with small, irrational people with “oh..but they’re lovely really..” Why do we revel in something that leaves us so depleted, poorer and greyer than when we began?

We put this parenting paradox to you as a way of introducing the second pillar of happiness: Purpose. It's the happiness that can take a while to arrive because you have to work for it. Technically known as ‘eudaimonic’ happiness, this is the hit of wellbeing you get when all of that work finally pays off. You’ve saved your pennies. You’ve finished the marathon. You made a tough decision but stayed true to your beliefs.  

It's the part of well-being that is centered on finding a purpose and serving that purpose, leisure and glee be damned. It's when it feels good to not feel good because you are building something so much larger than momentary pleasure. It is the result of planning and all of the extra brain power our massive cerebral cortex allows. It’s the type of happiness that denotes we are human, intelligent, and different from the animals. We can deny our appetites to serve a higher call. 

This, Mamas, is the type of happiness that parenting serves up in bucketloads. That first smile, first bicycle ride, first race won. These rarer, irregular moments of pride, joy and wonder somehow make the daily grind evaporate. You would walk over hot coals if your child needed you to. And you’d be happy to do so, because the knowledge that they are safe, growing and on their way in the world trumps anything else you might need. 

So, permit us to submit purpose as the answer to our paradox. We enjoy parenting not because it feels good in the moment, but because those a-ha moments, when they arrive, can feel so good.  

The good news about eudaimonic happiness is that, while it doesn’t necessarily feel good in the making, its wellbeing benefits far out last those offered by mere pleasure. Pleasure is available now, but never stays for long. Purpose pays dividends down the road.

So on your hardest days, take heart. These trials really are contributing to an essential part of your wellbeing. Your eudaimonic wellbeing. And that’s where the really good stuff resides.  

You’ve got this.    

Hefferon, K. & Boniwell, I. (2010) Positive Psychology: Theory, Research and Applications. Chapter 4: Eudaimonic Wellbeing. McGraw Hill: Open University Press. 

Peterson, C. (2006) A Primer in Positive Psychology. Chapter 4: Happiness. Oxford University Press, 

Senior, J. (2014). All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Harper Collins.