The Pursuit of Happiness

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Aren’t we all in pursuit of happiness for ourselves and those we care about? As mothers and daughters, we always want to see each other happy – but happiness can look very different for different people. This week, we talk about what happiness means for us individually and together as mother and daughter duo:

Ellen…

Two years ago, Jenna lent me Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, and after reading just a few short chapters, I felt like I had met my alter-ego.  Gretchen approached the topic of happiness like I would have — in an organized, Type-A kind of way. She created goals and a year-long  plan, building into her life, month by month, things she believed would lead her to happiness. She took an action-based approach and ultimately, she came to some profound conclusions that resounded with me.  I especially liked one of her “Eight Splendid Truths”: One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.  I am happiest when I am giving and loving to family and friends and when I surround myself with happy, positive, loving people.

For me, happiness also comes when I’ve achieved balance in my life – balance between work and play, sociability and solitude, exercise and restful activities, doing and just being. As a goal-oriented achiever and lifelong learner, I often take on too much and spend too much time doing and not enough time being. It’s when I’m on overload, even if all that I’m involved in is good, that I become unbalanced and unhappy.

Regardless of my activities, though, I now understand that being happy has less to do with things outside of myself and more to do with what’s in my head. When bad things happen or life seems out of control, I know that it is how I react to my environment that matters; even though it’s difficult to see sometimes, I do have tremendous influence over my own happiness.

As I’m sure most mothers will agree, my happiness is strongly tied to how happy my children are. When Jenna is going through tough times, my heart aches for her and I worry.  Likewise, when she is happy with herself and her life, it gives me happiness.  I’ve gotten better over the years, though, and have learned to detach myself somewhat.  It still makes me sad when Jenna is unhappy, but I know that I can’t make her happy – I can just be there for support.  She needs to find her way to happiness herself.  Life is full of ups and downs, and when Jenna’s in a down period, even if she can’t see it at the time, I know that she will find her way out of it. I love that Jenna is so much more aware of her personal needs than I was at her age, and I like to think that she has accumulated way more tools in her bucket (friends, yoga, meditation, self-awareness, etc.) to find balance and happiness.

Jenna…

I have struggled a lot to sit down and write about this topic – mostly because “happiness” is a topic that I have spent a lot of time thinking about over the past year and I don’t know where to begin!  As I traveled this spring and prepared myself for the next phase in my life, I was very deliberate about giving myself the time and space to reflect about what really makes me happy – and maybe more importantly, what was preventing me from finding that happiness.

I’ve realized over the past six months (and especially in business school) that happiness looks dramatically different across cultures and values. When I traveled in the East, many of the people I met found happiness through spirituality, beauty, and simple pleasures. Now that I’m in business school, many of my new friends find happiness in socializing, intellectual challenges and career success.. Recently, I have been experiencing a “quarter-life crisis” where I feel like I’m living a double life between these lifestyles and aspirations, constantly reflecting on my thoughts and actions to see if I’m doing what makes me happy or merely following the crowd.

I recently read an article entitled “There’s More To Life Than Being Happy” that fundamentally changed my thoughts on the pursuit of happiness. The author talked about the importance of pursuing  enduring meaning in our lives rather than happiness, which is simply an emotion that ebbs and flows just like all other feelings. I immediately thought of my mom because I think she is the perfect role model as someone who has found meaning in her life: she has prioritized the people and causes most important to her and finds great joy in giving back. Almost every time I talk to her, she has spent a portion of her day giving to others  - whether it is babysitting for my sister, offering mentorship to people in our community or tutoring and helping out people in need.

As I’ve faced challenges discovering what makes me happy in my new life in Philadelphia, my mom has been a constant advocate and supporter to help me stay true to my values on my quest for meaning. I’ve called her many times over the past few months as I’ve made decisions and with her help, I’ve finally begun to glean what makes me happy: pursuing a meaningful career, staying active and healthy, tapping into spirituality and mindfulness, and pursuing deep connections with new friends.

I am beginning to settle in and enjoy my new life in business school and there has been one aspect of Philly that has definitely contributed to my happiness: being so close to my family. Never before have I been able to make impromptu plans with my mom and see her (and the rest of my family) so frequently – this has given me way more happiness than I could have ever imagined! While I love to travel and see the world, returning closer to home has shown me how my family adds so much meaning to my life. And this makes me happy!

WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY? (Tell us in the comment section)

 

Learning to Forgive

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When feelings are hurt and emotions run high, it’s often hard to forgive – or ask for forgiveness. Often we don’t even pause to reflect on how our actions affect one another or take the time to formally apologize. But during Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday last week, we reflected on our wrongdoings over the past year, asked for forgiveness and began a new year committed to being better mothers and … [Continue reading...]

Shhh! Keeping Secrets

  Mothers and daughters occasionally discuss intimate things. In the early years, it’s typically the daughter asking the mother to keep a secret and later, when both mothers and daughters are adults, it can go both ways. This week we discuss how keeping secrets have impacted our mother-daughter relationship. Ellen… I’m sure that there are plenty of things Jenna hasn’t shared with … [Continue reading...]

Meet Meriém and Marél

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Meet Meriém, Meral's mom. She is from Italy and Spain and has that very open Mediterranean social spirit. Her hobbies (pottery & gardening) are followed with great passion and discussed in great detail during the preparation of our meals (large & wonderful home-cooked meals!). Upon meeting our Dutch father, while he was visiting Italy, she says she laughed so much about his poor Italian … [Continue reading...]

Shhh! Keeping Secrets

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Some mothers and daughters often share intimate things while others keep their secrets to themselves. In the early years, daughters often confide in their mothers and later, when both mothers and daughters are adults, it can go both ways.  This week we discuss the importance of trust and keeping secrets: Ellen… I’m sure that there are plenty of things Jenna hasn’t shared with me, because we all … [Continue reading...]

Home Habits

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Our moms raise us at home, but then we eventually go out into the world and create our own households, deciding which things we want to replicate and others which we want to change. This week, we talk about the home habits of our upbringing and the home(s) we’ve created or want to create for ourselves.  Ellen… I was brought up in an apartment for most of my childhood but when I was in junior … [Continue reading...]

Meet Laura and Mindy

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Meet Laura, Mindy's mom. My mom is an extremely caring, patient, beautiful, loving woman. She has not had it easy with struggles and loss along the way, yet has shown strength and commitment to her family through it all. She enjoys gardening with my dad, cooking delicious meals and freezing enough to last for years ;) and has a great talent for re-purposing and remaking items from old material, … [Continue reading...]

Parallel Spiritual Paths

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While we don’t advocate any particular religion or practice, we have experienced firsthand how spirituality can bring meaning to our lives. This week we talk about how we’ve independently tapped into our spiritual tendencies and have influenced each other along the way. Ellen… “Spiritual journey” - it's a cliché, but I don't know a better way to describe my quest over the past two years. … [Continue reading...]

Body Language and Mixed Signals

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Combine the topic of body language with mothers and daughters and it conjures up all sorts of visions filled with emotion: the sulking teenager, the finger-pointing mother, the full-of-love bear hug. This week we discuss how we interpret each other's body language and how it impacts our relationship. Ellen… Last week when Jenna and I skyped, I could tell from her expression and her voice … [Continue reading...]

Little Things

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No deep thoughts, ruminations or philosophies here.  This week we’re talking little things – little whimsical things about each other that we love, that annoy us, that delight us.  Enjoy! Ellen… 1.  When I see little ringlets escape from Jenna’s hair piled high on her head, it reminds me of her blond curls when she was a child. 2.  I describe Jenna’s feet as “meaty.”  For a slender woman, … [Continue reading...]