Why parenting and relationships are hard: happiness doesn't mean feeling good

May 30 2013 | Guest post by Amanda King

Amanda, author of I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful is back again today!

Why parenting and relationships are hard: happiness doesn't mean feeling good
By: Tim ParkinsonCC BY 2.0
People are always saying marriage is hard, parenting is hard, getting healthy is hard, meditation is hard, following your dreams is hard work. Everything that you commit yourself to is hard. Its being hard is kind of the way you know that you've committed yourself to it.

Marriages fail, fathers run away, it's uncomfortably cold for running, your first manuscript doesn't get published, so you stop trying, or whatever… because, at some point the thing that felt good stops feeling good to you. It stops feeling exciting and hopeful and fresh and new. We perceive that since it's not actively providing us with pleasure, it's actually causing us pain and we want to get away. We want to commit ourselves to things that feel good, and it feels good when things are easy and new.

It's like we only have two settings: active pleasure vs. active pain. There is nothing in-between. When newness starts to subside, we start to resist. We say to ourselves, "This used to make me feel so good, and now it's boring and irritating and mundane. If I can't get back to the way I felt before, I'm finished with this thing."

Our habitual pleasure-seeking keeps us from being able to be truly and deeply committed to our endeavors in life. Our idea that we deserve to feel good all the time, and that anything that isn't actively making us feel good is bad and wrong and scary, makes it so we inevitably begin to resist the things we have committed to.

When we're resisting, we handle our relationships and responsibilities halfheartedly, purposefully pointing out to ourselves how awful things are. Every moment that doesn't feel explicitly good becomes evidence that this thing is WRONG and BAD and not worth it. We're so attached to the way things were — everything was new at one point, and newness feels exciting and fills us with hope so it is obviously good.

When something isn't new anymore is when we find out what we're really made of.

We see articles all the time about how statistics show that people who choose not to have kids are happier than people who do, and we, as parents, feel a little confused… because we can understand this statistic. It's true that parenting doesn't always feel good. It often feels really bad, in fact. Even at the best of times, it's scary and we worry and doubt ourselves and feel afraid of the world. So, why then, when asked what the best choice we've ever made was do we always say, "My children are the best thing that has ever happened to me"?

It happens where you've released your children or your partner or your practices and missions and dreams from the responsibility of making you happy, and have allowed them to become a part of you in the way that they are able.

It's because we've committed to them so that they are a part of who we are, and we understand that feeling good isn't the point of life. The meat of life happens in the places beyond novelty and fun and excitement. It happens when you choose staying instead of fleeing. It happens when you choose to open yourself where you have the impulse to close. It happens where your commitment becomes like a part of your body. It becomes as vital to you as your organs and your skin. It happens where you've released your children or your partner or your practices and missions and dreams from the responsibility of making you happy, and have allowed them to become a part of you in the way that they are able.

I don't mean to alienate people who don't have children. This same thing applies to all kinds of commitments: whether you're a marathon runner, or have been married for 25 years, or are sober, or are meditating through the pain, or whatever it is that you love but isn't new. New love is beautiful, it's true. The first day of a baby's life is like a dream. Beginning something and believing in it is a wonderful feeling.

Perhaps those moments are special things and should be allowed to exist with space and freedom inside the timeline of our lives. Perhaps clinging to them strangles them, stunts them and turns them into something other than what they could have been, if they were allowed to exist freely for their moment in the sun.

Maybe, every time we say to our partner, "We need to get back to the way we were," we aren't at all honoring the way we were, which was new and shining. When we feel resentment and resistance because things don't feel that way anymore, we're robbing those special things of their sweetness. We turn them into something negative, something that must not have been real and can be used as evidence that everything is wrong.

New love is beautiful, but it isn't the point of life. Honoring it and allowing it to be, to flare and flourish and light up the sky and then to fade in its own time, like everything does… and staying with it, consuming it, taking it into ourselves, letting it become us, to become as vital to us as our lungs and heart and tongue, might be the point of life. Finding the deeper meaning and beauty beyond the flashier, temporary kind that comes with newness, might be the point.

And most of all, acknowledging that maybe happiness doesn't mean what we've always thought it did. Maybe happiness doesn't mean feeling good.

That's what I think it means to grow up.

  1. Thank you for this. What a beautiful article, and how very true it is. I definitely needed this today. <3

    1 agrees
  2. I fully agree.

    I think in our short attention span culture of 'consume now, enjoy this NOW then throw away', we forget the bigger picture. It seems everything is disposable now.

    But yes, last night after slaving over preparing dinner, when my 3 year old dumped his juice on me calling me 'crybaby' (his very first insult word – I was shocked) and I wanted to strangle his little neck, I took a step back, reminded myself how awfully cute he is, and how lucky I am to be his mom.

    Parenting is HARD and not always happy (haha far from it) but when we look at the bigger picture, we am reminded how lucky we are to have these wonderful, perplexing little creatures in our lives.

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  3. Lovely–thank you for sharing these thoughts with all of us who are doing all the hard, not-new-and-shiny things that we do <3

  4. Oh, yes, this. So much. I have known so many people who flit from thing to thing, because what they've committed to has ceased to make them actively happy, or has become repetitive and difficult. If your aim is to be actively happy and pleasured all the time, what does it even mean to be happy?

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  5. Thank you for that! I am a mom to a lovely 9 months old but sometimes I feel overwhelmed and exhausted (partially too because of thyroid problems, no support system (dead or crazy parents), and never-ending winter and soaked spring in Western Europe). The other day a friend of mine asked me if I was really happy. I told her yes, I am happy, but not pleasured or joyful right now. She didn't understand. I am glad to see I am not the only one.

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  6. After this poignant article, I am reminded of Regina Spektor:

    No, this is how it works
    You peer inside yourself
    You take the things you like
    And try to love the things you took
    And then you take that love you made
    And you put it into some
    Someone else's heart
    Pumping someone else's blood
    And walking arm in arm
    You hope it don't get harmed
    But even if it does
    You'll just do it all again

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  7. This was absolutely perfect. Thank you for writing this. It really applies to me as both the mother of a toddler and an artist! I feel challenged constantly with pouring my love into multiple outlets and hoping that it all works out.

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  8. Amanda I seriously hope by now someone has given you some kind of a writing deal. Beautiful words again.

    Why do I not follow your personal blog? Seriously you are a fantastic and eloquent writer. I am doing myself a disservice not following it.

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  9. Here here!
    I remember a TV show(the name escapes me) where they were talking about the real love begins when the newness and excitement of it all wears off, because you're facing that same person every day. You're fully exposed to their flaws, their annoying(or gross) little quirks that are far from romantic or straight out of a kinky novel. That shit makes it real. I do know of people who have walked away from a relationship after the "sparks wore off" because after the party was over, they didn't know how to deal with "a mundane life".

    We're taught(from a very young age) even, that you will meet someone and sparks WILL fly and you will be passionate and the world is just more vibrant. How many of us remember a fairytale where the sparkle-specialness of something new wears off and the couple STILL lives happily ever after? I don't remember one story, honestly…In fact, usually in any story, no sparkles = something fatally wrong in the relationship, must terminate immediately because he/she is "not the one." 🙁 I just find it SAD, because life doesn't work that way.

    My rambling aside, the point I'm trying to make(and this applies to everything, not just love) is that unless you keep something long after the newness of it wears out, you'll never learn to be content with anything. To me, happiness = contentment. It's just a more relaxed version.

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