Like 18 or so million families across the UK, I’m bang-slap in the middle of what my mum would call the ‘Rush Hour Of Life’. Building a career, starting a business, caring for an ever-increasing family, being a wife, a friend, a daughter a sister…
It’s so easy to overlook the very real joys of a very lovely life in the hour by hour busyness, activity and (occasionally) chaos. A couple of years ago, a friend pressed a book on me called ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin saying that it had changed her whole outlook. This best selling ‘self help’ book was far from my usual choice of literature but after devouring the audiobook version during the evening clear ups (quiet reading time is a luxury I can’t afford at the moment,) it reminded me once again how important it is to enjoy rather than just endure this crazy journey – summed up by the author’s powerful catch phrase, ‘the days are long, but the years are short’. This book, and its follow up ‘Happier At Home’ resonate very powerfully with me and stress the importance of recognising how happiness is not only about doing more things that make you happy, but minimising things that make you unhappy. Blindingly obvious but so easily overlooked.
Like so many parents, I have incredibly high – probably unrealistically high – expectations of myself as a mother and whilst I recognise that perfection is unreachable, it certainly makes me happy when I manage even fleeting moments that come close to the standards I set for myself. That feeling of quiet, satisfied happiness when I make bread with my two boys to eat, still hot from the oven, in their treehouse all together, or tramping in our wellies across the wet fields to feed the horses, or painting splashy pictures to send to grandparents.
These things aren’t remarkable, they don’t culminate in certificates of achievement, they may not even remember these moments but does it feel good to spend this quiet, gentle time together? It sure does. On the flip side, replying to emails rather than playing with my children at the playground, not reading a carefully chosen book with them because I’m on the phone, getting irritable and barking at them when they start fighting with each other because I haven’t prioritised getting them up and out of the house in the morning – instead I’ve chosen to slug back an extra cup of coffee and rush through an overflowing pile of paperwork. Whilst certainly not earth shattering disasters, the regularity with which these little – but so avoidable – things occur give me a background sense of feeling frustrated, low and drained. Whilst it would be unrealistic to expect that I could ever be the perfect mother, The Happiness Project and another unexpected favourite, ‘168 hours, You Have More Time Than You Think’ by Laura Vanderkam and her more recent work ‘What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast’ has made me really pay attention to the times of the day where these low points are most likely to occur.
A long-term night owl, I’ve realised that, groggy and rushed mornings are our danger time – and that they set the tone for the day. With such a clear picture laid out in front of me, I’ve tried to break the habit of a lifetime and try and shift my focus to the start of the day. It may sound incredibly obvious but, rather than staying up late clearing my inbox, pottering around and getting organised for the next day – then pressing snooze a zillion times before finally dragging my sleep deprived body through a time-pressured morning routine before just making my train (or occasionally, missing it!), for the last few mornings, I’ve tried my best to get ready for bed early, get into bed by 10pm whenever possible and be up just before 6am (I put a back-up alarm on the other side of the room to force myself out of bed!). I get into the shower half asleep and throw some clothes on and by the time I’m having my first cup of tea at 6.30am I’m dressed, fully awake and feeling SO much better than I would have done if I’d still been hitting snooze. Being up and ready this early means that I have plenty of time to really enjoy that fresh, early morning time with the boys having a relaxed breakfast – and even give my husband a lie-in if he likes, before I head out of the door at 8.15am. I’ve taken the book’s advice to take this new habit forming stage little by little – in an ideal world, I’d take the children out for an early walk to get some quiet, calm fresh air before the busyness of the day – but one step at a time. I won’t pretend this is easy. I find it incredibly difficult to get to bed so much earlier – and almost irresistible to crawl out of bed rather than cuddle with my deliciously warm, sleepy husband. But the pay off so far has been immense. With less rushing and potential upset, the day feels like it starts on a positive, happy note that gives me energy and clarity to tackle the rest of what life throws at me.