How to Be Happy

“How to be happy.”

The search suggestion flashed on the screen as I was navigating Pinterest. I hadn’t started to search for “how to be happy.” I really planned to type in “how to be semi-organized” but stopped when I saw this suggestion pop up. Between the staged photos of seasonally-flavored dips and the meticulous curly-girl tips, did Pinterest really know how to be happy?

I pressed enter.

Pinterest is an intricate web of code that knows me. It knows I’m its target market, a Millennial Mom. It knows I like carb-heavy casseroles, achievable daily activities for toddlers, and that I like searching for matching family tattoos at 1 a.m. when I’m feeling exceptionally cool. If any algorithm knows how to be happy, it is Pinterest.

I’m a generally happy person. I love my family, I have a good job, and I have a few free minutes every day for something I enjoy. If I was having trouble finding *any* happiness, I’d stop searching for help on Pinterest and start in a medical office (I hope you would, too). But even though I’m usually content, there’s a lot of pressure to be happy every minute of every day. Social media reflects unrealistic expectations from influencers and “friends” we barely know. The current self-care trend tells us to light a scented candle, summon a smile, and soak ourselves in a bath meant to keep us in a bubble from bad vibes. And—be honest—if you’re picturing the perfect mom, you’re picturing perfect June Cleaver, a smile on her face and a tray of cookies in her hands.

But what if the secret to being happy is not being happy all the time?

I know it sounds counterintuitive, but research indicates that people who experience a broad range of emotions—everything from happiness and awe to anxiety and sorrow—are less likely to be depressed and had fewer medical bills than the people who major in only a few feelings. This idea is called having a high “emodiversity,” and it makes sense. Like a biodiverse forest is protected from a single event wiping out every species, emodiversity protects you from having one negative event wipe out your ability to experience happiness. Besides cultivating a rich emodiversity, studies have also found that chasing happiness can actually lead to more anxiety and pressure.

What does emodiversity mean for moms?

We need to give ourselves permission to be real. The pressure from society to be happy all the time is tenfold for women, especially mothers. Just think about the narrative around having a new baby. We’re so eager to tell new moms that they’ll never know happiness like being a mom, but we don’t often tell them how much of an adjustment sharing your life with an infant can be, too. There is so much pure joy in motherhood—moments lit up by a toddler hug or a spring concert solo. But there are also painful, anxiety-inducing moments—loss of sleep, advocating for your children’s well-being, or frustration with your family. It’s easy to push negative feelings down. But if we normalized all the feelings that came with parenthood, maybe we wouldn’t feel so alone when things get tough.

Not only will a richer emodiversity make you happier in the long run, but it provides a good opportunity to teach your kids about their own emotions. You can model how to console a sad friend or family member. You can help them give more specific words to their own feelings. Most of all, you can show you’re resilient, no matter what life throws at you. If you want to do more than just model good emodiversity, here are a few books that will help introduce younger kids to their big feelings.

Being happy is good, and it’s important.

But the pursuit of happiness isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon…and it can be exhausting. That’s never been more true than right now, when we’re anxiously chasing after moments of joy in a dark time. Sometimes, it’s OK to rest for a minute on the sidelines to just sit with your other feelings—especially if you have someone to sit there with you.

So, what did the wise oracle Pinterest have to say about how to be happy? Honestly…who cares? I have a sneaking suspicion you know what makes you happy. It’s dresses with pockets. It’s playing with your kids. It’s coffee. But if you only ever drank coffee, well…you paint that very brown picture for yourself. Let’s be open to experiencing and talking about our other emotions, even if they aren’t as fun.

Let’s be real, even if it isn’t Pinterest-perfect.

Valerie Stark
A firm believer that the Midwest is all that and a tator tot casserole, Valerie moved to KC after graduating from Mizzou in 2013. She’s been married to her husband Josh since 2015, and together they’re raising two adorable, tiny human fireworks: a preschooler named Finnian and baby Olliver. Valerie spends her workdays making greeting cards while Josh wins at the stay-at-home-dad game by teaching the Stark brothers words like “yee-haw” and going on field trips for Costco rotisserie chicken. When she isn’t tracking down a new place to drag her family to, you can find her blasting showtunes, sharing (very poorly) wine with friends, reading, listening to true crime podcasts, or near cheese. You can’t find her playing kickball, so don’t even try. Valerie, Josh, Finn, and Ollie shoot for put-together, but settle for put-on-pants—and they love every second of their reasonably-chaotic life.