3 Ways to Know If You Own Your Happiness

If you’re familiar with the actor Tom Hanks, then you might agree with how he’s been described: the “every guy” and the “funny and vulnerable everyman.”

Because he’s so relatable, you might even have assumed that he sprouted from a June Cleaver family life. The truth is that Hanks had an unusual upbringing and relationship with his mother.

Hanks’s parents split when he was five. After that, he didn’t live with his mom, but he’d visit her on holidays. From the time he was eight until he was seventeen, he’d travel about four hours each way on a bus to see her.

It was during these long bus rides that his imagination would wander. His mind would explore and ponder life, books, comics, and movies as the miles peeled away under the bus tires.

Not all of us get the same upbringing, and many of us experience mothering from someone other than our biological moms, but the beauty of the human spirit is that we still can grow up to enjoy happy lives.

It really is up to us.

Physician and childhood development specialist Dr. Gabor Maté says that we all must take responsibility for our own growth and healing so we can lead fulfilling lives.

In a recent conference, Maté challenged attendees to ask themselves three questions (in bold), and I’ve added my commentary.

  • Do I blame my parents for “the way I am”? I do love to tell my patients that parents are, in fact, to blame for our genetics, but what we do with our genetic “gifts” is up to us. We always have a choice.
  • How do I tend to trap myself in a victim mentality? If you’re looking for others to blame for your circumstances, you might be setting a trap for yourself. Or, if you enjoy oversharing tragic stories about yourself or your bad day, you could be playing the victim. Try not to confuse oversharing with vulnerability.
  • How can I take responsibility for what’s inside of me? I love the way Maté frames this question because you do have to unpack what’s inside if you’re going to face it and truly do something about it. Otherwise, if you can’t see what’s inside of you, how do you assume responsibility?

I think these prompts are timely—especially when you consider that our society is focused on understanding how family dynamics affect us. But we need to take that next important step by asking ourselves how we rise up and own our ability to be happy and choose joy.

When my mother passed away from walking through cancer and several other competing diseases, my dad, my sister, and I found her journals. While reading her entries, it was clear she was experiencing a lot more pain, depression, and sadness than she let on.

Yet if you asked her how she felt, she’d say, “Excellent!” And if you asked her how she was doing, she’d reply, “Cured.”

We never knew the extent to which her illness was affecting her mood; I wonder if Hanks ever learned why his mother made what was surely an incredibly hard decision to live apart from her son. In either case, both my mother and Hanks chose to own their attitudes in the midst of difficult situations.

As we round the corner on Mother’s Day, I like not only to think about owning our happiness but also to be reminded that motherhood comes in all shapes and sizes.

And I’m not just talking about “mom jeans” versus “skinny jeans”; I’m talking about people who aren’t necessarily your mother but who are incredibly supportive—fiercely loyal friends, trustworthy colleagues, people in your life who’d help you move a dead body if you called them at 3 a.m.

Kidding aside, no two mothers are alike, nor should they be. Mine was as unusual as they get, and I was lucky to have her. I think Mother’s Day should be a day when you celebrate the people in your life who are on your team, who support you and root for you when you need it, and who have a stake in your personal happiness.

In the spirit of Mother’s Day and the people who step up in your life like a mother might, take ownership of your happiness and look for ways to show gratitude toward friends and loved ones. While the nurturing souls in your world may not adhere to what’s considered traditional, let them know your love for them is anything but ordinary.

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