1. Ask for help
Happy mothers are not afraid to ask for help from family and friends. While morose, martyred moms miss those out-of-town weekends and movie nights with their husband because they can't find a babysitter or a willing relative, Very Happy Moms just say, "Please."
2. Leave the house—now
Have you been outside today? Fresh air, sunlight, and nature are believed to be critical mood enhancers for women, and moms can get this little lift while pushing strollers or swings. Look around that playground. Who looks happy? Go talk to her, right now.
3. Plan some big fun
In my research, I've found that VHMs work really hard to find time and money for vacations. Take away the alarm clocks, the homework, the deadlines...bring on the sunsets, the sand castles, the card games. Suddenly you remember why you spend so much time doing these people's laundry.
4. Get your groove on
You call him "honey," and he calls you "sugar" -- but are you giving each other enough sweetness? Happy moms like getting busy. It'll put a smile on your face. And it's nice to have a Very Happy Husband hanging around.
5. Eat, sleep, and be merry
Being sleep-deprived may be a badge of honor for those with young babies, but the sooner you can figure out how to get your eight hours back, the more delirious with joy you will be. Follow that well-deserved rest with a bowl of oatmeal and a banana instead of three cups of coffee and the remains of somebody's Pop-Tart, and see what happens.
6. Have a six-pack
I thought the main habit of Very Happy Moms might be popping Prozac, but I asked around and not a single happy mother mentioned drugs. Not even margaritas. Sigh. What they did mention, in droves, was exercise. And of course they're right: Just about equal to how good regular exercise makes us feel is how insidiously the gloom creeps in when we weasel out of it. Fortunately, to a mom, exercise can feel almost self-indulgent -- after all, you're doing something for yourself, in the company of other grown-ups. And that's part of the buzz.
7. One is not the loneliest number
Carving out time away from the kids is crucial, whether it's poker night with the girls or just a long bath with a magazine.
8. Be nice to thy neighbor
You would think that moms would be tapped out in the giving department. But most happy moms make doing things for others a regular part of their lives, whether it's baking a lasagna for a family with a new baby or offering a ride to an elderly friend. Remember: Your helpfulness is another deposit in the karma bank.
9. Love the one you're with
The happiest moms don't compare and compete. Neither they, nor their kids, nor their cars, nor their houses have to be the smartest, cutest, newest, or neatest. The green-eyed monster has chewed up the happiness of many a mom. Around A.D. 89 the philosopher Epictetus offered advice for Very Happy Moms: To be content is greater than riches, so love what you have.
10. Hang with your gal pals
Very Happy Moms have close mom friends. Knowing that others are in the trenches with you is key. From the super-petty issues to the deadly serious crises, I don't know how I would have made it without my friend Theresa. Over the years, she has patiently listened to long stories involving extremely important topics, such as Pull-Ups, car pools, and her favorite: the vice principal of the middle school.
11. Plan a little fun
Very Happy Moms sometimes buy themselves flowers, just in case no one else has thought of it. They meet their husbands for lunch, get a facial, or have the car detailed just because.
12. Play with the rules
One of the best things about being the person who makes the rules is bending them. With each of my kids, I allow certain treats that have a slightly wicked feel. With my 4-year-old daughter, it's taking a bubble bath with our miniature dachshund. With my teenage son, it's stopping for really expensive sushi on the way home from a doctor's appointment. Very Happy Moms know when to turn the mundane into magic.
13. Pick and choose
14. Look ahead
When your happy buzz threatens to slip away altogether, remind yourself that "This too shall pass." It works both ways: Either you get through the terrible stuff by knowing it's not forever, or you put it into perspective by reminding yourself that the good stuff -- the sticky kisses, the cute little tutus -- will also soon be gone.
15. Forgive and forget
We all want to live up to our parenting ideals and do everything right all the time, and here we are, losing our tempers, being inconsistent, and bribing kids with candy on a daily basis. Unfortunately, all the time you spend brooding and punishing yourself for this is more time when your best self is not there for your kids. Very Happy Moms know that even the best of us have days from hell. They let those days go, and get on with exercising and vacation planning.
16. Pee in your pants laughing
Kids love to see their moms smile (mine actually comment on it, if that tells you anything), and research is starting to show that just crinkling your eyes, turning up the corners of your mouth, and laughing can produce the happy brain chemical serotonin. At least it will make you look really ridiculous, which will make your kids laugh. And laughing really hard with your kids is one of the best Very Happy Mom secrets of all.
17. Cuddle up
Though I consider myself a Somewhat Cranky Mom, I share this with the Very Happy Moms I surveyed: I have a hug habit. "Hugs and snugs and snoodles" is how my 4-year-old, Jane, and I refer to our smooching sessions. Happy moms cuddle their kids every chance they get, which is smart since those chances diminish through grade school and then disappear altogether by the time your former cuddler gets her driver's license. So take Janis Joplin's parenting advice: Get it while you can.