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Gretchen Rubin is author of The Happiness Project. / Handout

Tweet yourself to happiness.

Join a Twitter chat with Gretchen Rubin at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday, May 16.

Use hashtag #happymom and follow @usaweekend on Twitter.com.

What kids can do

Be in touch: Call often, send frequent e-mails.
Observe Mother’s Day: Take this opportunity to be nice to your mother.
Take care of yourself: Make Mom happy by being happy yourself.
One last thing: Finally do something to keep your hair out of your eyes!
— Gretchen Rubin

A survey snapshot

Mothering can take a toll on every aspect of a woman’s life — physical, emotional and mental. But raising children adds value, too, especially as moms and kids age, according to findings from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. A snapshot:

Health: Married women of all ages with 2 or more kids at home have healthier behavior (eating well, exercising regularly, not smoking) than other married women.

Well-being: Married women ages 18-29 with 3 or more kids at home have a lower sense of well-being (physical, emotional and mental) than other women their age.

Life evaluation: Married women ages 45-54 with 3 or more kids at home feel better about their lives now and in the future than other married women that age. — Stephanie Weaver

More

There’s more than a bit of truth to the old saying “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Some people think that wanting to be happier is selfish — though I disagree. Research shows that happy people have stronger relationships with family, friends and co-workers. They are more altruistic: They give away more money, and they are more likely to volunteer. They are generally more forgiving and helpful, have better self-control and are more tolerant of frustration.

We “catch” emotions from other people, especially from the people closest to us. That means happy people help make people happy — and, alas, the opposite is true as well.

So if it is selfish to be happier, we all should be selfish, if only for selfless reasons. This Mother’s Day, let me suggest a few free, fast strategies you can try.

Get enough sleep!

You may think you’ve adjusted to a chronic lack of sleep, but studies show that a sleep deficit affects your mood, energy and immune function. It may even contribute to weight gain. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Do the math: If you get up at 7 a.m., you shouldn’t stay up until 1 a.m (even if you’re throwing in a last load of laundry or, be honest, watching your favorite bad TV). If, every morning, you’re jolted out of bed by the alarm or by a child yelling “Are we late?,” or if you drift off whenever you happen to sit in a quiet place for 10 minutes, you really need more sleep. Treat yourself like a toddler and give yourself a firm bedtime — and stick to it.

Have some real fun.

Many adults find it surprisingly hard to have fun. We think about what we ought to find fun, or what our kids or spouses find fun, and lose track of what’s actually fun for us. Ask yourself: What did you do for fun when you were 10? You’d probably enjoy that now. Walk in the woods with a friend, play with your dog, make things with your hands, take pictures, play ball or bake. Don’t wait until you have “free time,” because you may never have any. Schedule it in your calendar like a dentist’s appointment.

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Don't let screen time eat up your precious time.

Make deliberate choices instead of using the TV and the Internet as time-fillers. Screen time can so easily crowd out activities that take more energy but provide much more happiness. It’s more work to plan an outing or set up a 500-piece puzzle, but it’s more fun in the long run. So set aside a particular time slot for screen activities. At other times, do other things. You may protest: “But I’m too tired to do anything except flip on the TV.” If you’re too tired for anything but reruns, go to sleep. (See above.)

Connect to your family with daily affection.

Make each of your children helpless with laughter at least once a day. Go out of your way to hug and kiss every family member each day. Give your loved ones a real welcome every time they walk through the door, and give them a real farewell when they leave. These sound so simple, but they can make a big difference in the feel of warmth and connection in your home.

Take time to be silly.

I struggle with this myself; I’m always marching around trying to cross things off the family to-do list, and I resist any goofing around. But I’ve come to realize that it’s more important to have a lighthearted, fun atmosphere at home than it is to get every item checked off as soon as possible. I do some silly dance moves, or let my younger daughter plaster my face with makeup, or pull harmless pranks that add some spontaneity to our lives.

Remember: The days are long, the years are short.

The things that drive us crazy as parents, the things we feel we’ll be dealing with forever, are mostly just phases of childhood. Right now, I complain about having bottles of nail polish and magic markers scattered everywhere. One day, I’ll look back at this time with longing. Appreciate this time of life.

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