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How to Be a Happier Mom

When Amit Sood, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, came to the United States from his native India in 1995, he was surprised by what he found. “I had seen a lot of poverty and a lot of suffering where I grew up, so I had equated suffering with lacking resources,” he says. “But I was shocked to see the extent of suffering [in America] was about the same if not more. It was not material poverty. It was emotional poverty.”

Reversing that trend became his mission. Sood, who heads the Mayo Clinic’s Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) program, subscribes to a thoughtful, gratitude-filled approach to daily life. And while he believes we have the power to change how we think, our brains’ natural state might be working against us.

“Our brain was designed to help us survive and be safe,” says Sood. “Now that we’ve overcome that, our focus is on peace and happiness. Our brain doesn’t know how to do that.”

An overabundance of information and stimulation during daily life forces our heads to zero in on, as Sood says, the “open files” and unresolved issues that tend to drive it crazy. Pregnancy—as well gearing up to conceive and new motherhood—can add to the clutter. “Once pregnant, there is a very short sliver of time when you’re happy,” explains Sood, “and then suddenly you start focusing on will my baby be normal? Did I eat enough folate? That is the basic nature of [humans].”

A Tale of Two Sides

According to Sood, the brain operates in two modes: default—the autopilot setting that floats us through habitual activities—and focused, which takes a bit more work to achieve. To tap into the focused mode, you need to actively engage the brain by practicing intentionality: consciously choosing thoughts, words and experiences versus letting things just happen.

The more you do it the easier it becomes. And the ultimate benefits can go far beyond simply being more aware of your daily direction.

“When you choose intentional thoughts you typically choose kind thoughts,” explains Sood. “It saves so much time and energy. It makes you more effective. It makes you a better human being. You have fewer regrets in life because of it.”

On Positive Pregnancy Thinking

So why do you owe it to yourself and to your baby to think things through? “Recognize that your sanity, your ability to keep your composure and calm and resilience, is going to influence your baby during his or her entire life,” says Sood. “When you’re mired in uncertainty, which surrounds human beings, then you’re marinating your baby in that soup of adrenaline and steroids. If you’re happy, you’re making your baby’s life happy for the long term.”

On Bringing Up Baby

Learning your true place in your child’s life can help release some of the pressure that comes with trying to raise a perfect child. Sood, who has two daughters, approached it this way: “I said, well, this baby has chosen us, this baby has her own journey to take. We are just the caretakers. We’ll do the best we can, but she’s coming from a place I don’t know. That takes away that responsibility—that tremendous burden you have to make sure everything goes perfect. She has her own destiny. She has her own luck, her own future. I’m [just] one element of it.”

On Resiliency

“If you look at a palm tree that withstands the hurricane you might say, wow, how resilient. It’s bending, not breaking,” says Sood. “But that palm tree didn’t create its roots and stem overnight. It builds over a period of time. If you expect yourself to be resilient like Mother Theresa tomorrow, that’s going to be difficult. But if you say that’s my goal in five or ten years and here is a path I can take, resiliency is absolutely attainable. What it takes is understanding how your brain operates and how you can get more mileage out of it.”

For more information on the Mayo Clinic’s SMART program, visit

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