A team of psychologists from the University of Zurich recently completed a study (Click Here for review) suggesting that training to improve character strengths increases overall well-being and life satisfaction. More specifically, they found that training a person in curiosity, gratitude, optimism, humor and enthusiasm had the greatest impact on their sense of well-being. That got me thinking…. What would happen if we made curiosity, gratitude, optimism, humor, and enthusiasm part of the fabric of our families? Our children, our spouse, and even our self would become “informally trained” in each of these areas. Each family member would have a greater sense of well-being and life satisfaction. Even more, perhaps the family would experience increased happiness. So, how can we do it? Here are some ideas for training in each of the five character strengths noted.
Curiosity: Explore together. You can explore anything and everything with your family–the back yard, the museum, cooking, music, books, movies, or any topic you can imagine. Use your family vacations and travels as opportunities to explore cultures, foods, fun activities, and local interests. Encourage family members to ask questions and use those questions as springboards to exploration. Read together. Reading is such a wonderful way to expand and satisfy a curious mind.
Gratitude: Practice daily gratitude by thanking people throughout the day. Thank the checkout clerk for ringing you up, your parent or spouse for cooking dinner, your children for setting the table. Look for opportunities to tell people thank you and do it. If you receive a gift, send a thank you note. Start a gratitude journal. List 3-5 things each day that you are grateful for. Keep the list of thanks in a journal and watch it grow. Review it now and again for a boost of gratitude.
Optimism: Watch your explanation of causes. When you talk about frustrating events and disappointments in life, make sure you use language that recognizes the temporal nature of those difficulties. Keep a mole hill a mole hill rather than exaggerate it until it grows into a mountain. Keep a simple setback a simple setback. Don’t talk as though a simple problem has ruined your day, your week, or even your life. Instead, keep in mind that “this too will pass,” differences can be resolved, setbacks overcome, and troubles transcended.
Humor: Play. Play is a great way to encourage humor. It also encourages curiosity and optimism. In addition, tell jokes–silly jokes, riddles, childish jokes, weird jokes, even “serious jokes.” If you don’t know any jokes, make one up. If it flops, laugh at yourself and enjoy the humor of it all. Or, read the Sunday comics together. Laugh out loud. Oh, and did I say play?
Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm is enhanced by a healthy lifestyle. So encourage a healthy diet. Eating as a family can encourage a healthy diet and enhance enthusiasm at the same time. It is also an excellent time to try out that new joke you learned. Exercise together. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Go to the pool or the gym. In addition, encourage each family member’s unique interests. Provide opportunities for them to talk about their interests and listen with genuine enthusiasm. Learn about their interest and give little gifts related to their area of interest. Take turns having a night in which you enjoy nothing but the interests a particular family member.
There you have it—simple practices you can engage in to weave curiosity, gratitude, optimism, humor, and enthusiasm into the fabric of your family. And, in doing so, create a happier, more fulfilling family life.