What Does This Mean for Your Family

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Cologne collaborated to explore what contributed the most to a person’s well-being:

  • Moral thoughts—thinking good things or things that benefit another,
  • Engaging in moral deeds—doing something that benefits another, or
  • Doing something kind for yourself—like relaxing or treating yourself to something nice.

Interestingly, all three things contributed to a person’s happiness and satisfaction with life. Beyond this, however, each thing made its own specific contribution as well.

  • Moral thoughts AND engaging in moral deeds increased feelings of being virtuous as well as social connection. They both led to an increase in feeling empathic, moral, and grateful for the day as well.
  • Only engaging in moral deeds contributed to people feeling less angry, less isolated, more in control, and as if they had a more purposeful life. It had the greatest impact on the greatest number of measures of well-being.
  • Doing something kind for yourself led people to feel less emotionally exhausted.

What does all this mean for you and your family? If we want healthy families, we need to root them in an environment that nurtures well-being. We need to teach our children to live a life that promotes well-being. We need to model a lifestyle that nurtures well-being in the home and in the community. We need to practice that lifestyle and the practice of that lifestyle consists of the three things: moral thoughts, engaging in moral behaviors, and doing something kind for ourselves. Think about each of those three components for a second.

  1. Thinking good things to benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Ironically, in this study, most people reported that they engaged in prayer when told to think thoughts to benefit other people. Great idea. Pray for each of your family members on a regular basis. Think positive thoughts about them. For example, dwell on things you enjoy about them and admire in them. Think about those things about your family for which you are grateful.
  2. Do things that will benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Do a kind deed for another person. Get them a drink. Help them complete a chore. Give a compliment. Encourage. Hold the door open. You get the idea. Do something nice for the people around you, including your family, every chance you get.
  3. Do something nice for yourself. Don’t get carried away. No need to get selfish. But we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we are emotionally, physically, and mentally rested. So, do something nice for yourself every day.

All this reminds me of one of the commands given to the Israelites and buried in Leviticus. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:9-18).  Our family and our world become a better place when we love one another—thinking good thoughts about them and doing things that will benefit them. We love them better as we learn to love ourselves in a healthy way. So, I guess we better do something nice for ourselves as well. Our families will be healthier places for it. Sounds like a good plan to me. How about you?

Parents Are Students…& Guess Who the Teacher Is?

I was talking with a father of a teen. He was struggling to establish a relationship with his daughter, so I asked him to tell me about her. He struggled to tell me her birthday, interests, likes, and dislikes. He tried to explain his difficulty learning and remembering this information. He seemed so uncomfortable that I changed the subject to sports. He sighed with relief as we discussed his favorite football players. He knew their weight, height, and age as well as their position, speed, college attended, completions, and other relevant stats.

As we talked, I had to ask, “How did you learn all this?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I guess it just like it. It’s important to me. I enjoy the games.”

“Hmmm. Isn’t your daughter just as likable, important, and enjoyable?”

The fact is, we learn about those things we value. We learn about the things we enjoy. And, we value and enjoy our children. Even more, our children need us to learn the details, the stats, of their lives. If we don’t learn their stats, they will feel lonely, unimportant, and uninteresting. They will feel as though we don’t value them and love them.  They will feel unloved. To put it another way, our children will feel loved as we learn and know the stats of their lives.

Guess who will teach you your children’s stats? That’s right. Your children will! They are the teachers and we are their students in learning the stats of their lives. So, become a good student by:

  1. Listening to the teacher. Listen closely as they talk about their lives. Listen to the stories that include their friends, their activities, their fears, their peers, their studies. Listen closely.
  2. Remembering the details. You may have to write some things down in a notebook to help you remember the constantly changing plays, players involved, and opponents. Call it your Children’s Stats notebook. Review the information now and again.
  3. Asking them about the details of their lives. Now that you know the stats of their lives, talk with your children about them. Ask them how that project for English is going. Ask about the argument they had with their friend. Ask them about things that interest them and how they are resolving various areas of discomfort. Then, as they answer, go back to #1 and start again. They will grow. The answers will evolve. The players, the plays, and the opponents will change. The goals will mature. With that in mind, go back to #1 and repeat: listen, remember, and ask.

At least two things will happen as you learn your children’s stats. One, your relationship with them will grow. They will feel loved by you and draw near to you. Two, you will enjoy your relationship with your children more. What’s not to love about that? Learn the stats.

How I Had to “Break Out” to Become a Better Parent

I am not the most emotionally expressive person in the world. Truth be told, I’m a little overwhelmed when people become very emotionally expressive. I would much rather quietly, and privately, experience emotions. My mother recalls my two-year-old self opening Christmas gifts one at a time, calmly setting each down to open the next, with very little emotional expression. My wife smiles at me sometimes because my big display of emotion consists of, “That’s cool.” I think I’ve gotten better, but….

I learned to make some adjustments to my emotional expression in response to my children. My wife and I have two beautiful daughters. Early in their lives they taught me that any emotion they experienced was to be recognized by all, including me. When they were angry, everyone knew. When they were sad, it was heartbreaking. When they were excited, the whole room vibrated with their joy. Don’t get me wrong. They are very appropriate in their emotional expression, but they did express their emotion…and I didn’t. Their emotional expression could easily overwhelm me.  And when I get overwhelmed by emotion, I shut down. John Gottman describes it as “emotional flooding” and I was drowning.

None of this is necessarily bad. They were not wrong. Nor was I. We just have different personalities. But I wanted to connect with my daughters. I wanted to “rejoice when they rejoiced” and “weep when they wept.” I wanted to connect with them and draw closer to them through their emotional experiences. My first instinct, however, was to calm it all down. “That’s exciting; but calm down a little.” “It’s not that bad. Don’t worry about it.” “Quit crying. It’s just a game.”  Anything to reduce the intensity of the emotion. And that just frustrated them and made them more emotional.

In fact, trying to “tame” another person’s emotions devalues their experience, their emotion, and their person.  It can also reinforces gender stereotypes of the non-emotional male. It sends the message that emotions are stronger than the person. It offers no support. It puts up a wall of “your-emotions-don’t-matter” and “I’m-not-strong-enough-to-handle-your-emotions” that separates the one expressing emotion from the one trying to calm the emotion. By proxy, it sends the message “I’m not strong enough to handle your emotions…or you. If can’t hand your emotion, I can’t protect you…or help you.”

To help my daughters grow and to develop a better relationship with them, I had to learn to rejoice with them and weep with them. I had to “break out” of my little emotional box to experience their emotion with them, to empathize with their emotion and so let them know emotions are normal. I had to “break out” of my comfort zone to share their emotion and let them know I value them enough to enter their world of joys, sorrows, celebrations, and fears. I had to “break out” of my fear to validate their emotions as valuable sources of information. I had to “break out” of my tendency to shut down to let them know that we, as people, are in control of our emotions. Our emotions are not in control of us.

My children taught me a lot about myself in this process. And, I had to “break out” and grow. (Parenting will do that to you.) I’m still not what people call “emotive.” Probably never will be. But, for my children’s sake, I had to “break out” of my comfort zone to connect with them and grow with them. Believe me, it was well worth the effort. I’ve learned to share in their emotions in our own way…and draw closer together in the process.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for GOOD NEWS!!

I have good news. It comes from a study completed by Yoshihiko Koga, a professor at Kyorin University in Tokyo. He gave a group of people three spoons of ice cream to eat upon waking and then gave them mental acuity tasks to complete on the computer. The other group simply got up and completed the mental acuity tasks. And guess what?! Those who ate ice cream exhibited improved mental performance and faster reaction times than those who did not eat ice cream. They were better at processing information and exhibited an increase in alpha waves, which are associated with concentration, relaxation, and mental coordination.

Next, Professor Koga compared those who ate ice cream with those who had cold water to make sure the improved performance was not the result of being “shocked into alertness” by the cold of the ice cream. Once again, those eating ice cream performed better than those who simply had cold water.

Professor Koga believes the ice cream may trigger positive emotions and added energy, thus producing the results noted above. (Ahhh…ice cream does bring back wonderful memories and good feelings.)

Another study conducted by neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned brains of people as they ate vanilla ice cream. They found that eating ice cream immediately activated the same areas of the brain lit up by winning money or listening to a favorite piece of music. (Imagine how it would light up if we eat ice cream while winning money and listening to our favorite music.)

If you’re like me, you might be rejoicing that science has already shown what I have always wanted to be true: Eating ice cream is good for you. And, even better than I ever imagined, eating ice cream for breakfast is good for you!! Now that’s some good news. Maybe we should all give our children 3 spoons full of ice cream before they go to school in the morning. Can’t hurt, huh?

If you’re hesitant to go the ice cream route, remember that the researchers believed the ice cream had this effect because it triggered positive emotions. So, you can help your children prepare for the day by eliciting positive emotions in the morning. Make the morning a time of positive interactions. Here are some simple ways to do it:

  • Lay out clothes and pack any necessary school supplies the night before so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning.
  • If you’re not a morning person, get up a little earlier so you can be fully awake and pleasant before your child awakens.
  • Keep the conversation encouraging, friendly, and supportive.
  • Have a good breakfast. (Add some ice cream in if you want…it will really brighten your children’s morning!)
  • Share a simple hug or some show of affection.
  • And of course, break out the ice cream!

Help Your Children Flourish

Parenting is like trying to balance a multi-dimensional see-saw. On one end of the see-saw sits discipline and structure. On the other end is warmth and affection. How we balance these two ingredients contributes to four possible types of parenting:

  • Neglectful parenting, which is low in both discipline and warmth,
  • Permissive parenting, which is high in warmth but low in discipline,
  • Authoritarian parenting, which is high in discipline but low in warmth, and
  • Authoritative parenting, which is high in both discipline and warmth.

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University published two studies in early 2019 that explored these parenting styles and their impact on flourishing later in life. Not surprisingly, parenting high in both warmth and discipline (authoritative parenting) proved most beneficial in promoting a flourishing life, even as a person matured into adulthood.  Somewhat surprising, permissive parenting—low in discipline but high in warmth—proved the second most beneficial parenting style for promoting a flourishing life. Falling to a distant third was authoritarian (low in warmth but high in discipline).  Of course, a neglectful style of parenting was least effective.

With further study, it appears that warmth (which authoritative and permissive parenting exhibit) is the most important aspect of parenting when it comes to helping our children flourish later in life. Specifically, parental warmth and affection was associated with the following benefits in later life:

  • A 46% reduction in depression
  • A 39% reduction in anxiety
  • A 68% reduction in eating disorders
  • Higher levels of emotional processing and expression
  • Lower levels of cigarette and marijuana use.

Providing warmth and affection to our children tops the list of important ingredients in parenting. When we provide an environment of warmth and affection to our children, they have a better chance of flourishing later in life. With that in mind, here are six simple ways to show your children warmth and affection…and promote their ability to flourish.

The Maariaage Ruummble

“Let’s get ready to rumble!” Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this evening’s marital bliss match. It promises to be a classic in every sense of the word.

In the blue corner we have the husband, weighing in 180 pounds.  Known for his silent fighting skills and constant use of humor, he sometimes becomes overwhelmed in the midst of the emotional tension.

His opponent, in the pink corner and weighing in at 135 pounds, his wife. She is known for her agility to maneuver, verbal prowess, and sudden attacks.

As the bell rings, the wife moves quickly to the center of the ring and leads with a jab of criticism followed by a quick uppercut of blame. The husband slides into a defensive position before a launching a lumbering counterattack of blame.

Verbal sparring continues with the wife dancing around the husband. The husband attempts to follow her dancing but is left flooded and confused. He throws wild punches of character assassination. His wife parries and returns with a blow of her own character assassination. The husband is stunned.  

Suddenly, with a name-calling hit below the belt, this disagreement turns into a street brawl. Both are aiming at their spouse’s sensitive areas, their vulnerabilities, those raw spots of pain.

Flooded by the stimuli of emotional punches, the husband covers and silently accepts the blows, seemingly unfazed. The wife grows more furious and throws a flurry of jabs to prove her point and make him understand. He simple covers more and withdraws…still seemingly unfazed.  

It’s difficult to pick out the winner in this match. Each won a battle here and lost a battle there. Both are emotionally bruised and bleeding. Both are angry, bitter, and feeling disconnected from their spouse. Yes, I believe this one is a draw. There is no winner in this match, only losers.

Does that sound familiar? In marriage, we will have disagreements and even arguments. But there is no such thing as a single winner. We either both win or we both lose. In this scenario, both lost.

So, what’s the alternative? Avoid the emotional boxing match altogether. Instead of starting with the idea that you have to win an argument, start with the realization that you and your spouse may both have equally valid perspectives. Accept your spouse’s perspective as valid, even when you disagree. Instead of trying to prove their perspective wrong, strive to understand it. In understanding their perspective, you learn about them. You draw closer to them. You open the door to connection and intimacy. Isn’t that what you want most of all? Don’t you desire connection and intimacy more than a shallow victory that leaves you in a lose-lose scenario? 

Then, muster up the courage to apologize for your own wrongdoing (chances are, both parties have some wrongdoing). Doing so expresses your love for your spouse. Then put your energy into reconnecting. A hug will go a long way in reconnecting. After all, the only winner in a marriage is the couple, not the individual.

The Best Christmas: Honor, Grace, & Celebration

Christmas has suddenly appeared on the horizon. I don’t know about you, but it seems like the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas gets shorter every year. The hustle and bustle of crowds and traffic seems more pronounced. Because the spirit of Christmas so easily eludes me, I need to take the time to reflect on Christmas and what it means to me. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few things, only three, about what Christmas means to me. And, these three aspects of Christmas can become Christmas themes to practice all year round.

Christmas tells of honor. Mary, the mother of Jesus, exemplifies honor in so many ways. When the angel told her that she would have a baby who would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end,” she accepted his word. She obeyed the call of God. She even said, “May it be done to me according to your word.” She trusted. She obeyed. She honored.

One of the greatest gifts we can share with our family at Christmas is the gift of honor. We can honor our spouse and our parents by accepting their influence in our lives, by learning to submit to one another in love. We honor our children by modeling a reputation of integrity, generosity, and love.

Christmas tells of grace. We see grace in Joseph’s devotion to Mary. In the days of Jesus’ birth, a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock was a scandal deserving death. But Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, did not want to “disgrace Mary.” He did not want to make thigs harder for her than it already was. So, he determined to quietly end their engagement. However, an angel confirmed Mary’s baby was Jesus, who would “save His people from their sins.”  With this word, Joseph took Mary as his wife. It didn’t matter what other people might think or what they might say. He would devote himself to her and to raising her child. His devotion reveals his grace.

Of course, we also see grace given us from Jesus at Christmas. He “did not consider equality with God a thing to be used to His own advantage, but rather made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7, NIV). We see grace in Jesus, who gave up all to give us all, who left home to bring us home.

You can share the gift of grace with your family all year long. Accepting each one in spite of differences and even in light of shortcomings. Giving generously of your time and availability to each of your children and your spouse. Taking the time and energy to grow emotionally connected to one another. Each of these actions is a grace given to your family.

Christmas tells of celebration. God arranged an angelic choir to sing an anthem in response to Jesus’ birth.  In response, the shepherds ran to the manger and celebrated the birth of their Messiah. Later in the story, wise men “came from afar” to bring gifts in celebration of the “newborn King.”

When we share the gifts of honor and grace with our family, we find the gift of celebration comes naturally. We celebrate our love by sharing gifts. We also celebrate our family by serving one another, encouraging one another, and comforting one another all year long.

We celebrate Christmas day once a year. But the spirit of Christmas extends throughout the year when we share honor, grace, and celebration with one another. Have a merry Christmas…and let it last throughout the year in honor, grace, and celebration.

Make a Little Christmas Hygge

Last Christmas I receive The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. I love it. It describes one of the things we seek most in life, hygge.  “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down” (page 6). I love hygge. I’d like more of it in my life. I work to bring it into my family. And Christmas is one of the best times to create some hygge. In fact, Christmas is one of the most hygge times of the year. Christmas is the one time a year in which “hygge is the ultimate goal of an entire month” (page 218). To make Christmas truly hyggelig takes intentional planning, thought, and effort. But it’s worth the effort because everybody wants a hyggelig Christmas. So, here are a few ideas to make your Christmas an extra hygge Christmas as well.

  • Fire and candles. Hygge is always greater with the natural light of flickering candles or a glowing fireplace. The natural warmth and the dancing flame that cast shadows upon all those gathered to share the Christmas season is truly hygge. So, if you have a fireplace, light it up. If not, put some candles around the room and bask in the dancing shadows of their flickering light while sharing conversation with family and friends.
  • Food and drink. Food is important to hygge and Christmas is a great time for food. Enjoy your Christmas dinner along with Christmas cookies and pies. You might even enjoy some special beverages like eggnog, wassail, hot chocolate, or some other family drink tradition. You can share cookies with friends and neighbors, swapping your favorites with one another. The important thing about Christmas, hygge, and food is to enjoy it all together. Share food, company, and conversation to let the hygge flow.
  • Comfy clothes. No need to dress up or put on uncomfortable clothes. You’re with friends and family. Put on some comfy clothes for relaxing. Your company is much more important than your dress when it comes to hygge. The interaction and the shared experience are the key ingredients of joy, not the fancy clothes. So, hang up the tie and the put away the high heels. Put on the comfy clothes and enjoy one another’s company.
  • Music. Music always adds to hygge. Play some music in the background. Share your favorite songs. If you enjoy playing or singing, have a sing-along. Take it on the road and do some caroling. Of course, when you finish caroling, enjoy some hot chocolate, eggnog, or some hot buttered rum as you talk about your caroling adventure in the light of candles.
  • Company: Friends and Family. You may have noticed how often company, friends, and family were mentioned in the above ingredients. Hygge just isn’t hygge without our loved ones around us. Enjoy your time together. Put away the phones and the I-Pads. Forget the video games and PlayStations. Pull out a board game instead. Enjoy a game of cards or “salad bowl.” Talk. Reminisce. Dream. Laugh. Enjoy one another’s company. You know it doesn’t get any more hygge than this!

Have a very merry Christmas this year, a Christmas filled with hygge, family, and friends.

Is It Hysterical or Historical? Probably Both!

Have you ever had an experience like this? Your spouse reacts strongly to something that seems insignificant to you. You feel like you made a simple mistake, but your spouse seems to think you were intentionally expressing hate toward them. You didn’t pick up a dirty sock, but your spouse seems to think you don’t value anything they do.

On the other hand, maybe you were the one who react strongly and later wonder, “Why did I get so angry about that?”

If you’ve had either of these experiences (and most of us have), here is a saying that sheds light on your confusion. “When it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” In other words, if you or your spouse have a reaction that seems extreme given the situation that provoked it, the reason behind the reaction may be historical. The reason behind the reaction may come from the past.  Rather than get “hysterical,” it will prove more helpful to become an investigator of the “historical.” Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat, grab your magnifying glass, and do a little detective work. Here are some questions that might help start the investigation.

  • Did you ever have a similar feeling as a child? In previous relationships?
    • When was the first time?
    • How often did you have that feeling?
  • Describe the feeling and the circumstances that led to the feeling in the past?
    • What thoughts go through your mind?
    • Do you see any images or colors?
    • How does your body feel?
  • What have these feelings and their related circumstances come to mean to you now?
    • Objectively, do the circumstances really hold this meaning?
    • Objectively, what meaning do the feelings and circumstances hold?
  • How is this circumstance and my current relationship different than my past experiences?

With the information you gain through this small piece of investigative work into your own life, you can approach your spouse and the frustrating circumstance differently. You can use the circumstances to open up about personal vulnerabilities and ask your spouse for help in responding to those vulnerabilities. You can draw closer to one another and more intimate with one another. Rather than responding “hysterically,” you can respond “vulnerably” and find your relationship growing stronger and more intimate. So, put on your Sherlock Holmes hat, pick up your magnifying glass, and let the investigation begin.

“Cheat Codes” for Dads: Your Daughter’s Sense of Security

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. Other “cheat codes” help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon you’ll need in the game.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you may feel as though you need a “cheat code.” You may want inside information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in relation to your daughter. You likely desire a “cheat code” that will provide a gateway to a special power to influence your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.

Previous “cheat codes” discussed included:

The next “cheat code” involves making your daughter feel secure!

The Cheat Code: A Sense of Security.

Purpose: Giving your daughter A Sense of Security will…

  1. Increase your daughter’s confidence in the world outside the home.
  2. Give them the freedom to learn habits promoting happiness and success throughout their life.
  3. Decrease behavior problems.

Value: Children need a sense of security. Having a sense of security frees children to explore the world around them so they can learn and grow. A sense of security includes a sense of belonging, both of which promote confidence and courage to try new things. A sense of security will also promote positive behaviors in your daughter, decreasing the need for discipline.

Instructions: Practical actions that will give your daughter A Sense of Security involve…

  • Investing in your relationship with your daughter’s mother. Your daughter will feel more secure when she knows you and her mother have a secure relationship. Invest in your marriage. Keep it strong.
  • If you are divorced, your relationship to your daughter’s mother still matters. Build a positive, congenial relationship with your daughter’s mother. Do not make negative statements about her.
  • Whether married or divorced, do not says negative things about your daughter’s mother. Support her in her parenting efforts. Defend her if your daughter says something negative about her. Build a strong relationship for your daughter’s sake.
  • Express your affection for your daughter in word and action. Tell her you love her. Compliment her. Show her physical affection.
  • When you need to discipline your daughter (and you will), take time to reconnect with her afterwards.
  • Develop rituals of connection with your daughter. Spend time with your daughter. Read “Cheat Codes”: Time and “Cheat Codes”: Confidence for more.
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