Archive for Grace

Family Happiness in 1938 AND Today

The year: 1938. The question posed by the Bolton Evening News: “What does happiness mean to you and yours?” Bolton is a town in northwest England. Bolton “reached it’s zenith in 1929” with over 200 cotton mills and textile industries. Recently, researchers from the University of Bolton recovered and analyzed the answers given by the original 226 respondents. Three themes emerged in the analysis of the respondents’ answers.

  1. “Contentment” and “peace of mind” contributed to happiness. In other words, being satisfied with what one has rather than constantly seeking more contributes to happiness. Having a healthy family filled with emotional connection and acts of honor increases a sense of contentment, even when we don’t have the most expensive shoes or the newest gadgets.
  2. “Family” and “home” were important to happiness. A happy marriage, healthy children, loving family contribute to happiness. A home is a celebrating community of honor and grace. As we shape our homes around honoring one another and sharing grace to one another we find greater contentment and more happiness. That is a reason to celebrate!
  3. Helping “other people” contributed to happiness. Actively seeking ways to help other people brings happiness. It turns our focus outward and opens our lives to relationship. Helping others as a family strengthens our family. And family, as noted in #2, contributes to happiness. (Read more in Lessons from the Past on How to be Happy.)

These three themes can still help to build happiness in your family today. Read these blogs to discover ways of building each of the characteristics into your  family.

  1. For ideas on filling your family with “contentment” and “peace of mind” read
    1. The Secret to Family Peace
    2. Recognizing the Benefit of Emotions in Parenting
    3. Beatitudes for a Happy Marriage
  2. To improve your “family” and “home” conenctions
    1. Why Family Honor
    2. Become the Catalyst for an Honorable Family
  3. Help “other people”
    1. The Paradox of Happy Families
    2. Give It Away for Family Fun

You can find many more blogs to build these characteristics into your home and family. Just explore the many blogs on this site, put them into practice, and…find family happiness.

Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity

I love being married. I find more joy and happiness, adventure and excitement, joy and contentment, even fun and ecstasy with my wife than I could have ever imagined.  But, let’s face it. Marriage is not all fun and games. It’s not always easy. I also experience irritations and frustrations in my marriage that impact me more deeply than any I experience in other relationships. I’m sure my wife can say the same. (Still, I did plead perfection when telling her about this blog. She simply snickered and shook her head in response. Go figure.) Anyway, the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests a way to increase the positive side of marriage and decrease the negative, increase the joy and excitement while limiting the frustrations and anger. And, it’s based on over 20 years of research! (Full disclosure—I only reviewed some of the studies from the last 10 years.) Based on their research, staff at the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests an activity that any of us can engage in on a daily basis to improve our marriages. It’s simple, yet powerful; easy to do yet profound in its impact. Want to know what activity they suggest? Praying for your spouse. That’s right. Praying! Coming before God (your Higher Power) to ask that your spouse be blessed and protected. Making intercession with God for your spouse; asking Him to help your spouse achieve his or her goals. One caveat—none of these prayers in these studies asked for their partners to become the person they wanted them to be. No, they offered sincere, unselfish prayers focused on their partner’s well-being. Overall, research suggests that saying prayers for one’s partner has many positive effects. Let me share just a few from the last 10 years of research (Read more here).

  1. Praying for one’s spouse has a softening effect on conflict (Butler et al, 1998). In other words, conflict becomes less harsh for those who have a praying spouse.
  2. Praying for one’s spouse predicts relationship satisfaction beyond what positive or negative behaviors in the relationship can predict (Lambert et al, 2008).
  3. Praying for one’s spouse over a 4-week period leads to greater gratitude toward one’s spouse than did thinking positive thoughts about one’s spouse or engaging in daily activities together (Lambert et al, 2009).
  4. Praying for one’s spouse increases the willingness of the one praying to forgive and did so more than simply speaking positively about one’s partner (Lambert et al, 2010).
  5. Praying for one’s spouse predicts greater commitment to the marriage (Fincham et al, 2010).
  6. Praying for one’s spouse while praying with your spouse leads to a greater sense of trust and unity in the relationship (Lambert et al, 2012).

Increased relationship satisfaction, more gratitude, more willingness to forgive, greater commitment, greater trust and less harsh conflict…all through the simple act of sincerely and unselfishly praying for your spouse. I’m getting started now. How about you?

A Paradoxical Way to Strong Family

In a previous post I mentioned that the best family advice I’ve ever heard wasn’t even family advice. It was discipleship advice. And, it was given by a man who was single and even alienated from His own family at the time He gave voice to this advice. The advice comes in two parts. Part one was to “deny yourself.”  Part two is to “take up your cross.”  When this advice was first spoken, the cross was a way to punish, in a very public and humiliating way, those who threatened the way the world was organized under the ruling authority of the Romans. To take up our cross as a family means to live a family life that will stand in stark contrast to the world around us, to have a revolutionary family life based on principles in opposition to the “world powers” around us. Let me explain by offering a few examples.

  • The world encourages us to assert our power, stand up for our rights. A family that “takes up a cross” will submit to one another in love and service.
  • The world encourages us to promote ourselves and “build our brand.” We are told to climb the ladder of success on the backs of others because it’s a “dog eat dog world.” A family that “takes up a cross” will encourage one another, promote one another’s success, and build one another up rather than focus on my own success.
  • The world calls us to achieve a status in which we can BE served. A family that “takes up a cross” strives TO serve one another within the family and TO serve others as a family.
  • The world encourages leadership through power brokerage techniques, such as taking charge, delegation, and telling others what to do. A family that “takes up a cross” will lead through love. Each one will want to lead in forgiveness, showing kindness, and serving one another.

The family that “takes up a cross” exhibits different values than the family that lives according to “the world system.” It may, at times, lead to some ridicule or misunderstanding from those outside the family. However, it will also lead to a stronger more intimate family. “Taking up a cross” creates a family whose strength is found in humble service, loving accountability, sincere encouragement, and kindness.  It sounds odd, even wrong, but taking up your cross to build a strong and intimate family is a wise and powerful action to take!

Hard-to-Swallow, But Amazingly Effective, Family Advice

Some of the best family advice I’ve ever heard wasn’t even family advice. It was discipleship advice. And, it was given by a man who was single, even alienated somewhat His own family at the time He gave voice to this advice. Before I tell you the advice, I have to offer a warning. It’s hard-to-swallow advice. It sounds foreign to our ears, dissonant with the prevailing cultural norms; but, it’s still great marital advice. It comes in two parts. The first part of this hard-to-swallow marital advice is “deny yourself.” I told you it’s hard to swallow.  It’s not popular advice. Practiced wisely, however, it will lead to a strong marriage and family.

When you are completely honest with yourself, you probably know this advice is true. But we don’t like it. Culture teaches us to watch out for “number 1” rather than “deny ourselves.” Still, in our moments of self-reflective honesty, we recognize the inherent value of “denying ourselves” for families.  Think about it. Truly effective parents deny their own wishes and desires to meet the needs of their children all the time.

  • Parents deny their desire to go out whenever they want in order to stay home and put the baby to bed or feed them or care for them when they’re sick.
  • Parents deny their own wishes for new shoes or some other purchase to assure their children have nice clothes for school or get that special dinner for their birthday.
  • Parents deny themselves of sleep so they can comfort a crying baby or care for their sick child.
  • Parents deny themselves of the opportunity to avoid those things they find disgusting or gross in order to change diapers and clean up vomit.
  • Parents deny themselves of an afternoon of ease in order to run children to activities, wash clothes, or prepare snacks for their children’s visiting friends.
  • Parents deny themselves when they forget their own agenda for the moment in order to listen carefully to what sounds like child “ramblings” or to engage in child’s play.

It’s not just parents who deny self to express love in action and build a stronger family. Spouses do it as well. It can be seen in simple things like:

  • One spouse denying themselves by giving up control of the remote and watching what their spouse wants to watch.
  • Spouses denying themselves the freedom to go out with whoever they want whenever they want in order to accommodate their spouses’ desires for a night together or because they want to ease their spouses’ concerns.
  • Spouses deny themselves when they forget their own agenda in a conversation and focus on listening intently to what their spouse has to say.

Self-denial may be seen in more extravagant forms as well, like denying oneself of working extra overtime because it will take too much time away from family or being the first to offer forgiveness when a wrong is committed. The point is that healthy families practice self-denial in big and little ways every day. They “consider one another as more important than themselves” and “look not only to their own interests but to the interests of one another as well.” Joseph Campbell expressed the idea of self-denial in marriage when he said, “Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.” And, from Joseph Campbell once again, “When you make the sacrifice in marriage you’re sacrificing not to each other but to the unity of the relationship.”  To paraphrase slightly, “When you practice self-denial in family, you’re sacrificing the ego to a community we call family, you’re building the unity of your family.”

Beatitudes for a Happy Family

Happy the family in which all family members recognize their deep need to receive and give love and acceptance. They will experience the true joys of intimate family relationships.

 

Happy the family who openly shares emotions with one another, embracing one another in times of sorrow and pain, and celebrating one another in times of joy. They will know comfort, intimacy, and freedom to be themselves.

 

Happy the family filled with humility, willingly submitting their selfish desires to meet one another’s needs while encouraging one another in action and speech. They will know the contentment of an abundant inheritance.

 

Happy the family who has an appetite for doing kind deeds. They will feast on kindness and compassion.

 

Happy the family that practices mercy and forgiveness. They will receive mercy and know the freedom of forgiveness.

 

Happy the family that replaces selfish agendas with a true desire for each family member to grow into the best person they can become. They will see the beauty in one another and themselves.

 

Happy the family that learns to pursue peace and cooperates to maintain a peaceful home. They will know the safety and security of a strong family unity.

 

Happy the family that perseveres through struggles and hardships while remaining polite and respectful toward one another. They will know greater depths of love and joy.

Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores?

I’ve heard it a thousand times (well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I have heard it a lot!): “Why should I thank her for doing what she’s supposed to do?” Or, “I’m not going to thank him for doing what a man’s supposed to do!” Or, “Why should I thank him for taking out the garbage when I cook the meals, clean the house, and do the dishes!” The short answer is because it’s polite and it will encourage them to do more.  But, that answer is incomplete and short-sighted. Let me explain what I feel is a more compelling answer.

We all want to feel appreciated, especially by our family. Thanking our spouse for doing some routine, expected chores gives them the gift of feeling appreciated. Appreciation is a gift of love you give your spouse. But wait…that’s not all. There are even BETTER REASONS to appreciate your spouse!

A series of studies from the University of Massachusetts (click here to read the studies) explored the impact of appreciation in romantic relationships. They looked at two types of behaviors, each involving an expenditure of time, effort, and resources to meet the needs of a one’s partner or home. One type of behavior involved “partner favors,” behaviors engaged in directly for your spouse. The second type of behavior involved “family chores,” the mundane, tedious tasks not done directly for your spouse but still needing done. “Family chores” included activities like cleaning the bathroom, paying the bills, or taking out the garbage. In a series of studies and questionnaires, the researchers asked couples how often the engaged in specific “partner favors” and “family chores,” how appreciated they felt, and how satisfied they were in their marriage. The couples’ answers revealed some surprising results.

  1. When a person felt appreciated for doing the mundane, tedious “family chores,” the chore became more of a “want to do” activity rather than a “should do” activity. People crave appreciation so much that even mundane tasks become more desirable when we know our spouse will appreciate them. Chores become a positive investment in the relationship, not just another tedious job. As a result, the appreciated person is more likely to keep doing chores…and to do them happily!
  2. Appreciation for “family chores” led to greater relationship satisfaction. When “family chores” were appreciated, couples described their relationship as more satisfying and intimate.

Put these two points together and you find that appreciating our spouse sets a positive cycle in motion. The doer feels appreciated and the chore takes on new meaning. It becomes a positive investment in the relationship. Rather than another tedious task, it is an expression of love sown into the relationship. The doer then desires to do more chores, to sow more love into the relationship of appreciation. The appreciator delights in a helpful spouse. They enjoy a spouse who participates in maintaining the household and becomes even more appreciative as a result. When both spouses become doers and appreciators, you create a cyclone of appreciation pulling your marriage toward greater levels of mutual appreciation and joyous service.

So, why thank your spouse for doing chores? To create a cyclone of appreciation, an environment of joyous service and mutual gratitude! Sounds like a pretty sweet spot, doesn’t it? Get the cyclone of appreciation started today by simply voicing your appreciation for the chores your spouse has done.

“Doctor Doctor, Give Me the News…”

“Doctor doctor, give me the news I got a bad case of loving you. No pill’s gonna cure my ill I got a bad case of loving you.” Robert Palmer sang those lyrics in 1979 (Moon Martin in 1978). But, many couples today need to see “Doctor Doctor” to get a script that will remedy a major “ill” destroying their marriage. The symptoms of this major “ill” include:

  • Constant nagging and criticism
  • Refusal to respond to nagging because it “drives me crazy”
  • Increased arguing
  • The perception that my spouse “never listens to me”
  • Anger that chores are left undone
  • Feeling unappreciated and devalued

If that sounds familiar, I have a two-part prescription for you.

  • Each morning write down one thing about your spouse for which you are thankful. It may be a character trait you have always admired, an accomplishment they recently achieved, or a simple chore they completed. Write it down in a small notebook. Keep this notebook for the next 30 days, writing some word of thanks about your spouse every day.
  • Every day, verbally thank your spouse for at least one thing. It may feel awkward, but do it anyway.

That’s it. Take this prescription home and take it for the fully allotted time period. Like medicine, it does no good if you stop before you finish the bottle.  Carry this prescription out for the full 30 days. Take this medication (writing some word of thanks about your spouse and verbally thank your spouse) every day—good days and bad, when you are irritated with your spouse and when you are happy with your spouse. Some days will be harder than others, but write some word of thanks every day, tell them thanks for something every day. At the end of 30 days, let me know if your marriage seems more alive and if your spouse more responsive. Maybe you’ll be singing along with Robert Palmer: “Doctor Doctor, give me the news I got a bad case of loving you. No pill’s gonna cure my ill I got a bad case of loving you!”

The Habits of a Successful Family

Remember the saying:

“Our choices become our actions.

Our actions become our habits.

Our habits become our character.

Our character becomes our destiny.”

I found variations on this saying attributed to a number of sources ranging from Gandhi and Lao Tzu to Michael Hyatt and James Hunter.  Doesn’t really matter who said it in the long run.  It’s true for individuals and families. If you want your family to enjoy intimate

conversations, fun times, and loving interactions it begins with your choices and actions. If you want your family to become a place of refuge, fun, and security, it begins with choices and actions carried out on a consistent, daily basis. The big one time events do not shape our families for the long run.  It’s the choices we make on a consistent basis that become the actions of our daily lives. As we engage in those actions on a consistent basis within the family, we form family habits. Those habits shape our families’ character and determine our families’ destiny.  That’s where honor, grace, and celebration come in. When we consistently choose to practice honor, grace, and celebration in our families, we develop families filled with respect, intimacy, security, and fun. Here are some great daily actions that will help you develop an amazing family character and destiny.

  • Honor your family with courteous words and polite actions.
  • Honor your family with expressions of gratitude and appreciation.
  • Honor your family with compliments, statements of adoration and praise.
  • Honor your family with your time.
  • Honor your family by becoming a student of your spouse and each child.
  • Honor your family by serving your spouse and children.
  • Show your family grace by accepting and even celebrating differences in talents, interests, and opinions.
  • Show your family grace by initiating the resolution of any disagreement.
  • Show your family grace by putting your spouse’s and your children’s interests ahead of your own.
  • Show your family grace by forgiving quickly.
  • Show your family grace through discipline, setting and enforcing limits in love.
  • Celebrate your family by making it a point to play and laugh together.
  • Celebrate your family with dinner time together.
  • Celebrate your family by acknowledging effort toward a goal as well as accomplishments.
  • Celebrate your family by encouraging and supporting your spouse’s and your children’s dreams.
  • Celebrate your family by worshipping together.

Make a choice to put these actions into daily practice. In doing so, you will build a family who practices honor, grace, and celebration habitually. Honor, grace, and celebration will form the foundation of character in your family and shape your family’s destiny.  Who knows, if enough families make the choice to make honor, grace, and celebration the habit of their family, we might just change the world!

A Two-Week Marriage Improvement Challenge

A research team from University of Rochester recently published an interesting study on marriage and compassion. They had 175 newlywed couples (married an average of just over 7 months) keep a two-week diary recording instances in which either spouse put aside personal wishes in order to meet their partner’s needs. These compassionate acts included meeting needs as well as actions that “expressed tenderness, showed the partner they are valued, or changed plans to accommodate their partner.” Each partner also recorded their own emotional states during the day using a standardized list of emotions. When the research team compared the diary of compassionate acts with each spouse’s emotional state, they discovered:

  1. The spouse on the receiving end of the compassionate act experienced an “emotional boost” when they noticed the act. However, if the spouse did not know an act of compassion had occurred (perhaps one spouse changed their plans to accommodate their partner but said nothing about the change) they did not experience an “emotional boost.”
  2. The spouse giving the act of compassion benefited from an “emotional boost” whether their spouse noticed the act or not. In other words, acting compassionately was beneficial to the giver whether the receiver noticed it or not.

I find it interesting that acting compassionately toward one another benefits a marriage even for newlyweds, a couple still enjoying the honeymoon of marriage. Perhaps we can all benefit by building acts of compassion into our marriage. We could even formulate a challenge based on this study—the two-week marriage improvement challenge. Here is how we’ll do it.

  1. Keep a two-week journal to “jump start” compassion in your marriage. For two weeks write down acts in which you or your spouse act compassionately. These acts might include:
    1. One spouse setting aside their personal wishes to meet the other spouse’s needs (like watching a show your spouse wants to watch instead of one you want to watch or cleaning the kitchen when you’d rather play golf),
    2. Expressing affection or tenderness toward your spouse (a hug, saying “I love you,” holding hands, etc.),
    3. Changing plans to accommodate your spouse’s plans or desires (putting down the game on your IPhone to talk or eating what your spouse likes even if it’s not your favorite),
    4. Showing your spouse how much you value them (a genuine compliment, a thoughtful gift, a written note expressing your love, etc.).
  2. At the end of the two week period, sit down and review your journals together. Recall and celebrate your love and each act of compassion.

There it is: A simple two-week marriage improvement challenge based on compassion. Won’t you join the challenge? Your marriage will thank you!

Do Your Child a Favor: LOVE Mistakes

One-hundred-twenty-three children played this video game, all 7-years-old.  No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. It’s the start of an interesting study about learning. Anyway, the children played a fast-paced game in which each player helped a zoo-keeper capture escaped animals by pressing the space bar when an animal appeared UNLESS…(there is always an “unless,” an exception) a group of three “orangutan friends” appeared. These “orangutan friends” were helping capture the other animals. They were “allies,” so the player had to refrain from capturing them. Although the children had fun playing the video game, the real purpose of the game was to test accuracy and impulse control (not pushing the space bar when the three “orangutan friends” appeared). One more thing you need to know—the whole time the 7-year-olds played, researchers monitored their brain activity. In particular, they wanted to know what happened in the brain when a child makes a mistake.

They discovered that some children exhibited a significant increase in brain activity about half-a-second after making a mistake, indicating their awareness of the mistake and their attention to what went wrong. These children exhibited improvement in their performance after making a mistake.

Another group of children did not exhibit this significant change in brain activity when they made a mistake. They seemed to “gloss over” the mistake and mentally avoid acknowledging it. Their performance did not improve. They continued to play and make the same mistakes over again.

Of course, the implication of these results seems obvious: when we pay attention to our mistakes we learn from them and improve our future performance. So why do so many children not pay attention to mistakes? Perhaps they have never learned the importance of acknowledging and learning from mistakes. As a parent, you can help remedy this situation and increase your children’s ability to learn by loving mistakes!

  1. Love your own mistakes. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. No need to get defensive or angry. Simply acknowledge the mistake. Attend to that mistake and figure out how you can avoid it in the future. In other words, learn from your mistake. Talk to your children about mistakes you have made, what you learned from those mistakes, and how you corrected it. Modeling this type of response to mistakes will create an environment in which your children are free to do the same.
  2. Love your children’s mistakes. When you children make a mistake, address it calmly and directly. Don’t belittle them for the mistake, but don’t gloss over it either. Don’t shy away from the mistake with a simply, “It’s OK, you’ll do better next time.” Address the mistake. “You made a mistake. Mistakes happen. Let’s figure out where you went wrong and how we can fix it.” The opportunity to figure the mistake out opens the door for improvement. So explore the mistake. Talk about the mistake and what might fix it. Then enjoy the solution.

When we love our mistakes children will learn to accept mistakes as a learning opportunity. They will delve into challenges with little fear of mistakes or failure because they know mistakes lead to growth. They will pay attention to their mistakes and improve the next time; and, as a result, they will enjoy greater confidence in the present and success in the future.

« Older Entries