I was sitting among a group of friends when the discussion turned to “those people.” Everyone in the group knew I was not only a part of the friend group having the discussion but a member of “those people” being discussed as well. Suddenly, one of my friends looked at me and said, “Well, we don’t mean you. You’re different.” It was too late. I already felt the twinge of being cast out. I’ve had a similar experience several times. It has happened in response to where I grew up. It has happened because of a particular group of people I have chosen to belong to. It has even happened, on occasion, because of my gender. It really doesn’t matter why “it” happened; the fact remains that some comments separate and judge others as inferior, even when those making the comments add a sheepish “we’re not talking about you.” The comments still lead to division. They still make someone feel like an outcast. Researchers call such comments “micro-aggressions.” Micro-aggressions accumulate to create greater division and prejudice, even causing declines in physical health.
Fortunately, I have also encountered groups who engaged in conversations and comments that elevated people, conversations that brought people together and made each person feel important. These groups validated our shared humanity as well as our individual worth. Researchers refer to comments made in these more positive discussions as “micro-affirmations.” A study published in 2017 made me think about how our families can become catalysts and training grounds for micro-affirmations rather than micro-aggressions. In this study, 503 teens (11- to 16-years-old) were divided into two groups. One group was given a questionnaire to help them recall specific examples of their own past acts of kindness. A second group was given a questionnaire asking questions about neutral topics like the weather or a favorite tree. Both groups read an “anti-relational aggression message” as well. One month later, the researchers explored the frequency of hurtful behaviors in which members of both groups had engaged. The results? First, the “anti-relational aggression message” did not produce any behavioral change. Second, and more important for our purposes, those who recalled previous acts of kindness engaged in less aggression and more kindness over the last month than the group who had recalled neutral information. The authors of the study believe that recalling acts of kindness triggered mini self-affirmations and “primed the pump” for more acts of kindness. They believed acts of kindness served as “micro-affirmations” for both the giver and the recipient of kindness by bringing people together in a shared moment of humanity and worth.
How does this relate to our families? I believe our families provide the training ground for micro-affirmations, for kindnesses that validate, unite, and elevate worth. And, I hope you will join me in implementing a “training protocol” that will not only promote growth in kindness and the giving of micro-affirmations but will strengthen your family at the same time! It only takes three steps!
- Model kindness. Make micro-affirmations (statements that elevate worth, validate positive identity, and bring people together) to your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and even strangers you meet throughout your day. It’s really not hard. It can be as simple as thanking your teen when they do a chore, appreciating the meal your spouse prepared, or admiring the shirt your wife is wearing. It might involve holding the door open for a stranger, getting the car so your family doesn’t have to walk through the rain, or offering to get a family member a drink when you go to the kitchen during a commercial. Each time you engage in a simple act of kindness, you produce a micro-affirmation that informs the other person of their value in your eyes. You bring unity between yourself and the person to whom you show kindness, a unity based on your shared humanity and love.
- Celebrate acts of kindness your family members engage in. You can do this with a simple acknowledgment and statement of gratitude…”thank you for your kindness” goes a long way! You can acknowledge when people offer forgiveness or show consideration. You can acknowledge the kindness of generosity and service, awareness of others and responding with respect. Yes, many of these things are expected behaviors. But, when we acknowledge expected and desired behaviors we increase the chances of those behaviors continuing and even increasing. Make it a family habit to acknowledge and appreciate kindnesses shown.
- Provide simple opportunities to show kindness. The possibilities for showing kindness are unlimited. If you can’t think of any ways to show kindness, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families and 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage and A Family Night to Share Kindness. Make an intentional effort to show kindness every day.
As you can see, this really is not a difficult protocol to implement in your family. It simply involves developing a family environment of kindness and affirmation. Your family will benefit from this environment filled with “micro-affirmations.” Your spouse will love this environment. Your children will thrive in this environment. And, the community in which you live will benefit as practicing kindness at home will lead to practicing kindness outside the home. In fact, if enough of us make kindness and micro-affirmations a vital aspect of our family environment, we might just start a wave of change that impacts our whole world. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?!
Strong families make multiple, daily deposits into the Family Bank of Honor (Read Family Bank of Honor for more ideas on making investments in the Family Bank of Honor). We not only expect children to make deposits into the overall Family Bank of Honor, but we need to make deposits into their honor accounts as well. But, certain phrases cheapen our deposits. These phrases take the value away from an attempted deposit and make it empty. Instead of using phrases that cheapen our deposits, the whole family will benefit when we use phrases that enrich our deposits. Let me give you a few examples.
- “No problem” tends to cheapen the deposit. It raises an implicit question, a subtle doubt so to speak. Did we do “it” simply because it was “no problem”? Would we have valued our child enough to do it if it was difficult or problematic? A better phrase, one that will enrich the deposit might be “I am glad to do it for you,” “I enjoyed doing it for you,” or even the infamous, “My pleasure.” These statements enrich the deposit by noting you did it because you valued the person and enjoy doing things with and for them.
- “That’s a good boy/girl” is another phrase that cheapens a deposit. Saying “good boy/girl” implies that your child is good only because of whatever they did or are doing that prompted the statement. It suggests their “goodness” is based on performance, not inherent worth. Rather than applying the label of “good” to your child, make note of their effort. Or note one aspect of their work that you admire. For instance, “You worked hard on that project.” “I like the colors you chose.” Noting effort enriches the deposit and encourages a “growth mindset” and persistence (Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success), both important for success.
- “Stop crying. It’s OK.” This phrase is often said in an attempt to comfort our children. But it cheapens the deposit into their honor bank by disregarding and minimizing their emotions. You can accomplish the same goal (providing comfort and nurturance) while enriching the deposit by saying things like “That really hurts” or “Can I do something to help you feel better.” Sometimes you will not even need to say anything to make an enriching deposit. Simply give your child a comforting hug. You can further enrich a “hug deposit” by saying “I love you” while you hug them.
- “You’re so lazy/smart (you pick the label).” Anytime we apply a global label to our child, whether a positive or a negative label, we have, at best, cheapened the deposit into their honor account. Avoid negative labels because they actually make withdrawals from your child’s honor accounts. Positive labels lead to a “fixed mindset” (Read Build Your Child’s Success Mindset for more) that will hinder growth and success. Instead, enrich the deposit by acknowledging specific behaviors you like or behaviors you would like to see changed. For instance, “You studied hard and learned a lot for that test” or “Your practice really paid off.” On the negative side, “You chose to watch TV all day, so now your project is going to be late.” Addressing specific behaviors and their consequences enriches deposits into the Bank of Honor.
- “Wait until your father/mother gets home.” On first glance, this statement may not appear to influence the bank of honor. However, it cheapens deposits into your child’s bank of honor by giving your power away to the other parent. Without power all your deposits become weaker, less valuable. Only powerful people can make priceless deposits. Rather than “wait ’til your father gets home” to address a behavior, address it in the moment. You can still address it when your partner arrives home, but address it in the moment as well. By doing so you enrich all your deposits into your child’s bank of honor.
I think you get the idea. Some statements cheapen deposits into the bank of honor. Others will enrich the deposit. Fill your children’s banks of honor with enriching statements that pay rich dividends of joy and maturity.
As the year comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the importance of family in the world today. So many of the issues we struggle with as a nation could be lessened, if not eliminated, by healthy families, families based on the values of honor, grace, & celebration. Families that practice and teach these values become the cornerstone of healthy communities. They improve their communities and the overall world by living out the values of honor, grace, and celebration learned in the microcosmic community of their family. Consider just a few lessons learned in a family of honor, grace, and celebration that will then be extended to the community and world around them.
- Honor causes us to humbly see one another as diamonds rather than coal, someone to be cherished and admired rather than used for my comforts and my ends.
- Honor teaches us to communicate love and respect to one another—young and old, male and female. It teaches us to respect one another in our uniqueness.
- Honor compels us to esteem one another in spite of differences we might have. It teaches us to respect even when we disagree.
- Grace enables us offer one another unconditional acceptance.
- Grace teaches us to live sensible and righteous lives—lives that serve rather than abuse, lives that sacrifice for others rather than take from others.
- Grace empowers us to practice extravagant generosity in our availability, attention, and meeting of one another’s needs.
- Grace leads us to forgive those who offend us and to seek reconciliation when possible, releasing us from the burden of vengeance.
- Grace frees us from the crushing weight of anger and bitterness as we seek It frees us from the shackles of guilt as we receive forgiveness.
- Honor and grace combine to create a sense of security, a sanctuary of acceptance.
- Honor and grace build a safe haven in which disagreements can be discussed, options explored, and solutions discovered.
- Honor and grace drive us to connect with one another on a deep emotional level.
- Honor and grace liberate us from the entanglements of narcissism and self-centeredness.
- Honor and grace make celebration possible. In honor, we celebrate our diversity. In grace, we even celebrate with those who disagree with us.
- Celebration allows us to play and laugh together, revealing ourselves more full and without pretense.
- Celebration refreshes our perspective of others, allowing us to see one another with fresh eyes of understanding and joy.
- Celebration enhances intimacy, allowing us to know one another more deeply.
- Celebration restores our trust in humanity as we celebrate those successes and achievements that value all we honor.
Healthy families not only practice honor, grace, and celebration they teach these values to future generations. In so doing, they build people of honor, grace, and celebration who then build communities of honor, grace, and celebration. People who live in families of honor, grace, and celebration go into the world and create positive change (Read Hot Sauces Vs. the Power of Relationship for an example of this positive impact). In this coming year, recommit to making your family a celebrating community of honor and grace. You need it. Your family needs it. Our world needs it!
The UK has engaged in a longitudinal study called Understanding Society. The study started gathering data on 40,000 households in 2009. They also incorporated data from the British Household Panel Survey which began in 1991. That’s 25 years of data about families, relationship, health, and so much more! (Learn more about it at Understanding Society). Why do I tell you about this study? Because this study, with the largest household panel from which to gather data over an extended period of time, has revealed three things parents can do to raise happier children! It’s true. Happy adults were raised by parents who did three things…three things that you can do today to help your children become happy adults. Let me share them with you now.
- First and foremost, work to build a healthy, happy marriage. In particular, children become happier adults when their mother is happy in her marital relationship. Their father’s happiness in the marital relationship, although important, did not have as significant an impact as their mother’s happiness did. I would add, however, that most men in healthy marriages are happiest when they know their spouse is happy. So, to have happier children, maintain a healthy, happy marriage. Men, find ways to bring joy and happiness to your wife. Speak her love language. Share the household chores. Pursue dreams together. The healthier and more secure your marriage, the happier your wife; the happier your wife, the happier your children.
- Pursue peace. The study actually reports happiest people are raised by parents who “avoid regular arguments.” Unfortunately, simply avoiding arguments tends to escalate the tension and increase the possibility of “a big blowout.” Instead of simply avoiding arguments, pursue peace. You can pursue peace by keeping promises, discussing decisions, allowing your spouse to influence you, resolving differences before they become arguments. In other words, you can pursue peace by honoring, serving, and celebrating your spouse. Pursuing peace decreases arguments and, when disagreements do occur (which they will), pursing peace leads to quicker, calmer, and more satisfying resolutions. That will contribute to happier children. (For more on pursuing peace, read The Secret to Family Peace)
- Eat at least three meals as a family each week. Eating meals as a family offers benefits in every area of family life—physical, mental (Have Fun, Eat, &..What?), emotional, and relational (Read A Special Ingredient for Happy Families for more). Your children will have fond memories of family meals. Fond memories, by the way, contribute to happiness. Family meals provide one cornerstone of happiness for every family. Enjoy them as often as you can.
A happy marriage, the pursuit of peace, and regular family meals all contribute to happier children who grow into happy adults. Sounds like the makings of a great New Year’s resolution. I think I’ll do it. Won’t you do the same?
There’s a killer loose in the family! He’s popping up everywhere: on the news, in social media, from other people. He may live in your home. He may even live in you! Every time he mutters his loathsome words he vandalizes our brains, packing down a neural rut leading to pain and misery. In time he will establish a rut so deep that just a word or even a look will send your whole family tumbling down the pathway toward more of the same agitation, misery, and depression! Who is this vandal? The Constant Complainer! That’s right. Constant complaining creates a neural pathway in our brains that makes complaining easier and more likely to occur. In time it will even become the default pathway…a highway leading straight to agitation, misery, and depression for everyone in the family. It doesn’t matter if the Constant Complainer is a Venter, a Chronic Complainer, or a Sympathy Seeker the result is the same. They suck the energy out of the whole family and leave everyone feeling empty, agitated, and miserable (Read Research Shows That Physically Complaining Rewires Your Brain to be Depressed and Anxious for more). I do have good news though. You can kick the Constant Complainer out of your family by practicing these skills.
- Change your expectations. Generally, complaining is unproductive. It accomplishes nothing but increasing frustration, misery, depression, and anxiety for you and everyone around you. In college I hated to wash clothes and I complained about it every time. My complaining fueled my hatred and increased my misery each time I had to wash my clothes. Then it dawned on me. Complain or not, I still have to wash clothes…or stink. Might as well accept it and figure out a way to enjoy it. I changed my expectation from “this is wasting my time” to “at least it gives me a chance to read my book or talk with friends.” I still don’t jump for joy to wash clothes, but I do it without complaint. Sometimes we have to change our expectations.
- If you are going to complain, do it right! Rather than complain for complaining’s sake, make sure you have a positive goal in mind. Pause and think about the reason you want to complain and what you want to accomplish. What is underlying your complaint: anger, frustration, hurt, irritation? What do you really want to see changed to make things better? Who would be the right person to take your concern to? What solution can you offer when you voice your concern? These questions will help you do more than just complain constantly. They will help you find a way to remedy the problem and reach an outcome that will bring you satisfaction. (Read Five Mistakes We Make When Complaining for more details)
- Share gratitude. Don’t get stuck in the rut of complaining when you don’t have the power to change something. Instead, think about what you have to be thankful for. For instance, rather than complain about the traffic, be grateful you have a car and can go so many places. Rather than complain about having to do the dishes, be grateful you have dishes and the opportunity to enjoy the delicious meals that result in dirty dishes. Rather than complain about your spouse, consider what they do for your family and you. Be grateful. Make it a habit to voice your gratitude to others. Rather than packing down a neural rut of complaining you will establish a neural highway of joyful gratitude.
- Think about the positive memories of your life and family. Even though this is similar to sharing gratitude it adds another positive neural highway to help eliminate complaining from your home. Ponder the positive memories of family vacations. Contemplate the intimate conversations with your wife. Dwell on the memories of laughter with your children. Create more positive memories by participating in family game nights, vacations, outings, family dinners, and family celebrations. Each time you engage in a family activity, intentionally focus on the positive times you are enjoying and the joyous memories you are creating.
Practice these four actions and you will get that killer, the Constant Complainer, out of your home. You will replace those neural ruts of complaining with neural highways to joy and intimacy.
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.
- “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.
- “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!
- 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.
- For ideas on filling your family with “contentment” and “peace of mind” read
- The Secret to Family Peace
- Recognizing the Benefit of Emotions in Parenting
- Beatitudes for a Happy Marriage
- To improve your “family” and “home” conenctions
- Why Family Honor
- Become the Catalyst for an Honorable Family
- Help “other people”
- The Paradox of Happy Families
- 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.
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).
- 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.
- Praying for one’s spouse predicts relationship satisfaction beyond what positive or negative behaviors in the relationship can predict (Lambert et al, 2008).
- 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).
- 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).
- Praying for one’s spouse predicts greater commitment to the marriage (Fincham et al, 2010).
- 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?
What can the price of a cup of joe teach us about family? Last year (2016), CUPS Coffee & Tea in Roanoke, VA, taught a great lesson that applies to families and the Family Bank of Honor. (Read about the coffee shop here). The owner “felt the need to help solve all the injustices of the world” and decided to start close to home by encouraging polite manners and connection. So, he put up a sign outside his coffee shop, a menu with prices associated with how a person orders their coffee. If someone simply ordered “one small coffee” the charges was $5. However, if they politely placed their order with a “one small coffee, please” the cost was reduced to $3. But, you could get the same cup of coffee for a mere $ 1.75 if you connected before placing a polite order: “Hello, I’d like one small coffee please.” His sign went viral in a matter of days.
I think he had a great idea. “Solving the injustices of the world” begins at home. We can contribute by encouraging polite manners and connection within the family and with those our family meets. Each time we make a connection with a family member, we invest in the Family Bank of Honor. Each time with make a polite statement, we invest in the Family Bank of Honor (Learn more about the Family Bank of Honor). The more we invest in the Family Bank on Honor, the stronger and more intimate our family bond. And the stronger our family bond, the greater the potential impact on the world (Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship).
Just like that coffee shop owner, encourage your family to practice polite manners and a little connection…and change the world!
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!
Just came home from the 2017 family camp weekend at Camp Christian. If you weren’t there, you missed a great weekend of fun, fellowship, and learning of God’s will for our family lives. Ken and Laurie Muller honored us with practical teaching focused on becoming part of the “Kingdom Family.” Using Psalm 128:1 as the primary verse, they described our “one job:” to walk and obey. We also learned about the importance of balance in our lives as we had the chance to walk a “tightrope” that was simply drawn on the ground. Although walking the tightrope drawn on the ground proved nearly impossible, the balance in our lives and our families can be found through the three P’s of prayer to God, provision from God, and peace by God. We then had the opportunity to ride a “bicycle built for two” (really, we got the chance to ride a tandem bike) and learn how communication helps us keep our balance as a couple. We also learned how the three R’s (respect one another, respond to one another, and react to problems with love) help our family run like a well-trained team…with an honoring voice and attitude proving an important aspect of precision teamwork. We even had a visiting knight, William, who encouraged us to be strong in our faith by wearing the full armor of God.
You can see we learned a lot…and we had a lot of fun. I love to see families smiling, laughing, sharing, and worshipping together. And I observed of all four this weekend. As the weekend came to an end, Ken and Laurie gave us “carry out orders” to go. (How often do you get to leave camp with a Chinese takeout container?) This “carry out order” is a great tool to help us “carry out the orders” of our King, making us stronger kingdom families! Like a said, if you didn’t get to be with us this weekend you missed a great weekend of fun, fellowship, and learning how to live as a “Kingdom Family.”
Jim and Terry, thanks for organizing another great weekend. Ken and Laurie, thank you for sharing God’s wisdom in such a practical and meaningful way this weekend. And, thanks to “Bald Greg and the Dirty Pirates” (the name given our worship leaders by one of “bald Greg’s” students) for leading us in wonderful times of worship. I’m already looking forward to next year.