Tag Archive for gratitude

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned At Dinner

Family having a big dinner together at home

I enjoyed daily family dinners as a child. Well, most of the time I enjoyed family dinners. Sometimes tensions and disagreements cast a shadow over the meal. But I still remember family dinners with great fondness. My wife and I did our best to keep the tradition of family dinners alive in our own family. Looking back, I realize that everything I really need to learn I learned at family dinners. Let me share a few of those lessons with you.

  • Come to the table when you are called. Opportunity does not wait. At the very least, it grows cold. So, when opportunity calls, respond. Come to the table or you might miss out.
  • Always begin by giving thanks for the blessings you received and the people who make those blessings possible.
  • You do not always get what you want or even like. Give thanks anyway. Not everyone is fortunate enough to receive such an abundance; and many people contributed to the raising, harvesting, transporting, selling, purchasing, and preparing that made this blessing possible. Be grateful.
  • Share. There are others at the table with you. Keep them in mind. Take some for yourself and joyfully pass it along to the others. Share.
  • Take only what you know you are going to eat. No need to be greedy. If you want more after you finish what you have, you can have more. Each time you get more, take only what you will use.
  • Remember, there is always enough to go around when each person remains considerate and mindful of everyone else.
  • Wait your turn. Your favorite dish will make it to you even if you have to wait a bit.
  • Serve one another. Sometimes the dishes are too hot to pass. In such cases, everyone patiently passes their plate to the person nearest the hot dish. That person scoops the food onto each person’s plate while carefully assuring they receive the amount desired. It is an exciting privilege to be deemed mature enough to serve and an honor to be served.
  • Practice patience. Wait for everyone to get their food before you begin. We are a family, a community. It is polite to wait for everyone before you “dig in.” After all, we are eating dinner together. Enjoy it together. 
  • Just because you are upset about something does not give you the right to ruin dinner for everyone else. Remain polite and kind, even if you are upset with the person sitting next to you.  
  • Enjoy the conversation. Don’t simple “shovel food into your mouth.” Be curious about the other people present. Learn about their day. Converse. (As a bonus, this will also increase your children’s vocabulary.)
  • Ask for what you need rather than reaching impolitely in front of everyone and so intruding into their space and disrupting their composure.
  • Dessert is coming…but only to those who are grateful for the gift they received, gracious to receive even what was not perfectly prepared, and well-mannered.

Eating as a family proves much greater than simply filling our stomachs with needed nutrients.  It is a microcosm of the larger community. Indeed, family dinners teach us everything we need to know to live a life of honor, grace, and celebration in our world.

*Titled with a “shout out” to Robert Fulghum who wrote the excellent book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Gratitude Will Help Your Family Survive

I am not suggesting we ignore struggles or gloss over pain, BUT gratitude will help your family and my family survive hard times. Let me explain a couple of ways in which gratitude will help your family through the tough times.

  • A study published in 2007 involving 236 undergraduate students showed that students who report greater gratitude were more likely to take active steps to deal with problems when they arose. They were less likely to blame themselves for the problem and more likely to look for something positive in the problem, the “silver-lining” so to speak. In other words, gratitude helps us take an active role in problem-solving during tough times.
  • A study published in 2009 surveyed 201 college students and found that those who were more grateful were also more likely to use positive reframing to cope with stress. In other words, grateful people were more likely to look for something in the problem to help them learn and grow rather than wallow in the negative aspects of the problem. 
  • A 2019 study involving 71 college students found that students who spent time recording their gratitude twice a week for four weeks were better able to decrease negative reactions to negative emotions. In other words, they were better able to manage their negative emotions. Interestingly, those who wrote about gratitude used more words to describe their emotions, allowing them to better process and manage them.
  • Finally, a 2014 study involving 75 participants found that those participants instructed to remember a time of gratitude were more likely to wait for a long-term reward than those who recalled times of happiness or just a typical day. Gratitude helped them manage impatient urges for immediate reward. Gratitude supported patience.

What do you think? In these studies, grateful people were less likely to blame themselves and more likely to actively seek solutions and participate in the solution of a present problem. Grateful people were more likely to look for the “silver lining,” to look for what they can learn from a difficult situation. Grateful people were better able to manage their negative emotions. And, grateful people were more patient. Perhaps what we need right now is a little more gratitude. I’m going to promote that in my own life and the life of my family. Will you join me?

Read about these benefits and more in Four Ways Gratitude Helps You with Difficult Emotions from Greater Good.

Top 5 Ways to Know Your Partner Feels Unappreciated

Number 5: You notice your partner leaving things they usually do undone. Yes, this is a little passive aggressive. But it sends a message loud and clear. “I’m tired of being unappreciated for all I do around here…so I’m just not doing it anymore.”

Number 4: Your spouse withdraws into a quiet shell. Sometimes a person will become quiet and sullen when they feel unappreciated. They look angry or unhappy in their quietness around you but perk up around others. If you see that, maybe you’re seeing a spouse that feels unappreciated.

Number 3: Your spouse begins to sound like a martyr. When your partner begins to act and talk like they are the martyr or say things about feeling taken advantage of, you may be living with a spouse that feels unappreciated.

Number 2: Your partner begins to complain. “Do I have to do everything around here?”  “Can’t you help out a little? I’m tired of doing everything.” “Why do you just sit around while I do all the work?” If you are hearing statements like this, your spouse likely feels unappreciated. (And, you may show your appreciation by helping “around here.”)

Number 1: Your spouse tells you directly. They may say it kindly. “I’m feeling a little underappreciated, honey?” Or they may say it in anger. “You don’t appreciate anything I do around here.” Either way, the easiest way to know your spouse feels unappreciated is when they tell you so.

More importantly, what can you do about this? The answer is simple. Begin appreciating your spouse. Look for opportunities to thank your spouse for things they do for you, your family, and your home. When you see something they have done, thank them. Don’t just smile or acknowledge what they’ve done in your head. Verbally tell them, “Thank you.”

Don’t stop there. Don’t just respond to things they do. Respond to who they are. Voice your admiration and adoration for them. Acknowledge their beauty, their hard work, their kindness, their wisdom. Whatever you admire and adore in your partner, let them know. (Here are 6 great things you can say to show appreciation to your spouse.)

Finally, get involved. Help around the house. Serve your family. Ask how you can help…then do it. Nothing makes a person feel more appreciated than a partner who is actively involved in working together.

A Gift Couples Must Share to Enjoy

Some gifts are meant for couples to share. They just aren’t as good when your spouse doesn’t share them with you.  For instance, it’s hard to celebrate a victory when your partner is down in the dumps or a “kill-joy.” Researchers at Florida State University uncovered another gift that is meant for couples to share. Not sharing this gift is a subtle but powerful “kill-joy” for a marriage. The gift meant to be shared is gratitude; and gratitude left unshared, a lack of gratitude, is a powerful “kill-joy” that hinders marriage.

This finding comes from a study of 120 newlywed couple who filled out surveys reporting their happiness and satisfaction in their marriage as well as how much gratitude they felt and expressed. The couples were followed for three years. After the first year, they retook the gratitude survey. And, every four months they retook the survey of happiness and satisfaction in their marriage. 

The results revealed that each individual’s level of gratitude impacted the relationship. Specifically, if both partners express gratitude on a regular basis, the couple was more satisfied with their marriage in three years. However, if one partner was grateful and the other ungrateful, marital satisfaction declined steeply over the three-year period. In fact, their marital satisfaction declined more than it did for couples in which both partners were ungrateful!

Individually, those individuals married to a grateful partner tended to be more satisfied after three years but ONLY IF they were grateful people themselves.  If they were not grateful themselves, they became less satisfied with their marriage to a grateful person.

In other words, when it comes to marriage, it takes two grateful people to benefit from the joys of gratitude. If one partner is ungrateful, it pulls both people and their marriage down. Gratitude is meant to be shared within a couple. So, why not decide, as a couple, to increase the level of gratitude in your home? Sit down as a couple and agree to nurture gratitude in your relationship. Commit to sharing gratitude with one another every day. Here’s a simple plan for doing it.

  • Talk with your spouse about all the work that gets done in your home and for your family—everything from laundry, cleaning, repair work, employment to support the family, shopping, transporting children, etc. The list goes on. Write it all down as you go. Take time to thank your partner for the work he or she does in the home and for the family. Keep the list. Look at it each week and add to it as ideas come to mind. When you do think of another contribution your spouse makes to the family, verbally thank them. 
  • Commit to taking 10 seconds three times a day to write down three things you can thank your spouse for today. At the end of the day, tell your spouse at least one of the things you wrote down. (This is actually part of a Math Equation To Save Your Marriage.)
  • Every day take time to review the day and consider what your spouse has done to contribute to the family and the home. Write it down. Then verbally thank them for that contribution.

It takes a little work, but these practices can build an environment of gratitude in your marriage. Sharing mutual gratitude with your spouse will strengthen your marriage. It will also model gratitude for your children who will naturally begin participating in this environment of gratitude by adding their own thanks to the mix. Give it a 30-day trial and let us know how it goes.

Lack of Gratitude Will Sink Your Marital Ship

An “attitude of gratitude” is a powerful aspect of a happy family life and life in general). Expressing gratitude improves the mood of the one giving thanks and the one thanked. So you can see how expressing gratitude will improve your marriage.

A lack of gratitude, on the other hand, is like a torpedo aimed at sinking your marital ship. Researchers from Florida State University showed this in a study of 120 newlywed couples. They followed these couples for 3 years. At regular intervals the couples completed surveys measuring satisfaction with their marriage and the degree to which they felt and expressed gratitude toward their partner. Based on initial surveys, couples were placed into one of three categories: both partners high in gratitude expression, both partners low in gratitude expression, or a partner high in gratitude expression married to a partner low in gratitude expression.

After three years, the study revealed that individuals did not succumb to their partner’s level of gratitude. Instead, individual remained consistent in their expression of gratitude over the three years. More important for me is what expressed gratitude did for marriages?

  • Marriages in which both partners were high in gratitude expression had happiness levels “well above average.” Their relationship satisfaction was high and remained high over the entire three years of the study.
  • When one or both partners were low in gratitude expression, their marital happiness started off average and declined to below average over the three-year period. Notice, this decline was not confined to marriages in which both partners exhibited low gratitude expression. Having only one partner within the marriage who did not express gratitude led to a decline in happiness. In other words, it only took one ungrateful partner to sink the ship. One ungrateful partner was like a torpedo aimed at sinking the marital ship.

What’s a person to do if their married to an ungrateful spouse? What if you are the ungrateful spouse? How can you keep your marital ship afloat? Here are a few ideas.

  • If you are the grateful spouse, continue to express gratitude. Also, talk to your spouse about the importance of expressing gratitude. Discover what makes it difficult for them to express gratitude. Explore what you can do to help them grow more comfortable expressing gratitude. Lovingly encourage them to practice gratitude more often. Don’t nag. Don’t push. Trust that they will work at becoming more expressive of their gratitude. When you hear them express gratitude, thank them for doing so.
  • If you are the ungrateful spouse, take time to recognize how your lack of gratitude harms your mood and your spouse’s mood. Consider how growing in gratitude wills strengthen your marriage, your family, and your relationships.  Intentionally practice gratitude. Put it on your “to do list” or set an alarm on your phone to get started. Every night write down three things for which you are grateful. Every day look for one thing your spouse or family member does for which you can tell them thank you. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but people, including your family, will respond positively.

An ancient writer once said, “In everything, give thanks” (Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:18). He knew that giving thanks would lead to greater happiness for you and your family. Giving thanks would lead to a happier, holier world. Don’t be the torpedo that sinks your family ship. Lift it up. Give thanks.

A New & Improve Family Groove

Have you noticed how easy it is to criticize? How fault-finding and blame seems so natural? Praise and approval, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to come so natural. Just watch the news to confirm this. When was the last time the headline story talked of kindness, sharing, or a job well done? These stories are relegated to the final “30-second-feel-good-story” at best, but never the lead the story.

Unfortunately, this attitude creeps into our families as well. We easily find fault with the way a job is done. We criticize our children and spouse for any number of things. We blame one another when a job is left undone or something goes wrong. We struggle to say a “thank you,” “great job,” or “I was wrong, sorry.” Instead, we say things, “Why should I thank her for doing what she’s supposed to do anyway?”  “Yeah, he helped with the laundry, but he did it wrong. It didn’t help. I had to work harder.” “I wouldn’t have gotten so upset and call him a name if he had done his chores in the first place.” There are more statements. I’m sure you’ve at least heard them.

All this negativity—the fault-finding, blaming, and the criticism—creates a negative cycle of pain, disconnection, and self-doubt. It lays a family groove that perpetuates harsh words, anger, and self-protection that leads to greater isolation. But there is a way to jump out of this negative groove and find a new and improved family groove, a groove that will lead to greater contentment, intimacy, and joy. Here’s the way to do it:

  1. Every day, thank each person in your family for something they have done that day for the family. They may have cooked a meal, washed clothes, gone to work to pay bills, helped clean a room, or simple spoken kind words to a sibling. You may think, “Why should I thank them for doing what they’re supposed to do?” Because you are a polite person promoting kindness in your home. And, you are highlighting the behavior you want to see, encouraging more of it. (Read Why Thank Your Spouse For Doing Chores to learn the power of a simple “thank you.”)
  2. Find an opportunity to do something kind for each family member every day. It could be as simple as passing them a dish at the dinner table or offering to fill their drink when you fill your own. You could complete a chore another person usually does—like loading the dishwasher, emptying the kitty litter, taking out the garbage, running the sweeper. These acts of kindness express love. They move your whole family into a new and improved groove of positivity. (Learn the Mighty Power of Kindness in this short blog.)
  3. Share a positive story from your day. Tell your family about something good that happened to you during the day. If you are on the listening end of the story, listen and share the joy of that happy event. Sharing good stories has a ripple effect that will jump you into a new groove of sharing more joyous moments with one another.

There you have it. Three simple ways to find your family a new groove. It doesn’t sound that hard, does it? In fact, it isn’t really that hard; but you’ll be amazed at the power these simple acts exert on your home and family life. Your connection with each family member will increase. Stress will decrease. Joy and contentment will grow. You and your family will experience greater joy coming home to share the good times. Give it a shot. For the next 14 days, practice the 3 steps above…and enjoy your new and improved family groove!

The SuperPower You Want in Your Marriage

All marriages experience stress—the stress of finances, raising children, getting everything done, household crises, simple arguments, the list goes on.   Sometimes couples respond with a pattern in which one partner demands, nags, or criticizes while the other partner shuts down, withdraws, or avoids (commonly called the demand/withdraw pattern). Of course, this negative pattern proves detrimental to a marriage…UNLESS you have this superpower. No, it is not the ability to fly or become invisible, shoot webs from your wrists to silence your partner, or run at the speed of light to escape. No, this superpower is much simpler than any of these…and more powerful in your marriage. Researchers at the University of Georgia revealed this superpower in a study involving 468 couples. They asked the couples about the quality of their marriage, their communication, their level of financial stress, and their use of this superpower. They discovered that this superpower “can counteract or buffer the negative effects” of negative communication styles like the demand/withdraw pattern described above. And, this superpower was “the most consistent and significant predictor or marital satisfaction” for both males and females. It increases marital satisfaction and commitment. It decreases the “proneness for divorce.” Sounds like a great superpower to have in your marriage, doesn’t it? Well, it’s easy to acquire and use. It may not come naturally, but you can train yourself in the use of this superpower. What is it? The power of gratitude. That’s it. Gratitude!

“Spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent and significant predictor of marital quality for both” male and female. It increased marital satisfaction and commitment. So, start practicing this simple superpower in your marriage today…right now. Really, go show your spouse some gratitude. I’m sure they’ve done something in the last twenty-four hours for which you can thank them. A simple “Thank you” is all it takes. Now, keep your eyes open for other opportunities to thank your spouse and thank them every chance you get. This superpower will do wonders for your marriage.

Welcome to My House … aka “Bicker Central”

Do you live in a home called “Bicker Central”? Does everything escalate into arguments, angry comments, and hurtful jabs? Do you walk away from interactions fuming with frustration? Worse, has any relationship in your family escalated to the point that you feel tension just coming into the same room as the other person? “Bicker Central” is a hard home in which to live…but all too easy to move into. Moving into “Bicker Central” generally begins with simple hurts, criticisms left unresolved. These criticisms come in the form of words and actions—a parent redoing a child’s chore because they didn’t do it well enough, a left-handed compliment, a disagreement on priorities, feeling as though your loved one invests more time and energy in other priorities and leaves you feeling neglected or abandoned, etc. The underlying hurt of unresolved criticisms erupt into burning lava flows of anger, resentment, bitterness, withdrawal, ignoring, and possibly even name-calling and threats. Each person involved begins to see the relationship through filters that justify continued resentment.  Innocent remarks are received as though they are negative comments, adding fuel to the fire of anger. Effort and positive actions are overlooked while mistakes and actions that innocently “miss the mark” are used to justify continued bitterness. A negative cycle of disrespect, anger, guilt, and bitterness drive the relationship further into the pits of hurt and despair. “Bicker Central” is a painful place to live.

Knowing the foundation of “Bicker Central”—the resentments of unresolved hurts—gives you the opportunity to rebuild your relationship. You can change it from “Bicker Central” to “House of Peace” with a few key actions.

  • Consider how your own actions impact the other person. How does your resentment and your angry responses influence the other person? How does your “look” and your tone of voice influence the other person? How do your actions, gestures, words, and tone of voice perpetuate and escalate the problem? Answer honestly and begin to make changes that can have a better outcome, the outcome you desire. As the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see.”
  • Consider what hurts underlie the foundation of “Bicker Central.” How were you hurt in the constructing of “Bicker Central”? How was the other person hurt? If you have hurt the other person, apologize. If you have been hurt, practice forgiveness. The important question is NOT “who started it,” but “what can I do to help change the relationship for the better?”
  • Practice empathy. Imagine how the other person feels in this situation. What have they lost as a result of living in “Bicker Central”? Allow yourself to have compassion for the suffering the other person has endured because of their conflict with you. Yes, you have suffered as well. However, someone has to initiate the change…and you can do it by nurturing compassion and empathy for the other guy.
  • Practice kindness. Intentionally seek out opportunities to show kindness to the other person. Determine to speak and think kindly about them. Perhaps you can begin this step with a 30-day kindness challenge as suggested by Shaunti Feldhahn.
  • Practice gratitude. Once again, this demands intentionality. Find at least one thing every day for which you can thank the other person.  Then do it. Verbally thank them for something they have done.

These are not simple actions. They take effort and intentionality. However, they will change the environment of your home from “Bicker Central” to a “House of Peace.” Will you begin today?

A Gratitude Turkey to Save the Day

Are you a somewhat shy person, an introvert? You enjoy people, but you’d rather not become the focus of attention at a party or suddenly find yourself having to make some spontaneous, impromptu speech. I know the feeling. BTW, if you are not this person, chances are there is at least one person like this in your family. You can imagine the terror that goes through that person’s mind when their Thanksgiving Day host says, “Let’s go around the table so everyone can tell us what they are grateful for this year.” Suddenly the plan to enjoy a meal and share simple conversation has turned into a whirlwind. Their mind goes blank. They look around the table of 20 people and notice all eyes turned upon them as they search their whirling mind for a word, any word, let alone a word of gratitude.

Well, I just saw a great idea to prevent this trauma and still create the opportunity to share gratitude at the Thanksgiving table. It’s called the Thanksgiving Gratitude Turkey. It takes a little preparation, but I think it is well worth the time. First, make a Styrofoam turkey and some feathers (For instructions click here or use the “basket turkey” in the picture). As your guests arrive, give them a feather and ask them to write one thing they are grateful for on the feather. After they have done that, they can stick the feather into the Styrofoam turkey’s butt…er…I mean, they can place the feather on the turkey’s back. Leave extra feathers on a table in case they want to do more than one. By dinner time your turkey will be full of colorful feathers identifying things for which your guests are grateful. Then, during dinner you, or a willing volunteer, can read some of them aloud.

Another idea, would be to make “gratitude stuffing.” Instead of putting gratitude feathers on a turkey you can write  gratitude on slips of paper and stuff them inside a fake turkey, like the real stuffing in the turkey. Then, at dinner time you can pull them out one by one and read them aloud.  Of course, my wife doesn’t like that idea as much as the gratitude turkey (she likes mashed potatoes more than stuffing too; but I like stuffing more than potatoes…and there is just something about stuffing a turkey with gratitude).  Anyway, my wife rather prefers the idea of colorful turkey feathers decorating a lovely centerpiece filled with statements of gratitude for all to see as they enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I can see her point. Ok. Forget the gratitude stuffing. Stick with the colorful feathers on a gratitude turkey…and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving!

There’s a Killer Loose in Your Family

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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