Tag Archive for gratitude

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.

A Funny Happened on the Way to the…Donut?

Twenty-seven years ago I found a beautiful woman standing between me and a cream-filled chocolate-iced donut. She began to talk with me and I, with one eye still on “my” donut, spoke with her. Ironically, I enjoyed the conversation even more than the donut. Two years later, we married. This month, we celebrate a joyous twenty-five years of marriage. We’ve enjoyed many adventures and traversed many a struggle together during those 25 years. And, we’ve learned a few lessons about making marriage work.  Maybe these lessons can help another couple enjoy marriage as much as we do. I hope you find them helpful.

  1. Connect often. Connect with one another verbally, emotionally, and physically. Connect multiple times each day. There are so many ways to connect that it really isn’t that hard to do it multiple times each day. Talk to one another. Share stories of the day. Share memories. Talk about your joys and sorrows, fears and courageous acts. Give a kiss good-bye, hello, good night, good morning. Hug. Hold hands. Connect often.
  2. Focus on the positive in your spouse. Express gratitude for your spouse. Thank your spouse for what they do for you and your marriage. Tell your spouse what you admire about them. Focus on what makes your spouse beautiful as a person of character (internal beauty) and as a person with external beauty. Let them know the beauty you see.
  3. Work together. Be a team. When times get tough, work together to get through the troubles. Enjoy the good times together as well. Work together to keep your home and work together to raise your children. Working together will demand you talk to one another, discuss areas of difference, and connect to stay on the same page. Although it can prove more difficult to work together when one of you is irritable or suffering some loss, these are the most important times to make the choice to work together. So turn toward one another in hard times and in good. Work together to get through the difficult times, enjoy the good times, and build a great time. (Building a Purpose Filled Marriage)
  4. Play together. “All work and no play makes marriage a dull thing.” Find activities you can enjoy together like games, adventures, or walks in the woods. Laugh together. “Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good” (Lucia Capocchione). I agree with Plato when he says, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” If you really want to know your spouse in a deeper more intimate way, play! (For more benefits of play read Play for a Better Marriage.)
  5. Dream of tomorrow together. Along with playing together, dream together. Dream about what you’ll do next year, in five years, after the kids leave home, after retirement. Dream about trips you can make together and goals you can accomplish together. Share your spouse’s dreams and help your spouse reach their dream. Whether they dream of becoming a better photographer or preparing a special meal for dinner, support their dream and do what you can to help them realize their dream. I loved the scene in “UP” when Carl realizes he helped Ellie achieve her dreams…and it had nothing to do with where they lived.
  6. Bring out the best in your spouse. Help your spouse become the person they want to be. (Read Husbands…Set Her Free.) One way to do that is help them reach for their dreams (see bullet #5). Another way to bring out the best in your spouse is to honor them daily. When we communicate honor for our spouse we liberate them to become the best they can be.
  7. Marry an amazing person. Choose your spouse wisely. (Read How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk to help in this area.) I must admit, this may be the most important one for me. I truly did marry an amazing woman. She has joined me in many adventures and patiently put up with my shortcomings. She has helped me achieve dreams I never thought possible.  (And, I still got the donut when we met!!) I hope I have done the same for her. Thanks for 25 wonderful years. I look forward to another 25.

The Happiness of Quadrupling Your Salary

Imagine getting called into your boss’s office the moment you walk into work. Hesitantly, you enter her office and sit down. Butterflies flit about in your stomach as your boss, with a very serious look in her eyes, leans forward to say, “I am so pleased with your work that I decided to quadruple your salary.” Relief chases away the butterflies from your stomach and joy spreads a smile across your face. Can you imagine the happiness you’d feel?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Sadly, it will probably never happen.  But, what would you say if I told you another way to increase your happiness the same amount as quadrupling your income? Putman, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, knows a way.  He quantifies how marriage can impact happiness. “The strongest predictors of happiness by far are our social relationships” and “marriage can cause an increase in happiness equal to a quadrupling salary.” (Read more here.) Isn’t that amazing? Marriage can cause an increase in happiness equal to quadrupling your salary.  I agree… with one caveat. Happiness is not increased by any old marriage. Only healthy marriages increase happiness; unhealthy marriages, on the other hand, rob couples of happiness. So, if you want a marriage that increases happiness as much as quadrupling your income, build a healthy marriage. To help you do that, here are ten simple ways to build a healthy marriage.

  1. Greet each morning with a positive and loving statement like “Good morning. I love you.”
  2. Share a kiss any time you part during the day.
  3. Share a hug and a kiss each time you reunite. Make it an intentional 10-second oxytocin hug at least on time each day.
  4. Express gratitude for your spouse every day. Thank them for something they did, compliment something about their appearance, share a character trait you admire, etc. You get the idea. Express gratitude for your spouse every day.
  5. Look at your partner and listen when they talk to you. Put down the newspaper, get off the cell phone, look away from the TV, and look at your spouse. Let them know you understand.
  6. Do one nice thing for your spouse every day. Take out the garbage. Wash the dishes. Make the bed. Wash the car. Clean the kitty litter. Anything. Just do something nice!
  7. Remain polite toward your spouse, even when you’re angry or tired. Remember to use words like “please” and “thank you.” Hold the door open. Let your spouse go first.
  8. Touch…in and out of the bedroom.
  9. Celebrate the good moments of each day together. Take a moment at the end of each day to recall the good and joyous moments of the day.
  10. Ask your spouse what else you could do to make them feel more secure in your relationships, what you can do to show them how much you love them.

I’m sorry I can’t manage to quadruple your salary, but you’ll find the same increase in happiness by increasing the quality of your marriage. Give those 10 tips a try and enjoy the increase in happiness.

A 30-Day Family Happiness Challenge

We all want happy families. In fact, I’m implementing a 30-day family happiness challenge in my home and I’d like to invite you to join along. It really isn’t all that hard. But, it will demand doing certain things every day for 30 days. So, set the reminder on your phone, write them on a post-it and stick it on your mirror…whatever it takes to make sure you

remember each action each day.  Here they are.

  • Give your spouse and each child 3 hugs every day for 30 days. That’s one hug when you leave the house, one hug before bed, and one hug sometime in between. (Learn more in Becoming a Master Hugger.)
  • Give your spouse and each child one genuine compliment every day for 30 days. Tell them a character trait you appreciate or something you admire about them.
  • Tell your spouse and each child “thank you” for something they did every day for 30 days. This is different than the compliment. The compliment will acknowledge some character trait you admire. The “thank you” will acknowledge something they just did in the moment that day. You can say “thank you” for something as simple as passing the salt or as involved as painting the house. Whether it’s something you expect them to do all the time or a surprise, offer thanks. (Read the amazing benefits of gratitude in 7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research and Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores?)
  • Tell your spouse and each child “I love you” every day for 30 days. I would suggest doing this in the morning and in the evening before bed, but you can pick any time you like. Just make sure to tell each one every day.
  • Do one thing for your spouse and each child every day for 30 days. That’s right, do one thing for each person. It doesn’t have to be big, just do something for them. They do not even have to notice it, just do something for them. Unload the dishwasher, sweep the floor, get gas in the car, help set the table, watch a movie together, patiently help with homework, get a treat…you get the idea. Do one thing for your spouse and each child every day.
  • Eat one meal together every day for 30 days. During the meals enjoy conversation. Avoid lectures and “touchy subjects.” Just talk about the day. Tell some jokes. You might even give your compliment, “thank you,” or “I love you” during the meal. (Have Fun, Eat, &…What? will show a surprising benefit of eating as a family.)

None of these activities are especially hard; but, you will find they have an amazing impact on your family. Don’t believe me? Take up the challenge. Do each one for the next 30 days…it may make a believer out of you! Either way, I’d love to know what happens so leave a note in the message below.

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!”

A Gift to Increase Generosity

How can you increase gratitude and generosity in your family? And even better, increase both gratitude and generosity with one simple action?!  A recent study out of Cornell University offers an answer! Give the gift of a meaningful experience. That’s it! Rather than buying your spouse some flowers or a necklace, go for a walk together. Instead of buying
your children the latest video game, enjoy a family outing to their favorite restaurant. I’m not disparaging the flowers or the video game; but, according to the study from Cornell, the experiential gift will produce more gratitude and more generosity in the recipient than a material gift. It’s that easy! So, the next time you want to buy your spouse or children a gift, consider an experiential gift. The recipients of your gifts will love them. They will experience gratitude and likely behave more generously when thinking about that thoughtful experiential gift. In effect, the whole family will benefit.

Of course, any experiential gift you give needs to take into consideration the interests of the recipient. But, with that in mind, here are some experiential gift ideas to get you started.

  • Go to a concert together.
  • Enjoy a picnic together, even if the weather means having indoors.
  • Go sled riding together.
  • Fly a kite together. (Read A Family Activity that “Does All That” to learn the benefits of kite flying as a family!)
  • Go to a play or musical together.
  • Eat dinner as a family at a local restaurant. (Read The Lost Art of Family Meals to discover the benefits of eating as a family.)
  • Go for a walk in the park. Go all out and hold hands as you walk.
  • Go ice skating or roller skating together.
  • Cook together.
  • Take a trip to the zoo together…or the museum.
  • Enjoy a weekend at the beach together.
  • What are some of your favorite experiential gift ideas?

 

Family Wisdom from the Rolling Stones

Behaviors and traits have consequences in our lives. Everyone knows that. That’s why we discipline and guide our children in developing traits and behaviors that will bring them the greatest success and happiness. Through discipline, we steer our children away from several negative traits, such as entitlement…and for good reason. Researchers have recently mapped out the pathway from entitlement…and it doesn’t end well. In fact, the pathway leading from entitlement begins with chronic disappointment…and goes downhill from there. (Read Entitlement May Lead to Chronic Disappointment for more) When a person believes themselves better and more deserving than others (entitled), they enter a spiral of habitual behavior leaving them “frustrated, unhappy and disappointed with life.”

  1. Mother And Son Doing LaundryFirst, entitlement creates feelings of disappointment. Entitled people have expectations that they deserve more than others. As a result, their expectations often remain unmet. After all, life is hard. In the words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want.” Entitlement leads to disappointment in response to these unmet expectations and life’s hard knocks.
  2. Disappointment can lead to dissatisfaction and negative, even volatile, emotions like anger. Entitled people feel like they are not getting the good things they deserve, the good things to which they are entitled. Once again, “you can’t always get what you want….” In anger at not having their sense of entitlement satisfied, they lash out at others verbally or physically. Of course, this pushes people away. The entitled person may suffer the pain of rejection and isolation along with their disappointment.
  3. To escape the pain of these negative emotions, entitled people reassure themselves of their specialness. They reinforce their feelings of superiority, bringing temporary relief from the disappointment and other negative emotions. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time until they return to step #1 and begin the cycle again.

As you can imagine, a sense of entitlement can make your children miserable; a sense of entitlement can make your family life miserable. Who wants to live in a home filled with entitled people constantly experiencing disappointment and anger in response to perceived unmet expectations of superiority and deserving? Not me. We want a family filled with non-entitled people.  What can we do to limit a sense of entitlement in our families? Begin with the Rolling Stones by teaching, “You can’t always get what you want….” Then, add these three ideas into the mix:

  • Practice gratitude. It’s difficult to feel chronic disappointment while noticing all the good things people do around us. And, a grateful person gains the realization that other people and their contributions are important…maybe even more important than the “almighty me.” Begin practicing gratitude in your family by modeling it. Take time to notice what other family members do for you and your home. When you notice it, acknowledge it. Let “thank you” and “I appreciate your help” become common phrases in your household.
  • Recognize and reward humility. You can encourage humility by modeling it. One way to model humility is by expressing gratitude. You can also encourage humility by serving. Serve one another. Offer to get your spouse or child a drink when you go to the kitchen during commercials. Help clean the house. Willingly do the “dirty jobs” around the house with a smile. Ask for help when you need it. Allow others to serve by asking ask for help even when you don’t necessarily need it. Serve those outside the family as well. Feed the homeless. Visit a nursing home. Shovel the neighbor’s driveway. You get the idea. Gratitude and service contribute to humility. Humility negates entitlement.
  • Praise effort and hard work. Success and opportunity arise from hard work, not because we are entitled. Accomplishment and recognition result from effort, not our entitlement. Recognize your family members’ effort and acknowledge that effort. Even when that effort has not led to public reward, praise the effort. Let effort and hard work become its own reward.

These three practices will help your family learn the rest of the wisdom from the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need!”

Happy Wife, Happy Life…& The Rest of the Story!

A recent study of 1,981 middle age heterosexual couples supports the saying, “happy wife, happy life” plus more!  What could be more?  Well, it’s not just about wives. “Happy husband, happy life.” “Happy wife, happy life.” They’re both true! A happy spouse Senior Couple - Kiss on the Cheekcontributes a healthier life over time. In fact, the principal investigator of this study observed that “simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.” (Read having a Happy Spouse Could Be Good for Your Health for more on this study.) Having a happy spouse may contribute to health because:

  • Happy spouses provide stronger social support.
  • Happy spouses encourage their spouses to get involved in activities that promote good health.
  • Happy spouses may simply make life easier.

So, if you want a healthier life, work to increase your spouse’s happiness. If you want to encourage your spouse’s health, enhance your own happiness. Here are four ways you can do just that!

  • Develop an atmosphere where everyone expresses gratitude on a daily basis. Express gratitude for what your spouse does for you, for your family, for your home.
  • Develop a home environment of service. Seek out ways to serve your spouse every day. Serving your spouse may be as simple as washing dishes, changing diapers, or working in the yard. Doing little things every day will add to your spouse’s happiness.
  • Develop an environment of emotional connection. Take time to emotionally connect with your spouse every day. Respond to your spouse’s attempts to interact and connect. Initiate interactions with your spouse. Support their interests and share your own interests with your spouse.

I’m sure you can think of many more ways to enhance your spouse’s happiness and your own. These four tips simply point to one important fact: enhancing your spouse’s happiness centers on doing little things for your spouse every day. So, do the little things every day. Make your spouse happy because “happy spouse, happy (and healthy) life.”

In Family It’s Survival of the Contented

Cornell University recently completed an interesting study about the “evolutionary advantage” of a positive attitude. They were able to simulate 40 generations of people while looking at the impact of attitude on survival. (Read a review here.) The results suggested that those who survived for multiple generations:happy brother and sister laughing isolated on the white

  1. Attached more importance to long-term happiness than to momentary happiness,
  2. Remembered past happiness for longer periods of time, and
  3. Attached greater meaning and importance to the upswings in their situation than the downswings.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not an evolutionist. I believe in creation.” That’s OK…so do I.  One might interpret these results to suggest we were created to live longer and more successfully when we do the same three things listed above. Said in a slightly different way, those who “survived”:

  1. Attached more importance to the eternal than the temporal,
  2. Remembered past blessings and kept them in mind each day, and
  3. Attached greater meaning and importance to times of blessing than the actual struggle itself.

Let me make this a little more personal though. I mean, it’s kind of hard to think about 40 generations. Let’s narrow it down a bit. If we create a family environment that promotes these three actions, our children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren can learn to be happier, more successful, and “survivors.” How do we promote these three actions in our families? Here are a couple of ways.

  • Develop an environment of gratitude in your family by thanking one another often.
  • Tell family stories of joyful events and successes, funny experiences and surprise blessings.
  • Tell family stories of how persistence and effort in times of struggles led to positive learnings or other positive results.
  • Practice showing kindness to others as a family.
  • Promote rituals of celebration. Mark your family values and happy events with celebration.
  • Find ways to experience awe as a family. Watch the sunset. Listen to a concert. Visit a cathedral or the Grand Canyon. Experience awe as a family.
  • Make prayer and worship a part of your family life.
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