Tag Archive for happiness

Give It Up to Lift Up Your Marriage

Do you want a stronger marriage? Do you want greater happiness for yourself and your marriage? Well, one of the best ways to get a stronger, healthier, happier marriage is to give up. It’s true. The best way to lift up your marriage is to give up. I don’t mean giving up on the marriage or giving up on happiness. I mean give up your own personal desires and making your spouse’s desires your priority…give up the need to push your own opinion and listen to understand your spouse’s opinion. Give up your need to have it “your way” and do it your spouse’s way.  Yes, sacrifice, or giving up, will lift up your marriage. Scott Stanley, a marriage researcher who has completed several studies regarding sacrifice in marriage, defined sacrifice as an action in which a person freely chooses to give up something for their spouse without resentment (italics & bold added).

This type of action, this “giving up,” can be as simple as watching the TV show your spouse wants to watch rather than demanding the family watch “my TV show.” Or, it might be as simple as giving up the last piece of pie so your spouse can have it.

Sometimes sacrifice can be life altering, like giving up a job to move to a new town where your spouse will begin a new and better job…or giving up time and energy to care for a spouse going through medical treatment for a major illness.

Overall, sacrifice often involves giving up personal control and self-gratification in favor of a commitment to our spouse’s well-being, intimacy, and growth…giving up our agenda for the betterment of our marriage. The moment of “giving up” to “lift up” your marriage can be difficult. However, the dividends for that moment of struggle are amazing—long-term happiness, growing security, and deeper intimacy. So, give it up…give it up to lift up your marriage! (For more read The Lost Art of Sacrifice in Family.)

“Being There” for Family… When?

What does it mean to “be there” for your spouse and children? We often consider “being there” as giving comfort during tough times or caring for others in difficult situations. We think of “being there” as supporting others when they need help. Those are good times to “be there” for our spouse and children; but they are not the only times we need to “be there.” We also need to “be there” during the good times to share the pleasant news, the times of joy, and the times happiness. In fact, sharing good news and good times with those we love builds stronger relationships. It helps the both person “being there,” the person we are “being there” for, and the relationship. Let me name just a few of the many ways “being there” in good times can help a relationship.

  • Sharing good news or good experiences with a spouse, parent, or child who is engaged in the conversation enhances the meaning and weightiness we attach to those joyous times. These moments of sharing become foundational to our memory. We remember positive experiences more vividly when we share them with someone who engages in conversation with us about them. So, if you want your spouse and children to have lots of good memories filled with meaning in their lives, engage them in conversation about those events. “Be there” for them in celebrating the good news.
  • On the flip side, the person hearing about their loved one’s good news or happy experience feel happier. You’ve likely had that experience. Someone told you about their positive experience and you were genuinely happy for them. You rejoiced with them and felt happier yourself. So, listen intently to your family member’s good news and rejoice with them. Share genuine happiness for their good fortune. You’ll be happier for it. Along these same lines, share your own good news and positive experiences with your family members. Don’t hold back and keep it secret. Let them rejoice with you. They’ll be happier for it…and you’ll be happier that they are happier. Everybody’s happy…sounds like a good family night of sharing.
  • Sharing good news and happy experiences with one another also builds stronger, more intimate relationships. Sharing our good experiences is linked to relationship bonding and safety. When a person telling about their good experience knows the listener is receptive and engaged, they feel more secure in the relationship. To go even further, sharing good news with a receptive family member makes us more grateful for one another, enhances our sense of fondness for one another, and increases our dedication to one another. Sound good? It sure sounds good to me.

Don’t just “be there” for your family during the hard times. “Be there” for the good times as well. Celebrate the joyous occasions. Rejoice together. “Be there” in good times and in bad.

Men, This Decision Will Change Your Brain for Good!

Researchers have discovered several activities that help reduce the risk of Dementia. Things like education, regular intellectual stimulation, financial security, gardening, knitting, and a mother’s diet during pregnancy have all been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. However, one decision helped men specifically. This one decision helped men live longer and reduced their risk for dementia. Lawrence Whalley, professor of mental health in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, puts it this way, “a boy is never told what he needs to do if he wants to live a longer life. But what he should do is marry an intelligent woman.” Yes, you heard it right. Men who marry intelligent women live longer, happier lives. And, they are at lower risk for developing dementia. In fact, some men with “intelligent wives” showed physical signs of dementia in brain scans but did not experience any symptoms of the disease. Despite what the scans revealed about the structure of their brains, they were “fully functional and ‘highly intelligent.'”

So, if your wife engages you in conversations that challenge your thinking, if she encourages adventures that present new opportunities for learning, or if she accompanies you on stimulating activities, take a moment to reflect on the precious gift you have been given. She is a gift that contributes to your long and happy life. She is a gift helping you remain mentally healthy. Why not do something today to show her how much you appreciate her presence in your life?

PS—I told my wife about this research. She just smiled and said, “No surprise there.”  I have to say, if marrying an intelligent woman helps a man live long, healthy, and wise…I have a lot of years left! I am truly blessed. How about you?

A Family Experiment You’ll Love

If you want your family to experience more happiness, exhibit more empathy, and have lower   levels of anxiety, I have found a great idea. Well, I didn’t actually come up with the idea on my own. Researchers Douglas A. Gentile, Dawn M. Sweet, and Lanmiao He did…and I’m glad they did.

They recruited college students for a simple 12-minute experiment. Each of the participants took surveys measuring anxiety, stress, empathy, and happiness levels. Then they were divided into four groups and each group was given an assignment to complete while walking around for 12 minutes.

  • One group was to walk around and focus on the appearance of the people they saw.
  • A second group thought about ways in which they might have a better life than the other people they saw. 
  • The third group looked at the people they encountered and wondered about any hopes, aspirations, or feelings they might have in common with them.
  • Finally, a fourth group looked at people and thought (with conviction), “I wish for this person to be happy.”

Afterward, they all completed surveys measuring anxiety, stress, empathy and happiness levels again.

Comparing the before and after surveys revealed some interesting results.

  • First, looking at people and thinking about how my life is better than their life simply made people less empathetic and caring.
  • However, thinking “I wish for this person to be happy” led to higher levels of empathy and happiness as well as lower levels of anxiety! It also improved their sense of caring and connectedness. Let me repeat that because it sounds too good to be true. Simply walking around for 12 minutes and thinking “I wish for this person to be happy” when you look at someone led to increased happiness and empathy, decreased anxiety, and a greater sense of care and connectedness. Simple!

Why not start doing this in your family? Make it a daily practice to think about each family member and how you “wish for them to be happy.” Expand this “well-wishing” beyond the family by making it a family project to think “I wish for this person to be happy” for each person you see while grocery shopping or taking a walk or going to soccer practice or any other family activity. Then, on the way home, talk about the experience. You might just find yourself living in a happier, more empathetic, caring, and connected family with less anxiety. By the way, “I wish for you to be happy”…so give this experiment a try.

The Beatles Knew It!!

“Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied. Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy. I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love…. Can’t buy me love…” The Beatles sang those words in 1964.  Over 50 years later science is telling us why those words ring true. Jason Carroll, a Brigham Young University professor of marriage and family studies, and his team of researchers surveyed 1,310 married individuals to gather data on the relationship between materialism, perception of marriage importance, and marital satisfaction (read review of study here). They confirmed the Beatles’ words, “Money can’t buy me love.” Specifically, the more highly a person valued money, the less they seemed to value relationships including marriage. Materialism was “possession-oriented” rather than “relationship-oriented” when pursuing happiness. In other words, the more a person held to the priorities associated with materialism the less they held to the priority of marriage. Materialism crowded out marital priorities, creating a shortage of time for communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy—the stuff of happy marriages. Materialistic people sought happiness in possessions rather than people; they invested time and energy into getting things rather than investing time and energy into nurturing a healthy marriage.

If you find materialism creeping into your marriage, “buy it out” with these tips:

  • Do an honest self-appraisal. Confirm your own priorities. Sometimes people are not aware of how the pursuit of money has unbalanced their lives. They really “believe” marriage is of greater importance than money. But, their investment of time and energy reveals a different story. It reveals they have slipped into a pattern of materialistic pursuits. Take a hard look at how you spend your time, the activities in which you invest, and the focus of your energy. Do you spend more time pursuing material gain or family closeness? Your actions reveal your lived values. Make sure your lived values are the values you truly hold.
  • Reinvest in what is really important. Family and relationships bring greater happiness than material gain. Things break, rust, fall apart, and quit working. Relationships in which we properly invest will grow, support, and strengthen both us as individuals and couples. Invest in your family. (Read The Meaning of Our Lives for more.)
  • Prioritize generosity as a family. Studies reveal that generosity is linked with increased happiness. Generosity teaches us to let go of our pursuit of materialistic gain and focus on how we can invest in people. Practice generosity toward others in your family. Practice generosity as a family toward those outside the family. Teach Your Children to Live Happy will provide several ideas for practicing generosity as a family. By practicing generosity you shift the focus from “things” to people, from possessions to relationships…and find yourself and your family happier.

“A Real & Detectable Benefit” Easy to Get!

I love to eat. So, I wish I had been a participant in this study. (Read about it in Not
Enjoying Your Dinner Out?). The researchers of this study invited participants to go out for dinner…in a restaurant…with their friends or family!  I definitely would have volunteered for this one. I would have gone to a nice restaurant with my wife. Alas, there was a catch. The people involved in the study were randomly assigned to one of two groups. In one group, participants kept their phones on the table. In the other group, participants put their phones away. The researchers found that those who kept their phones on the table felt more distracted and experienced less enjoyment with their dinner companions than those who put their cell phones away. (I hope I was assigned to the “cell-phones-away group.” Wait, what am I saying? I can make a decision to do whatever I want because I’m not in the study.  I’ll definitely put my phone away and enjoy dinner with my wife without phone distraction. No “phubbing” here! Read Don’t Phub Up Your Marriage to learn more.)

In a second study, 100 participants received a survey on their smartphones (ironically) five times a day for one week. The surveys asked about their mood and what they had been doing over the last 15 minutes. Guess who reported the greatest feelings of enjoyment. You guessed it. In-person social interactions produced more enjoyment and feelings of happiness. Guess what times produced the greatest feelings of enjoyments. That’s right, times in which the participant engaged in more face-to-face interactions and less phone use led to greater enjoyment. (Perhaps because My Cell Phone is Ripping Me Off and yours is ripping you off too!)

Want to enjoy time with your spouse? Want to make family time more enjoyable and fun? Try putting the phone away and enjoying face-to-face, in-person interactions with your family. As this study’s senior author noted, “there is a real and detectable benefit from putting your phone away when you’re spending time with friends and family.” Take advantage of that benefit. Put your phone away.

Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness

A recent study published in the journal Emotion noted the impact of screen time (meaning the time on devices engaged in social media, texting, or playing games) on teen happiness. Just to let you know, getting rid of all social media, texting, and electronic game playing did NOT result in the greatest level of happiness! However, as engagement in social media, texting, and electronic game playing increased, so did teen levels of unhappiness. (See The Amount of Screen Time Linked to Unhappiness for more.) Wait. Don’t those two statements contradict one another? Not really. Let me explain.

Over one million teens in 8th, 10th, & 12th grades were surveyed about how they spent their time on their phones, tablets, and computers, how much time they engaged in face to face interactions, and their overall happiness. The results suggested that the more time over an hour that a teen spends in front of a screen engaged in social media, texting, and gaming, the less happy they were. Cutting out screen time altogether, however, seemed to coincide with less happiness as well. In moderation, teens who spent a little less than an hour a day on screen time and filled non-screen time with reading, sports, and face-to-face interactions were happiest.

The takeaway message seems pretty obvious. Allow your teen to enjoy some time on social media, texting their friends, and even gaming. But limit that time. Don’t let them get “sucked in” to the screen time activities. Instead, provide opportunities for your teens to engage in face-to-face interactions like sports, face-to-face games, and simple conversations. Encourage your teen to read. Help them find topics and books that will hold their attention and interest. And, of equal importance, model healthy use of electronic devices in your own life. Do this and you might just be surprised at how happiness increases as non-screen time activities increases as well.

Build a Happier Family in the New Year

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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?

Family Happiness in 1938 AND Today

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

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

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

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

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

Research Says, “Take a Hike for Family Fun”

I enjoyed a short hike along Cedar Creek with my wife and two nieces (6- and 7-years-old). We joined the trail where the picturesque Cedar Creek flows out of the woods and into the Youghiogheny River. We hiked a short distance “up creek.”  With a 6 -year-old and a 7-year-old it was not a quiet walk. But, it was beautiful and very relaxing. We smiled and laughed. We enjoyed the trees and the “cliff.” We even saw some fish and a few caterpillars. When we returned home, I felt more relaxed, happier, even a little energized. Apparently, I’m not the only one to have this experience. A growing number of physicians prescribe park visits and hikes to their patients. Studies show that taking a hike in the woods improves mood and self-esteem, decreases tension, clears the head, and decreases anger and depression. Researchers have also found that taking a “nature walk” decreases repetitive negative thoughts about ourselves. Living in areas with high amounts of “green areas” or “natural spaces” decreases the chance of experiencing depressive symptoms by 20% and suicide attempts by 28% when compared to those who live without “green areas” or “natural spaces.”  (Read Take Two Hikes and Call Me in the Morning) In other words, a hike through “green areas” leads to a better mood, greater happiness, and a greater sense of calm. Sounds like three great goals for our families: 1) better mood, 2) greater happiness, and 3) a greater sense of calm. And, it’s not hard to work for those goals. Simply take the family to your local park and go for a walk! You’ll enjoy fresh air and good conversation. You’ll learn more about one another’s lives and grow more intimate. You’ll come back home in a better mood, happier, and calmer. That is my kind of family activity! (Learn more about hiking and happiness in Hike to a Family Fun Night.)

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