Tag Archive for happiness

The Satisfaction of Small, Meaningful Doses All Day Long

Families need a healthy diet of love and connection to thrive. How do we meet our family’s dietary need for love? Some families have one big meal a day to satisfy their “love cravings.” They try to engage in some extravagant show of love once a day (at best) in hopes that it will last until the next big show of love. It doesn’t…it never will.

Other families fear there is not enough love and connection to go around. They fear it will run out so they cling and “act out” to monopolize whatever attention and “love” they can get. This doesn’t work either. It ends up pushing others away.

Others, fearing love resources are limited, dole out love in scanty portions, just enough to keep you hungry for more. Everyone ends up feeling just little disconnected, confused as to whether they are really loved or not.

A better way of maintaining a healthy diet of love and connection is by sharing small but meaningful doses of it throughout the day. A study out of Penn State published in 2020 (see The Undervalued Power of Experiencing Love in Everyday Life for a review) called these small, meaningful doses of love and connection “felt love.” Participants in this study were randomly sampled via cell phone to determine when and where they experienced “felt love,” when and where they felt a connection with another person. Two findings were of special interest to me.

  1. Experiencing small, meaningful doses of love throughout the day led to increased feelings of optimism and purpose. In other words, if you want your spouse, children, or parents to feel greater optimism and purpose, intentionally do and say things throughout the day that will make them feel loved. Give them physical affection. Compliment them. Appreciate something about them. Serve them. Sit and talk with them. Empathize with them. Connect. They will feel love and connection…and their feelings of optimism and purpose will increase.
  2. “Nudging study participants to be more mindful of ‘felt love,’ and encouraging people to recognize random moments of warm-heart connection actually increased their sense of being loved” (Oravecz). Simply raising a person’s awareness of “felt love” and opportunities to express “felt love” raised feelings of being loved and connected.

Based on these findings, we could do at least three things to increase the feelings of love in our families.

  • Encourage each family member to offer a daily diet of multiple, small, and meaningful doses of love to other family members throughout the day.
  • Spend time at dinner or bedtime sharing stories of when each one received love and connection during the day and how each one shared love and connection with another that day. Making this conversation a routine will “nudge” your family members to “be more mindful” of such moments.
  • Model the intentional sharing of small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others in your home and outside your home. Hold the door open for other people. Let the other driver merge. Share the remote. Pay for a stranger’s coffee. Be creative and share small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others, including your family.  

I don’t know about you, but I think our families and our world are hungry for this kind of diet. I know I am…so I’m going to share it with my family now.

How Happy Couples Fight

Couples have disagreements. They argue. They get angry at one another. But many couples remain happily together in spite of this. How do they do it? How can a happy couple still have marital problems? That’s the question that a group of researchers (Rauer, Sabey, Proulx, & Volling) set out to answer. To answer the question, they looked at two groups of heterosexual married couples. One group was in their mid-to-late thirties and had been married an average of nine years. The other group was in their early seventies and had been married an average of 42 years. Researchers observed the couples discussing marital problems. This is what they discovered.

  1. Happy couples focused on issues with clear solutions first. This involved issues like distribution of household chores or how to spend their free time. The solutions to these problems were more concrete, measurable so to speak. Focusing on more solvable problems built up both partners’ sense of security in the relationship. It strengthened the sense of “we” in the relationship as they worked to successfully solve these “issues.” It helped to enhance intimacy.
  2. Happy couples rarely focused on those problems that involved more difficult solutions. They focused less on those perpetual problems. Perhaps more difficult-to-solve problems threatened each partners’ confidence in the relationship. By focusing on the more solvable problems, they built a solid base of security that allowed for the greater possibility of solving some of the more difficult problems through willing sacrifice and difficult compromise as well.
  3. Couples married longer reported fewer serious issues. They also reported arguing less overall. This, in combination with other research, suggests that happy couples learn to prioritize their marriage. Over time, they come to realize that some issues just aren’t worth the argument. They learn to choose their battles wisely.

So, how do happy couples fight? In the words of the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones, they “choose wisely.” They choose to focus first on those solvable problems in their marriage. Doing so builds a foundation of trust, a strong sense of security. It is a practical way of prioritizing the “we” of their marriage above the individual. This foundation allows them to solve some problems that remain more difficult to resolve. As they do this, they learn to prioritize their marriage above individual wants and desires, even those desires one partner may believe to be a need. Ironically, they even learn that some of those “difficult-to-solve” problems really aren’t as essential as they use to believe. They just aren’t worth the argument. The relationship is more important. And rather than watching their marriage decay in the pain of bad decisions (like the man who drank from the wrong cup in Indiana Jones), they focus on gaining the intimacy, wisdom, and joy of a happy marriage. They “choose wisely.”

What Does This Mean for Your Family

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Cologne collaborated to explore what contributed the most to a person’s well-being:

  • Moral thoughts—thinking good things or things that benefit another,
  • Engaging in moral deeds—doing something that benefits another, or
  • Doing something kind for yourself—like relaxing or treating yourself to something nice.

Interestingly, all three things contributed to a person’s happiness and satisfaction with life. Beyond this, however, each thing made its own specific contribution as well.

  • Moral thoughts AND engaging in moral deeds increased feelings of being virtuous as well as social connection. They both led to an increase in feeling empathic, moral, and grateful for the day as well.
  • Only engaging in moral deeds contributed to people feeling less angry, less isolated, more in control, and as if they had a more purposeful life. It had the greatest impact on the greatest number of measures of well-being.
  • Doing something kind for yourself led people to feel less emotionally exhausted.

What does all this mean for you and your family? If we want healthy families, we need to root them in an environment that nurtures well-being. We need to teach our children to live a life that promotes well-being. We need to model a lifestyle that nurtures well-being in the home and in the community. We need to practice that lifestyle and the practice of that lifestyle consists of the three things: moral thoughts, engaging in moral behaviors, and doing something kind for ourselves. Think about each of those three components for a second.

  1. Thinking good things to benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Ironically, in this study, most people reported that they engaged in prayer when told to think thoughts to benefit other people. Great idea. Pray for each of your family members on a regular basis. Think positive thoughts about them. For example, dwell on things you enjoy about them and admire in them. Think about those things about your family for which you are grateful.
  2. Do things that will benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Do a kind deed for another person. Get them a drink. Help them complete a chore. Give a compliment. Encourage. Hold the door open. You get the idea. Do something nice for the people around you, including your family, every chance you get.
  3. Do something nice for yourself. Don’t get carried away. No need to get selfish. But we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we are emotionally, physically, and mentally rested. So, do something nice for yourself every day.

All this reminds me of one of the commands given to the Israelites and buried in Leviticus. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:9-18).  Our family and our world become a better place when we love one another—thinking good thoughts about them and doing things that will benefit them. We love them better as we learn to love ourselves in a healthy way. So, I guess we better do something nice for ourselves as well. Our families will be healthier places for it. Sounds like a good plan to me. How about you?

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for GOOD NEWS!!

I have good news. It comes from a study completed by Yoshihiko Koga, a professor at Kyorin University in Tokyo. He gave a group of people three spoons of ice cream to eat upon waking and then gave them mental acuity tasks to complete on the computer. The other group simply got up and completed the mental acuity tasks. And guess what?! Those who ate ice cream exhibited improved mental performance and faster reaction times than those who did not eat ice cream. They were better at processing information and exhibited an increase in alpha waves, which are associated with concentration, relaxation, and mental coordination.

Next, Professor Koga compared those who ate ice cream with those who had cold water to make sure the improved performance was not the result of being “shocked into alertness” by the cold of the ice cream. Once again, those eating ice cream performed better than those who simply had cold water.

Professor Koga believes the ice cream may trigger positive emotions and added energy, thus producing the results noted above. (Ahhh…ice cream does bring back wonderful memories and good feelings.)

Another study conducted by neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned brains of people as they ate vanilla ice cream. They found that eating ice cream immediately activated the same areas of the brain lit up by winning money or listening to a favorite piece of music. (Imagine how it would light up if we eat ice cream while winning money and listening to our favorite music.)

If you’re like me, you might be rejoicing that science has already shown what I have always wanted to be true: Eating ice cream is good for you. And, even better than I ever imagined, eating ice cream for breakfast is good for you!! Now that’s some good news. Maybe we should all give our children 3 spoons full of ice cream before they go to school in the morning. Can’t hurt, huh?

If you’re hesitant to go the ice cream route, remember that the researchers believed the ice cream had this effect because it triggered positive emotions. So, you can help your children prepare for the day by eliciting positive emotions in the morning. Make the morning a time of positive interactions. Here are some simple ways to do it:

  • Lay out clothes and pack any necessary school supplies the night before so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning.
  • If you’re not a morning person, get up a little earlier so you can be fully awake and pleasant before your child awakens.
  • Keep the conversation encouraging, friendly, and supportive.
  • Have a good breakfast. (Add some ice cream in if you want…it will really brighten your children’s morning!)
  • Share a simple hug or some show of affection.
  • And of course, break out the ice cream!

Make a Little Christmas Hygge

Last Christmas I receive The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. I love it. It describes one of the things we seek most in life, hygge.  “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down” (page 6). I love hygge. I’d like more of it in my life. I work to bring it into my family. And Christmas is one of the best times to create some hygge. In fact, Christmas is one of the most hygge times of the year. Christmas is the one time a year in which “hygge is the ultimate goal of an entire month” (page 218). To make Christmas truly hyggelig takes intentional planning, thought, and effort. But it’s worth the effort because everybody wants a hyggelig Christmas. So, here are a few ideas to make your Christmas an extra hygge Christmas as well.

  • Fire and candles. Hygge is always greater with the natural light of flickering candles or a glowing fireplace. The natural warmth and the dancing flame that cast shadows upon all those gathered to share the Christmas season is truly hygge. So, if you have a fireplace, light it up. If not, put some candles around the room and bask in the dancing shadows of their flickering light while sharing conversation with family and friends.
  • Food and drink. Food is important to hygge and Christmas is a great time for food. Enjoy your Christmas dinner along with Christmas cookies and pies. You might even enjoy some special beverages like eggnog, wassail, hot chocolate, or some other family drink tradition. You can share cookies with friends and neighbors, swapping your favorites with one another. The important thing about Christmas, hygge, and food is to enjoy it all together. Share food, company, and conversation to let the hygge flow.
  • Comfy clothes. No need to dress up or put on uncomfortable clothes. You’re with friends and family. Put on some comfy clothes for relaxing. Your company is much more important than your dress when it comes to hygge. The interaction and the shared experience are the key ingredients of joy, not the fancy clothes. So, hang up the tie and the put away the high heels. Put on the comfy clothes and enjoy one another’s company.
  • Music. Music always adds to hygge. Play some music in the background. Share your favorite songs. If you enjoy playing or singing, have a sing-along. Take it on the road and do some caroling. Of course, when you finish caroling, enjoy some hot chocolate, eggnog, or some hot buttered rum as you talk about your caroling adventure in the light of candles.
  • Company: Friends and Family. You may have noticed how often company, friends, and family were mentioned in the above ingredients. Hygge just isn’t hygge without our loved ones around us. Enjoy your time together. Put away the phones and the I-Pads. Forget the video games and PlayStations. Pull out a board game instead. Enjoy a game of cards or “salad bowl.” Talk. Reminisce. Dream. Laugh. Enjoy one another’s company. You know it doesn’t get any more hygge than this!

Have a very merry Christmas this year, a Christmas filled with hygge, family, and friends.

A Surprising Contributor to Long Life

This surprising contributor to a long life was uncovered after examining data from 4,400 couples over the age of 50 and living in the United States. For eight years, these couples reported on their life satisfaction and several other factors believed to be related to longevity. Of course, this study confirmed several factors known to contribute to a long life…things like physical activity and access to resources. But, one factor was surprising. A happy spouse was associated with longer life. That’s right. Those participants who had a happy spouse tended to live longer. Those whose partners had a higher life satisfaction lived longer. It seems that higher life satisfaction (happiness) in one’s spouse led to greater physical activity and less stress for both partners. This finding held true even when other factors—like resources, physical activity, self-rated health, and partner death—were taken into consideration. In other words, spousal happiness had a positive impact on longevity of life regardless of other factors that also influence longevity. (Read a review of the study in People With Happy Spouses May Live Longer.)

If you want your spouse to have a long and happy life, learn to love life yourself. Build your happiness…your spouse will live longer as a result. For tips on how to do this, read:

And, if you want to live a long life yourself, promote your spouse’s happiness. Support your spouse’s dreams. Acknowledge your spouse’s effort. Thank your spouse for deeds done. All these will build their happiness…and contribute to your longer life. Even more, you’ll both enjoy your long lives together; lives filled with dreams and adventures you enjoy together; lives filled with satisfaction, joy and intimacy.

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.

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