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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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!)
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.
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
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
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.)
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.
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?
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
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.
“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.
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 tablefelt 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.