The Paradox of Happy Families
It seems paradoxical, even counterintuitive but it’s true; happiness is fleeting when we pursue it. The more we try to make ourselves happy, the more it eludes us. Paradoxically, we find ourselves happy when we forget about ourselves and reach out to help another. In other words, to truly experience happiness a person has to plant seeds of service in the soil of kindness and fertilize it with generosity. Research even has a name for the good feelings that come from helping others. They call it a “helper’s high.” Those who do things for other people experience the euphoria of the “helper’s high” due to a release of endorphins. Helping others also increases a person’s sense of self-worth, which enhances happiness as well. So, to grow a happy family, sow seeds of kindness and plant starter plants of helpfulness, fertilize with generosity, and water it daily with polite hospitality. Still confused about how to grow happiness in your family by giving to others? Try these four ideas to get started.
- Model kindness within your family. Give your spouse and children words of kindness and encouragement. Words like “Thank you,” “Please,” “Can I help?” and “You look nice” will model kindness. Don’t stop with words alone; walk the talk. Practice some “mighty little deeds of kindness,” like holding doors open for one another, letting someone else manage the remote…you get the idea. This is the first step in producing a happy family filled with kindness. Researchers at the University of California in San Diego and Harvard observed that one act of kindness leads others to engage in kindness. Ultimately, this “tripled the value” of the first kind act as it spread from person to person. When you share kindness in your family, your spouse and children will follow your example. Your kindness and generosity will “cascade through your social network [family] to affect” the lives of everyone in your family and more! ( read more in Why This Beautiful Human Behaviour is Highly Infectious)
- Model kindness to those outside your family. You could start by trying an experiment researchers used in a study reported in How To Be Happy By Giving to Others: perform five random acts of kindness one day a week for six weeks. Have each family member assess their level of happiness at the start of this experiment. During the experiment, let each person record their acts of kindness just so you can keep track of all five each week. At the end of the experiment, assess your level of happiness again. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.
- Volunteer as a family. Take the time as a family to volunteer with your church, a community activity, or an organization designed to help others (like Habitat for Humanity, a local animal shelter, or your local church).
- When you gather as a family for dinner or in the car to travel to an activity, ask your spouse and kids about any acts of kindness they carried out. As each person talks about their act of kindness, explore specifics about the reaction of the recipient of their kind act. Were they surprised? Did they smile? How did they respond? Did they say thank you? Breaking the larger goal of showing kindness into a concrete observable goal of making someone smile will increase the overall happiness of the giver (see How to be Happy by Giving to Others for more).
Follow these four tips and you will notice acts of kindness, of giving to others, increase; and, as they increase, family happiness will increase as well!