Archive for Celebration

Take This 4-Week Challenge with Your Teen

A study published in September, 2020, reported the results of a simple classroom activity that increased the life satisfaction of ninth- and tenth-grade students. In fact, it did even more than that. This study involved over 1,000 ninth-and tenth-grade students in a 4-week project. One group of students spent 10 minutes a week writing gratitude letters to parents, teachers, coaches, or friends. Another group of students worked on becoming more organized by listing their daily activities, reflecting on the benefits of those activities, and considering any obstacles they might encounter.

The group that wrote gratitude letters reported greater life satisfaction and increased motivation to improve themselves than the group that work on organization. They also reported increased feelings of connection and positive mood (elevation). Even better, the students maintained these positive changes for the whole semester.

Why not make this activity a 4-week challenge for your family—a challenge to enhance life satisfaction? Gather some paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps. Then, sit down with your children and your teens for 10 minutes every week to write gratitude letters. (Writing them by hand adds a special benefit you can read about in This Will Make Your Children Smarter.) Parents can participate in this challenge by writing gratitude letters too. Parent and teen writing gratitude letters to whoever you want—parents, siblings, teachers, friends, coaches, mentors…whoever you want. It’s only 10 minutes a week, but just think about what those 10 minutes will reap for you and your family—greater life satisfaction as well as a greater feeling of connection, a more positive mood, and a greater motivation for self-improvement. That sounds like an amazing benefit for 10 minutes of time every week.

Look Into My Eyes, See My Soul

Some say, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Researchers at the University of Geneva took that saying to heart when considering the impact of making eye contact with another person. They found that when a person makes direct eye contact with another person, they perceive time as shorter than it objectively is. As a result, we may stare longer than we realized. They believe this occurs because meeting someone else’s gaze impacts our attentional system. We are drawn to another person’s gaze. We attend to their gaze and lose track of time. In other words, we hold the eye contact longer than we imagine. 

Although people lose track of how long they have held eye contact, most people find it difficult to maintain eye contact for an extended period of time…and by extended period of time I mean a mere 1-2 minutes. However, when we do look into one another person’s eyes for a period of time, we experience a new level of emotional intimacy. Just check out this 4-minute video to see what happens when people maintain eye contact for 4 minutes.  

So, here’s the challenge. Take 3-4 minutes right now and lose track of time with your spouse. Look into her spouse’s eyes. Make eye contact and hold it. You might be surprised at the feeling of vulnerability you experience but you will also enjoy the intimacy it creates. So gaze into your spouse’s eyes. Get lost in their gaze. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable and grow more intimate…Because when you look into one another’s eyes, you share a vision of your soul.

Happiness Is Not “IF” Families Use Social Media, But “HOW”

Not long ago we published a short blog on how to avoid “Media Induced Jealousy.” At least one study suggests that nearly 60% of people suffer from jealousy induced by social media posts More recently, I discovered and read the review of a study suggesting that how people use social media impacts their well-being. Since this study provided some excellent insights that can help us build strong, healthy families, I wanted to share it with you.

This study looked at how people use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Specifically, researchers asked participants about four specific ways of using the social media platforms: passively checking one’s news feed, messaging others, catching up on world news, and posting status updates. It then explored ways in which “how people used social media” impacted their well-being.

The most frequently used function was passively scrolling through and checking one’s newsfeed. This provided no direct contact with other users (people). But it did provide abundant opportunities for the person to compare themselves with their friends’ selective portrayal of themselves on the social media platform. This comparison contributed to people underestimating how much their friends actually experience negative emotions and negative life events. After all, we are comparing our known life in all its fullness to their selective portrayal of joyous adventures. With that comparison, we easily conclude that our life is lacking, boring, not good enough. Using social media platforms in this way consistently led to a negative sense of well- being.

In addition, the more time people spent on social media platforms, the more negative feelings
they reported.

There is good news though, good news our families can use. Here it is: you CAN use social media in a positive way that promotes happiness… and that is what we need to practice and teach our families to practice. How can we do it?

  1. Avoid passively scrolling through social media. Instead, use the platform mindfully to keep up with family and friends.
  2. Avoid making comparisons between the life events selectively portrayed on social media and the life you live and know more fully. One way to help avoid making comparisons is to spend actual time, either in-person or through the phone, with those you follow on social media. This will provide you a more wholistic perspective of your friend, one that balances the selective joyful side of social media portrayals with the realistic day-to-day ups and downs of their real life.
  3. Use social media to enable direct interactions and social connections. For instance, you can talk on-line through face time, zoom, or even by using an old-fashioned phone call. You can also use social media platforms to schedule opportunities to meet in person. Or you might use a private Facebook profile to plan a reunion or “get together.” You get the idea. Use social media to enable direct, face-to-face or voice-to-voice social contacts.
  4. Cut back on your use of social media…and enjoy those activities and contacts you made following step #3 (above). After all, the top 10 ways to promote happiness all fall into outdoor activities, artistic activities, or social activities.

All in all, it is not “if” your family uses social media, but “how” they use it that will impact their well-being. Use it wisely and the whole family can benefit from the relationships nurtured.

Why Wait?

I had the opportunity to visit my extended family recently. It is always a joy to spend time with them. Because we live 500 miles away, we don’t get to visit as often as we’d like. Nonetheless, my wife and I recently had the opportunity to take my parents “on the journey” to visit our family.

This visit held special meaning as one of my aunts and an uncle passed away since our last visit and, due to the pandemic, we had missed the family gatherings celebrating their lives. So, as you can imaging, pictures and stories occupied much of our time during this visit. We recalled fun times and hard times, joys and struggles. Stories I had never heard confirmed what we already knew… and added a few surprises. We laughed together. On occasion, I saw eyes well up with tears. But, we all learned of a family heritage filled with love, resilience, and joy. Our grandparents’
dream of a family that honored and celebrated one another was affirmed.

As the visit progressed, I realized how much we share stories every time we get together. I remembered the joy of recalling our common history and celebrating the places where our histories diverged. I recognized how much each person has to offer one another because of those places where are stories varied while our common story held us together. And, I realized how important those stories are to our family identity as well as our individual identities.

With all this in mind, I have to ask: Do you take time to share your family stories? It’s a good practice to do so. Don’t wait for someone to pass away. Share your stories now. Our family stories build our family identity. They provide us with hope in times of struggle. They lay a foundation for honor and love while reaching forward to a future built on joy and community. Why wait to share your stories? Start sharing those stories today. Your family will reap the benefits for a lifetime.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Remember the commercials that encouraged us to “reach out and touch someone” with a phone call? Their motto bounced around in our heads long before cell phones and texting. Now it’s even easier to “reach out and touch someone,” right? Just send a quick text or message them on Facebook. So much easier… or is it? Is texting enough to “reach out and touch someone”? Is it enough to keep a relationship strong and healthy? A study published in 2020 sought to answer that question.

In this study, participants predicted how awkward or enjoyable it would be to contact a friend with whom they had not interacted for two years. They also predicted how close they would feel after the contact. They made these predictions for both phone contact and email contact. Then they were randomly assigned to contact their friend by phone or email.

Most participants thought phone contact would make them more uncomfortable than email contact. However, this did not prove true. Those who made phone contact felt no more discomfort than those who made email contact, even if they had said they preferred to email. On the other hand, those who called were happier with the interaction and felt closer to the person they called than those who simply emailed.

In a second part of this study (following the same procedures as the first part), participants were randomly assigned to a voice chat, a video chat, or a text chat. Similarly, the voice chat and video chat resulted in feeling significantly closer to the other person than those who engaged in a text chat. Video chat and voice chat, on the other hand, revealed similar outcomes in satisfaction and sense of closeness. These results suggest that our voices are particularly powerful for increasing intimacy.

When I think about that, it makes sense. From the time we were babies, and even in utero, we have responded to and discriminated between voices. When we are stressed or upset, the voice of loved one, a spouse, or a parent can calm and soothe us. And how many of us would love to hear the voice of a loved one “just one more time” after they pass away?

What does this have to do with family? If you want to increase intimacy with your family, text a little less and call a little more. If you want to maintain closeness with your spouse and children even when you disagree, give them a call because it promotes greater understanding when we hear one another’s voice than when we read their text. In fact, hearing the voice of a family member may be the the medicine to cure what ails you. So, increase the intimacy in your family. Close the texting or messaging app. Dial the number and reach out to touch your family with a phone call or video chat. You’ll both be glad you did.

The Blessing of a “Royal We”

My spouse and I live alone in our house now…just the two of us. Our children have grown into beautiful young ladies, each of them living in their own homes. We can even have a pillow fight without anyone interfering or telling us to “settle down.” In addition, when my wife asks,” Did we run the dishwasher?” or I inquire if “we bought eggs?” we know what we are talking about.  Still, questions like that give me pause.

Why? For starters, it’s obvious that the person asking the question knows they didn’t do the task. The objective truth of the question asks if their spouse did the task. But rather than using the pronoun “you,” we both use the “Royal We.”

But that’s not really why the “Royal We” give me pause. The “Royal We” gives me pause because it reminds me how grateful I am to be part of our marital team. The “Royal We” reminds me that I am not alone. I live with a spouse who loves me and works with me to create a joyous marriage and life. Sure, we have our individual interests and strengths. We enjoy individual hobbies. We have our personal sensitivities and struggles. But, encompassing all our personal nuances and idiosyncrasies is the protective, loving “Royal We.”

As charter members of our “Royal We,” we have each other’s happiness in mind. We weep when the other weeps and rejoice when the other rejoices. We support one another in joyous times and in times of sorrow. We protect one another emotionally, mentally, and physically. We nurture one another’s dreams. Yes, we plan a future together.

Research suggests that a healthy “Royal We” is good for a marriage, too. Specifically, couples with a strong sense of “we” are more positive toward one another and feel less stressed. In other words, the “Royal We” supports happy, healthy marriages that nurture healthy individuals. So, how can you build the “Royal We” in your marriage?

First, be responsive to your spouse. John Gottman refers to this as “turning toward” one another. People within relationships make multiple bids for connection with one another. These bids may be as simple as eye contact or a comment about the weather. Or, they may be as direct as saying, “We need to talk.” In whatever way bids are made, couples who respond 86% of the time become “master couples” who experience greater joy and intimacy. Those who respond only 33% of the time are “disasters” and at risk of divorce. So, the first step in becoming a “Royal We” is to respond to your spouse.

Second, create rituals of connection. Build a ritual for reconnecting with your spouse after having spent time apart. The ritual can include a simple verbal greeting, a hug, and a kiss. It might also include an exchange highlighting anything important that happened while apart. So, take the time to reconnect after being apart. It’s simple…but it will have a powerful impact on your relationship and the strength of your “Royal We.”

Third, dream together. Look to the future and what adventures you would like to experience with your spouse. What do you want to do as a couple in five years? Ten years? What vacations would you like to enjoy together? What dreams can you nurture in your spouse and enjoy with them? How can you work toward these dreams and activities? Not only will you enjoy the dreams and activities in your future, but you will also enjoy the time you spend working toward those dreams and activities.

The “Royal We” fills me with gratitude…which leads me to one final aspect of building a strong sense of team in your marriage. Express gratitude to your spouse and for your spouse. Thank your spouse often for being a part of your team, the “better half” of your “Royal We.”

Defeating M.I.J. (Media Induced Jealousy)

In our world, people like to display what they have and what they have done. We see it on TV as people enjoy home makeovers or live out exciting “reality shows” for everyone to see. We observe it on social media as we look at the pictures of our friend’s amazing adventures and fun times. While enjoying vacation with my family, I have often watched people posing and primping to get “just the right” selfie to display their location and activity while still looking pristine. Unfortunately, as we peruse our social media accounts, we see these beautiful pictures of amazing places filled with beautiful, happy people and feel a tinge of jealousy begin to rise. Maybe we even feel some depression. We see pictures of our friends having fun times with one another and wonder, “Why wasn’t I invited?” Or, we see the exciting activities of those we know (and maybe even people we don’t know) and become jealous, wishing we could have that kind of life too. And that jealousy begins to crush our joy. It can even begin to cause problems within our families. Can this jealousy be defeated? Most definitely…and here are 3 tips to help you get started.

  • First, realize that all the pics on social media and the reality shows on TV are not truly reality. “Reality” TV shows are staged, contrived.  They do not represent real life. In addition, our “pics” on social media focus solely on the joyous, happy times in our life. They give only a snapshot of one small portion of our lives, not our whole life. The pics on social media don’t show us covered with sweat after cleaning out our flooded basement or going through the humdrum activities of taking out the garbage, washing dishes, and doing homework. In fact, a large portion of our lives is spent doing average, normal activities of daily life–washing clothes, cleaning house, taking out the garbage, cleaning kitty litter, mowing our lawn. These activities don’t usually make it on to social media posts. Which leads me to the next tip.
  • Every day, spend time with your family talking about “the best part of your day.” Talk about what you enjoyed during the day. Make it a habit to notice the beauty of the people and the world around you…and acknowledge that beauty in discussions with your family. Family meals are an excellent opportunity to share “the best part of the day.” Doing so will help you and your family reflect on and enjoy the positive experiences you encounter on a daily basis.
  • Share gratitude daily. I know I say this often on this website, but expressing gratitude remains so important to healthy family life. We need to take the time to recognize the blessings for which we can be grateful. Recognize and appreciate things as common as breathing, the sunshine, and the ability to smell. Make it a habit to notice what your family members and friends do for which you can thank them. Don’t just notice those things, take the time to thank them as well.

These three simple activities help us to focus on the good in our lives rather than what we perceive as missing. They help us reflect on the blessings and gifts that fill our lives rather than our sense of what we might lack. When we recognize the abundance of joys, blessings, and beauty in our lives, other people’s happiness will not detract from ours. Take time to celebrate what you have as a family…and celebrate.

Supporting Family Health X2

I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for my family’s physical and mental health. Unfortunately, they do not want to hear me talking about it all the time—they refer to it as “lecturing.” You know what they do like though? They love videos of cute animals. You may think those cat videos and cutesy animal videos get old, but my wife and daughters love them. Personally, I like the funny animal videos. At any rate, their love of cute animal videos opens a door for family health. In fact, according to research, I can now help my family stay healthy by giving them just what they love—videos of cute animal.

A study completed by researchers at the University of Leeds had participants watch a 30-minute slide that included images and short videos of animals. Fifteen of the nineteen participants were scheduled to take an exam 90 minutes after watching the video. The remaining four participants were “administrative staff who declared they were feeling stressed at work.” Prior to watching the video, the participants heart rate and blood pressure were mildly elevated. After watching the images of cute animals, their heart rates dropped to normal and their blood pressure moved into the ideal range (from an average of 136/88 to 115/71).

The participants also answered 20 questions to assess their stress levels. According to their responses, anxiety levels dropped for all the participants, sometimes as much as 50%…just by watching cute animal videos.

Finally, participants themselves reported the 30-minutes spent watching the video was “relaxing,” “enjoyable,” or “distracting” from upcoming stressors.

There you have it. No need to lecture your family about health. Just send them a few videos of cute animals. They’ll love you for it and it will help reduce their stress as well as improve their heart rate and blood pressure. That’s all good, don’t you think? I’m going to give it a try.

Caring for the Gift of Your Marriage

Your spouse and your marriage represent two of the most precious gifts you can ever receive. I know this is true for me. They are wonderful gifts. When we take care of these two gifts, they bring us a lifetime of joy. But, if we neglect or abuse these gifts, they result in a lifetime of pain. So how do we take care of these precious gifts? Many things come to mind, but here are a dozen things you can do every day to take care of these two gifts.

  1. Tell your spouse what you need. Your spouse is not a mind reader. Don’t expect them to read your mind and then get angry because they can’t do it. Politely, lovingly tell them what you need.
  2. Take your spouse’s sensitivities and vulnerabilities seriously. This means you becoming a student of your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s sensitivities. They often stem from life experiences. Do not make light of those sensitivities. Do not use them against your spouse. Instead, acknowledge them. Respect them. Treat your spouse with care, keeping their vulnerabilities and sensitivities in mind.
  3. Make it a habit to express adoration and admiration to your spouse every day. Say “I love you” every day. Look for opportunities to not only recognize traits you love about your spouse but to tell them what you love about them every day. Share physical affection—a hug, a kiss on the cheek, holding hands, a touch on the arm—with your spouse daily. Appreciate your spouse every day.
  4. Recognize and express gratitude to your spouse every day. Once again, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for the daily, multiple things they do for you, your family, and your home.
  5. Take responsibility for any mistakes you make. We all make mistakes. We say hurtful things. We forget to complete tasks. Take responsibility. Admit your mistake. Then “bear the fruit” of repentance. Your spouse will love you for it.
  6. Treat your spouse with respect and dignity in your words and actions. Speak with kindness. Engage in polite deeds toward your spouse. Serve your spouse.  
  7. Support and encourage your spouse’s dreams. Once again, this means becoming a student of your spouse to learn about their dreams and how you can support those dreams.
  8. Share emotions with your spouse. Weep with your spouse when they weep. Rejoice with your spouse when they rejoice. Take time to share in their emotions. And, have the courage to express your deep emotions to your spouse so they can share in your emotions as well. 
  9. Set boundaries to protect your marriage. Remain faithful. Do not let people, work, children, or even volunteering come between you and your spouse.
  10. Pursue peace. Strive to create a peaceful, relaxed home for your family.
  11. Encourage your spouse and build them up. Compliment your spouse. Acknowledge their strengths as well as those things they do in the home and community.
  12. Turn toward your spouse when problems arise. Turn toward your spouse for times of joy. Turn toward your spouse simply to connect in everyday life. Turn toward your partner and work as a team to navigate the complexities of life.  

Yes, marriage is a gift. Your spouse is a gift. Treat both with care and love. When you do, you will experience a lifetime of joy.

For Your Marriage’s Sake, Get Serious About Play

If you want a long and happy marriage, you may want to get serious about play. A sober review of the research on playfulness offered a thoughtful reminder of play’s far-reaching effect, what did this review reveal?

  • Playing as a couple facilitates the experience of positive emotions. Sharing positive emotions enhances relationship satisfaction.
  • Play also influences how couples communicate. Specifically, play helps couples communicate in ways that better deal with stress and resolve tension. This, in turn, can build trust.
  • Play strengthens intimacy and connection. Some suggest playfulness even serves as a positive ingredient of a satisfying sex life. What married couple doesn’t want that?

As you can see, play serves a crucial role in building a long and happy marriage. So, here is the prescription you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy a healthier marriage and have fun doing it.  Get serious about play. Grab your spouse and have some fun. Seriously, go PLAY for a better marriage.

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