Archive for Celebration

What Legos & Ducks Teach Us About Our Children’s Drive to Learn

It may sound like it was a day in preschool, but it was a group of 22 adults recruited for a study. Each recruit was given five small plastic bags containing six Legos in each one. Four of the Legos were yellow (one of which had an eye on either side) and two were red. In part one of this study, researchers asked the participants to build ducks in ways that “felt playful.” In the second part of the study, they asked the participants to build ducks in a way that “did not feel playful.” Finally, the researchers helped the participant process and describe the two approaches to building ducks using the bags of Legos.

When asked to be playful, the participants reported consciously accessing their autonomy so they could intentionally do what they wanted and build a “creative duck.” Those asked to build a duck in a “non-playful” way reported tapping into their mechanical mode to build the prototype duck.

Playfully building the ducks also led the participants to approach the Legos more thoughtfully, “sensing the bricks” before building and thus allowing ideas and possibilities to arise and flow more freely. In a manner of speaking, they playfully sensed the Legos and followed the Legos into a playful version of a duck. And, in fact, they surprised themselves with novel-looking ducks, not simply ordinary ducks. And participant asked to build a duck in a “playful way” enjoyed building their ducks. Moreover, their unique designs motivated them to want to do it again.

Approaching the duck construction in a non-playful way, on the other hand, did not result in surprisingly novel-looking ducks but in the mechanical construction of expected ducks. It also did not result in an enjoyable or motivating experience.

This study suggests an important factor in helping our children develop a love for learning, a drive to learn. The factor? Play! The playful approach in the study noted above provided three ingredients that culminated in the motivation to learn more.

  1. Autonomy. When building the ducks in a playful manner, the participants had to choose how they wanted to create their duck. They were implicitly given choices. We can encourage our children to learn by giving them choices. Play provides a myriad of choices for our children, beginning with the choice of what they want to play. When given a variety of items, they can choose how to assemble those items or even what they might represent. A box can become a car in one game and a television in another. Autonomy is further bolstered as children negotiate with one another to reach a compromise on how to play the game. In this whole process, our children learn. They learn about one another and about effective social interactions. They learn about the properties of the objects they are playing with. They learn about creative story telling. They learn physics and the limits of their physical abilities. They learn autonomy.
  2. Absorption with the materials with which they are engaged. Children get lost in the play as their stick becomes a magic wand or a royal staff or the building block for a secret fort. Who knows what the play materials will become? Barbie may fly and birds may swim. It’s their choice. (Remember autonomy?) So let the play begin with interesting and engaging materials. Such materials are often simple. In fact, the best toys for children are those they can act upon and use to create whatever action they desire rather than toys with predetermined rules of play. After all, imaginative play can make our children a head taller than themselves.
  3. Surprise often occurs when given the freedom to manipulate the materials of play and create something of their choosing. Surprisingly, the tree gives advice rooted in wisdom, the negotiation turns toward compromise and an ingenious resolution, or a blanket magically provides safety from the monster only when used to help another. Yes, children’s play will be full of surprises and insights.

Overall, this process of play creates a cycle of creative exploration and learning that leads to the “personal reward of surprising discoveries.” This, in turn, will encourage and motivate our children to continue learning. It will create a drive to play and learn. Let’s not squelch the drive. Let’s just play.

Sweet Marital Moments That “Keep On” Giving

We all experience disagreements and arguments with our spouses. We probably even get irritated and agitated with them from time to time. Researchers in this study opened the door for such experiences by asking 154 middle-aged and older heterosexual married couples to have an intimate conversation about a “conflict in their relationship.” Can you imagine? “Have an argument about something you know you disagree about… and we’ll record you while you do.” Sounds like an invitation for trouble, doesn’t it? But researchers invited this trouble into the lab by asking couples to have this type of conversation in their presence every five years from 1989 to 2009. Trained coders observed all the videos to identify times the couple experienced moments of shared positive and negative emotions during the conflict conversation as well as positive synchrony. They witnessed these shared emotions and synchrony through nonverbal signs or unconscious “mirroring,” subtle facial expressions, head nods, smiles, leaning forward, tone of voice, body language, etc. The researchers also measured each person’s heart rate, recording times in which both partner’s heart rates slowed down or sped up simultaneously.

What did they discover? Couples who, even in conflict, shared positive moments of humor and affection and whose heart rates “beat as one” (speeding up or slowing down together) enjoyed better physical health over a 13-year period and were more likely to still be alive 30 years later. In other words, couples whose hearts literally “beat as one” and who could inject moments of humor and affection into their moments of conflict, lived longer, healthier lives. Isn’t that a wonderful gift to give your spouse?

This knowledge invites us to build a marital environment in which our hearts “beat as one” (aka—to become attuned) and an environment that will encourage mutual affection. You can do that by:

  1. Become a student of your spouse. Remain curious about your spouse, their world, and their thought life. Learn about your spouse’s day. Remain curious about their hopes and dreams as well as their worries and concerns. Enjoy conversations about their perspectives on the world around us. Learn something about your spouse every day.
  2. Sync your lives. Eat together. Go to bed together. Spend time each day talking together. Have a regular date night. Worship together. Sure, you will still have times you do things as an individual. But when you do things together you “sync your lives,” you get your hearts “beating as one.”
  3. Become your spouse’s number one fan. When I was in high school, I knew a woman who was our school’s number one fan. She knew the students and the teachers. She attended the school functions. And she only had good things to say about “her school” and “her kids.” Become your spouse’s number one fan. Learn all about them. Give voice to the things you admire about them. Have only good things to say about “your spouse” to other people. Praise them in public. Encourage them and thank them privately and in public. Let your spouse experience your adoration through your words and actions.
  4. Turn toward your spouse. When problems arise, turn toward your spouse for support and encouragement. And offer your spouse support and encouragement when difficulties arise in their lives. When times are good, turn toward your spouse to celebrate and enjoy.
  5. Dream together. Talk about your what would be your dream for 5-years, 10-years, even 15-years down the road. Start dreaming about your 25th or 30th anniversary when you get married…& don’t stop dreaming about it together. Talk about your dream vacation and plan how you might make it happen. Discuss your personal dreams and help one another achieve those dreams. Dream together and live toward your dreams.

These five ways you can create sweet marital moments that will help you and your spouse live a long, healthy life…and a happily married life. Once again, isn’t that a tremendous gift to give your spouse?

This Daily Experience Can Increase Your Family’s Happiness

Rather than trying to pique your interest, I’m just going to say this plainly. According to a study published in 2020, daily spiritual experiences, defined as experiences related to God as well as “transcendent feelings not related to God” (like feeling a deep inner peace or harmony), make people happier. Daily spiritual experiences also help reduce the effects of stress according to this research.

These findings are the result of monitoring 2,795 people via their phones for 2 weeks, asking them about positive and negative emotions as well as their current activity at random times throughout the time of the study.

The results go even further by suggesting that if two people experience equal amounts of stress, the one with more spiritual experiences is less likely to report depressive symptoms and “more likely to indicate feelings of flourishing.” On an individual level, a person experiences greater mental well-being on days in which they have more spiritual experiences. Why? Perhaps because spiritual experiences reduce self-centeredness and increase a sense of connection with Someone/something bigger than our selves.

Here’s the takeaway for our families. We can use this knowledge to increase well-being in our family by encouraging individual and family spiritual experiences. How can we do that?

  • Pray as a family and individually. Take a moment as a family to offer a prayer of thanksgiving before meals. Make prayer part of your family bedtime routine. This offers a time to offer prayers of gratitude, pray about difficult circumstances, and offer pray for other people.
  • Attend worship services. Worship services offer a wonderful spiritual experience for the whole family.
  • Watch for moments of awe throughout the day. When you experience a moment of awe, share that with your family. Savor moments of awe with your family as well.
  • Practice daily spiritual exercises such as meditation, mindfulness, silence, serving others, or gratitude, to name a few. Make one or more of these spiritual exercises part of your daily routine.
  • Sing together. Singing brings people into sync with one another. It can also contribute to a spiritual experience. Sing with your family.
  • Attend religious services together.

These ideas will help shape an environment in your home that is conducive to spiritual experiences for your family and for each person in your family. With those opportunities for spiritual experiences, your family will also enjoy the benefit of greater happiness.

Science Proves “Noodle Dance” Effective

When my children were younger, one of my favorite cartoons to watch with them was “PB&J Otter.” Actually, I liked one part of the cartoon in particular. Each episode led to a moment in which the main characters didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, one would suggest they “do the noodle dance.” Peanut, Jelly, and Baby Butter would start to dance as lyrics sang in the background:

“Noodle, use your noodle; noodle, do the noodle dance… Solve a problem, it’s no strain, use your noodle, that’s your brain…There’s an answer you can find, use your noodle, that’s your mind… In a bind, just use your mind, use your noodle.”

As they danced, something happened. They moved from the “paralysis of analysis” to the “I got it” moment.  In other words, they discovered a solution to the problem.  Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But research supports the idea that movement helps us “get unstuck” and “frees up” our thinking. When we “move” with another person, it helps us get “in-sync” with them and increases our openness and cooperation. In other words, the “Noodle Dance Principle” could come in handy in your home! No, I’m not saying you have to do the noodle dance itself…although you can if you want, and it is kind of fun. I’m simply suggesting you utilize the “Noodle Dance Principle” when problems or disagreements arise in your home. Specifically, when you get stuck on a problem or disagreement:

  1. Get up and move. Go for a walk alone and think. This can help you calm down and think more clearly. Or go for a walk together as you discuss the issue at hand. Research suggests that moving increases motivation and the likelihood of resolving conflict. It frees up your thoughts and feelings, increasing the probability of finding a solution or of reaching a compromise.  Don’t want to walk? Try going on a bike ride. Still too much? Pull up a couple of rocking chairs and rock while you talk. Or sit on a swing and swing as you put your heads together to find an answer. Find a seesaw and take turns talking as you go up and down the issues that need resolved.  Whatever you do, get up and move. As noted earlier, moving enhances cooperation and gets us in-sync with those we move with. It also makes people more willing to make personal sacrifices that benefit the group. Get up and move.
  2. Physically map out the problem or disagreement. Grab a whiteboard or some paper and sketch out your main points. Not only does this get you moving, it also makes an abstract issue visible. You can draw arrows connecting areas of agreement and highlighting common priorities.  You might even move these areas of agreement and common priority to a common area on the whiteboard. Then you can co-create a solution incorporating areas of agreement and consideration for areas of difference.

These two suggestions can help you get moving toward a solution when family problems arise…or moving toward a resolution when you find yourself in a heated disagreement. So go ahead. When a problem or disagreement arises in your house, do the noodle dance…at least get up and get moving. 

Raising Children Who Love

I ran across this wonderful poem by Nicolette Sowder. I wanted to share it with you.

May we raise children who love the unloved things–dandelion, the worms and spiderlings. Children who sense the rose needs the thorn

& run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun…

And when they’re grown & someone has to speak for those who have no voice

may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things

It’s a beautiful wish for all families and children, a hope for our children and our world. I pray you will “raise children who love the unloved.” It begins with you loving them and exploring, with them the small, wild aspects of the world that others take for granted. For one day we may find ourselves in the category of the “unloved things” who desire our children’s love. (PS-Please see link for the proper layout of the poem. I couldn’t get the layout to transfer to this blog.)

4 Surprising Things Happily Married Couples Do

Happy marriages don’t just happen. They develop between spouses who consistently engage in certain actions. In other words, happy marriages are cultivated by couples who actively nurture their marriage. With that in mind, here are 4 surprising ways happily married couples nurture their marriage.

  1. Happily married couples disagree and argue. They know that disagreements offer them an opportunity to learn more about one another. Disagreements and arguments open the door to the intimacy of knowing one another more deeply. So rather than defend, blame, and criticize, they respect, listen, and validate. In doing so, they learn that even their points of disagreement are times to cherish as they nurture a happier marriage.
  2. Happily married couples spend time alone. Sure, happily married couples spend a lot of time as a couple, but each spouse also spends time alone. We all need some “alone” time. Happily married couples enjoy that alone time. Each spouse has a confidence in their relationship that allows them to spend alone time to take care of themselves without fear of it damaging their relationship. As a result, they can purse hobbies and personal growth. They can come back from time alone refreshed and ready to pour themselves into their marriage in new and loving ways.
  3. Happily married couples accept one another’s influence. My friends once asked me to go out with them after work. I told them I had to “check with my wife.” You know what they said: “You’re whipped man.” And that is the most complimentary insult I’ve ever received. It means I allow my wife to influence me. It means my wife and her happiness are more important to me than a night out. It means my wife knows she has priority in my life. It means I accept her influence in my life. Do you accept the influence of your spouse?
  4. Happily married couples give it up for one another. In other words, spouses in a happy marriage sacrifice for one another. Every marriage demands some sacrifice. We sacrifice our unbridled freedom to commit to our spouse. We sacrifice time doing what we want in order to do things our spouse wants to do. We sacrifice the remote to watch a show our spouse wants to watch. We sacrifice the last piece of pie. We sacrifice…. You get the idea. From small sacrifices to grand sacrifices, happily married couples are willing to give it up for their spouse. No, they aren’t just willing, they are happy to give it up for their spouse to lift up their marriage. After all, they love their spouse.

Happily married couples do more than just these 4 things (like serve, honor, encourage, admire, etc.), but these are 4 rather surprising things happily married couples do. Do you?

6 Tips to Make Your Marriage a Taste of Heaven on Earth

Marriage can provide us with a taste of heaven on earth…or leave us living in hell on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t generally receive training in how to make our marriages a happy, fulfilling experience. I know you can’t learn everything you need to know about a wonderful marriage in a blog but let me give some tips to offer a good start. Here are 6 tips for making your marriage a taste of heaven on earth.

  1. Practice radical generosity. Radical generosity means giving your whole life to your spouse. Give your best energy to your spouse. Give service to your spouse…with joy. Give affection to your spouse on a daily basis. Give your spouse compliments. Give your strength and effort in keeping a home. Give your time by doing an extra chore. Give your time by engaging your spouse in conversation and togetherness. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, even when they hurt you. Give all of this and more with radical generosity.
  2. Be the first. Of course, be the first to apologize when you make a mistake. Be the first to apologize when an argument arises or when you have a disagreement, even when it isn’t your fault. Be the first to volunteer to do a chore around the house. Be the first to offer your services to your spouse. Be the first to offer genuine forgiveness. Be the first to sacrifice for the good of your spouse and your marriage. Be the first.
  3. Don’t complain, adore instead. We often find it easier to complain and nag than to adore and compliment. Make an intentional effort to look for the positive in your spouse and your marriage and then acknowledge those positives verbally. In fact, set a goal to say nine positive things to and about your spouse for every one negative. That’s a 9-positive to 1-negative rule. Verbally appreciate or adore your spouse multiple times every day. Focus on the joy and the beauty your spouse adds to your life and verbalize your appreciation of it on a daily basis. Doing so will change your marriage.
  4. Have fun. Make it a point to laugh with your spouse. Find activities you can engage in together just for fun. You might enjoy bike riding, reading a book together, sampling restaurants, hiking, going for walks, listening to music, going to plays…. The list is endless. Make it a habit to enjoy at least one fun conversation daily and at least one fun activity weekly. Have fun together. Laugh. Celebrate your love.
  5. Listen deeply. Listen with respect to hear their wisdom. Listen to understand their intent. Listen to understand their emotions. Listen to understand their desires. Listen so you can understand their view of the world. Listen so you can respond lovingly to what you hear. Yes, listen deeply—for by listening deeply you come to know your spouse better; and in knowing your spouse better you come to love them more.
  6. Accept completely. When we live with someone we begin to see their flaws (just as they see our flaws). But you can’t change your spouse. Don’t even try. Accept them in all their uniqueness instead. Take time to remember all those aspects you love about your spouse. Focus on the aspects you admire and adore about (return to #3 on this list). When their “little traits and idiosyncrasies” begin to irritate, remember how those same “traits and idiosyncrasies” made you love them when your first met. Accept them completely.

Once again, this list is far from exhaustive. What have you done to help create a marriage that gives you a little taste of heaven on earth? What would you add to this list to help others have a heavenly marriage?

To Deeper Connection and Beyond

Buzz Lightyear challenges his friends to go to “infinity and beyond.” I’m ok avoiding infinity actually. But I do want to move to deeper connection and beyond with my spouse and family. I think most people do. Connecting with other people in a deep and meaningful way makes us happy, especially when that other person is our spouse. In fact, we have a deep need for emotional connection to our spouse. And, if we perceive something as threatening our connection with our spouse, we do all sorts of crazy things—like argue, blame, accuse, give the silent treatment—in an attempt to reconnect. These actions rarely work well; but, like a toddler crying and screaming when dropped off at day care, we hope our behavior will bridge the disconnection and bring us back into synchrony and deep connection with our spouse.

There is a better way to restore our connection with our spouse, a way that doesn’t involve those “crazy actions.” Ironically, a series of twelve experiments focused on building greater connection to strangers provides us with solid instructions for restoring connection to our spouse as well. In these experiments, researchers asked pairs of people to discuss either deep or shallow topics. Sometimes they gave them the topics and sometimes the pair came up with their own topic. Shallow topics involved small talk like questions about weather, a TV show, or a recent sporting event. Deeper topics included more personal, intimate information about emotions, values, or personal desires. Participants also made predictions before having the conversation about 1) how awkward the conversation would be, 2) how connected they would feel, and 3) how much enjoyment they would experience. After the conversation they rated their actual experience in the same three areas.

Not surprisingly, those who discussed the deep topics found the conversation more enjoyable than those who engaged with one another on shallow topics. Those who discussed deep topics tended to overestimate how awkward the conversation would be. Additionally, if allowed to have a shallow conversation with one partner and a deep conversation with another, they preferred the deeper one. Most importantly, those who discussed deeper topics also experienced a stronger sense of connection with their partner.

As one of the researchers said, “If you share something meaningful and important, you are likely to get something meaningful and important exchanged in return, leading to a considerably better conversation…” and, I might add, a deeper connection.

The application to marriage is obvious, right? We want to know meaningful, important things about our spouses and their lives. They want to know meaningful and important things about us. We are interested in having a deeper conversation as a couple and so does our spouse. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and only talk about the “shallower topics” needed to manage our lives together, topics like family chores, children’s schedules, dinner plans, house maintenance. All these topics need to be discussed and managed. However, for deeper intimacy, we need to make time to discuss deeper topics as well. Put down the cell phones and tablets, turn off the TV, look at your spouse, and enjoy a conversation about the deeper, more meaningful aspects of life. If you struggle to think of what might constitute a deeper conversation, try these 10 conversation starters.

  • What first attracted you to me?
  • Would you rather talk about your problems or wait until they are resolved?
  • What are the top 5 things on your bucket list?
  • What is something you cannot live without?
  • What is your biggest struggle right now? How can I help?
  • What makes you the happiest?
  • What has been your greatest accomplishment as an individual? What do you think has been our greatest accomplishment together?
  • What is the best part of our relationship?
  • If you could change one thing about how you grew up, what would it be? Why?
  • What qualities do you most love about me? 

Enjoy sharing these questions with your spouse…and enjoy going to deeper connection and beyond.

3 Activities for A Happy Family

In the midst of everything happening in our world today, it seems like we have to make a conscious effort to pursue happiness, even with our families. Fortunately, there are simple activities we can engage in to pursue happiness. We can make them part of our family routines and help the whole family develop a lifestyle of pursuing happiness. To help you get started, here are three activities from positive psychology that can make you happier in just four minutes!

  • Simply “relive happy moments.” Sit down as a family and go through your photos of happy moments you shared as a family or as an individual. Share a few words about each photo and the experience it represents. In a study involving 531 adults who self-reported seeking or being in recovery from substance abuse, this activity had the greatest boost in increasing happiness.
  • “Savoring” also boosted happiness. Savoring involved taking the time to recall two positive experiences “from yesterday” and then appreciating those experiences. Think about the qualities of the experience that made it such a positive experience. Focus on those positive, pleasant feelings for a moment as you recall the experience in its entirety.
  • Finally, an activity called “Rose, Bud, Thorns” increased happiness in the same study mentioned above. In this activity, first list a positive, pleasant experience from yesterday (a “rose”).  This may include any pleasant experience such as a success or small win, a pleasurable connection with another person, or an experience of awe.  Then, recall a challenging experience from yesterday (a “thorn”). Finally, consider a pleasure you anticipate appreciating tomorrow, something you look forward to experiencing tomorrow (a “bud”). 

You could do these 3 activities as a family on a regular basis. They don’t take long; and they will build positive memories. Making one of these activities a part of a regular bedtime routine can allow children to go to sleep after recalling a happy time or determining how to turn a “thorn” into a future “bud” that will blossom into a “rose.”  These activities would also make great family mealtime conversation starters.

You don’t need to do all three activities. Pick one each day. Do a different one each time. You’ll be filling your family with happiness and teaching your children how to manage their emotions in a positive manner. You will all learn to “relive a happy moment,” “savor” it, and turn “thorns” into “buds” that will blossom into a “rose” of happiness for your whole family.

Go Ahead…Take a Nap

Last weekend we changed our clocks, “springing forward” into daylight savings time. In the process, we lost an hour sleep. That, on top of the fact that most of us do not sleep the recommended 7-9 hours a day, makes today the perfect day for a nap…and National Napping Day. Actually, every day is a good day for a nap. According to the Sleep Foundation naps not only reduce sleepiness, they also improve learning, aid in memory retention, and help us regulate emotions.  Napping also strengthens our immune, reduce cardiovascular disease risk, boost work performance, reduces stress, and decrease risk of cognitive dysfunction.  (see Benefits of Napping | Sleep.org ). In addition, napping as a family can help your family “get in sync” and in rhythm with one another. And, according to the “Nap Bishop,” if you’re looking for a way to resist the overworking mentality of our society that leads to burnout and contributes to oppression, napping is the resistance in which you need to engage. So, call the family together, grab your pillows, and resolve to take care of yourself. Take a nap.

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