Archive for Celebration

Family Happiness -Tips From Norway

Winter approaches quickly as the days get shorter and the nights longer. Many people suffer from more sadness and even depression as we move through winter. (Click here for more information on SAD.) We may find an even greater struggle this year as the number of COVID cases increase our levels of anxiety and force many to stay inside even more than usual. In the midst of this dark winter, a light of hope appears. An article in the Good News Network suggests this light of hope may come to us by way of the “Norwegians’ unique cultural mindset.” Norway experiences as little as 30 hours of sunlight in December. Their winter nights are long; their days are short. However, they have small numbers of people who suffer from SAD. Perhaps their “unique cultural mindset” protects them…and perhaps we can adopt their “unique cultural mindset” to help us survive our winter days and the current pandemic. What does this mindset involve? Good question.

People like those in Norway choose to view the dark days of the sun-deprived winters as an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity. Their use their internal and external dialogues to speak of the opportunities that winter presents. Rather than saying “Winter is boring,” they focus on “the many things to enjoy about winter,” the “coziness of winter months,” and the “activities only available in winter.” You may think this simple “positive thinking” is a waste of time. But how we frame our outlook on the current situation and the future has an impact on our overall mental health. Martin Seligman calls this healthy framing “learned optimism.” Studies suggest that this “optimistic frame” not only leads to improved mental health but improved physical health and higher motivation as well. So, rather than look at the ways winter “brings you down,” begin to explore the possibilities winter brings. It brings the possibility of learning a new craft, of snuggling on the couch, of learning to ski or play hockey. Winter brings the possibility of games and get-togethers as well as the opportunity to witness a different beauty outside…which brings me to another “hint from Norway.”

The Norway people apparently enjoy “friluftsliv,” or “free air life.” Friluftsliv involves enjoying outdoor, physical activities at your own pace. It can include activities as simple as taking a family walk to fishing to skiing, whatever activity you and your family might enjoy in the “great outdoors.”  

So, rather than let your family get bogged down by the cold, short days, and long nights of winter, do like they do in Norway. Reframe your inner dialogue and your conversation to talk about the opportunities of winter. Then get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. It might just give your family a little more “hygge” (Oh wait, wrong country. That’s Danish and another way to help avoid the winter blues. Learn more in Make a Little Christmas Hygge anytime of the year.) Enjoy!

Multitasking, Your Brain, & Family

We live in a fast-paced world. Information, both wanted and unwanted, constantly “pops up:” breaking news, tweets, Instagram messages, weather reports, work messages, advertisements, calls, notifications…the list goes on. This fast pace is compounded right now as many families are working from home while helping their children navigate on-line school. Speaking of our children, they have not escaped this fast-paced, information flooding world either. They message friends, catch snippets of their favorite game, and watch videos while signed into their on-line school setting. It is an epoch of extravagant multitasking…especially if we do not intentionally and mindfully slow down the input and learn to focus.

“Who cares?” you might ask. “Why not multitask? I have a lot to do, a lot to get done. I have to multitask.” Well, a study published in 2017 suggests multitasking reduces productivity by up to 40%. In other words, we get less done when multitasking. The fMRI’s used in this study showed that multitasking, and quickly switching from activity to activity, interferes with brain activity. Concentration decreased. Stress increases. Thinking is hindered. The lack of focus inherent in multitasking reduces efficiency and cuts productivity by up to 40%.

A more recent study suggested that multitasking contributed to an increase in stress. That stress triggered feelings of sadness and even a touch of fear. This is bad news for families because emotions are “contagious.” If one person’s stress triggers an increase in sadness, that sadness can spread to others in the family. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. One person becomes stressed and sad, frustrated because they’ve been trying to complete an important task amidst the constant interruptions of emails, phone calls, tweets, and questions. Then they “take out” this stress and frustration on the innocent spouse or child or parent who tells them dinner is ready. Suddenly, the whole house is on edge.

What can you do to limit multitasking, increase productivity, and decrease the risk of a negative emotional contagion? Here are a few tips to help.

  • Work on one task at a time. Set aside distractions (see bullets below). Let your family know you need an hour (or whatever time you allot) so you can do your work distraction free.
  • Turn off the notification on your phone and computer.
  • Schedule specific times to answer emails. Do not look at each email as it arrives. Schedule a time to answer them in groups. You might set up two times a day or 15 minutes every two hours. Whatever works best in allowing you blocks of time to focus on single tasks.
  • Schedule your social media use as well. We do not have to answer every tweet and message immediately. Let your friends and family know that you respond to messages at set times.

Putting these 4 tips into practice will help you escape the trap of multitasking. You will find yourself more productive. Your mood will likely improve…and your family will definitely appreciate that!

The Heartbeat of a Hug

Parents hug their children as an expression of affection, comfort, and joy…and because we like to hug them. Even as adults we recognize a hug as a communication of love, comfort, or celebration. But did you know that hugs have a physical impact on the hugger and the one hugged. A study published in 2020 in iScience confirmed this by monitoring the heart rate of infants under the age of 1-year-old while they were given a 20-second hug, held for 20 seconds, tightly hugged for 20 seconds, or in their crib for 20 seconds. The hug, holding, or tight hug was given by their parent and by a female they did not know (who had experience in childbirth and childcare). Some of their findings you might expect. For instance,

  • Children four-months-old and older exhibited a slower heart rate when hugged by a parent. They physically relaxed when hugged by their parent.
  • They did not exhibit a slower heart rate or physically relax when hugged by a stranger, even though the “stranger” in this experiment had experience in childbirth and parenting. Experience with children and infants does not replace the hug of a parent!

Some results were a little more unexpected. For instance,

  • The parents’ heart rate also slowed when they hugged their children. Parent and child both physically relax when a parent hugs their child. 
  • The children did not exhibit a slower heart rate or physically relax when simply held or hugged tightly, even if it was their parent.  This suggests that a child can differentiate a hug from simply being held and from being held “tightly” (perhaps as a parent holds the child to protect them or while experiencing their own fear or negative emotion.)   It is not just physical contact that impacts heart rate and relaxation but an affectionate, loving hug.

This study reveals the heartbeat of a hug for infants and parents. But I wonder if this ever changes in life. Who doesn’t relax into the arms of a spouse’s hug? Who doesn’t rejoice in the hug of their teen? And, if truth be told, what teen doesn’t really enjoy the occasional affectionate hug of a parent? The heartbeat of a hug is more than just a slowing of the heart and physical relaxation. The heartbeat of a hug is a life-giving, joyous celebration of connection. Today, share a few hugs with those you love and experience the heartbeat of a hug!

Helping Your Child Become Likeable: A Barrel of Fun

Children love to have fun…and having fun is no laughing matter. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Personality (2020) suggests that fun is one of three traits (prosocial behavior, leadership, and fun) shown to predict changes in a child’s “likeability and popularity” between the ages of nine and twelve years. This study, completed in Florida and Colombia, focused on fun. By letting peers nominate who was “likeable” and what made them likable, they discovered that children perceived by others as fun experienced an increase in the number of classmates who liked them over a two-month period. The perception of fun remained a key factor of “likeability” even after controlling for the influence of prosocial behavior, leadership, physical attractiveness, fairness, athletic ability, disruptiveness, and aggression. In other words, fun influenced likability.

Perhaps that’s not too surprising. After all, who doesn’t enjoy being around someone who is fun? But maybe we can learn something important for our families. Instilling a sense of fun into our family life may help our children learn to be fun. We often focus on teaching our children academics, sports, and manners. We teach them to listen and behave appropriately. Sometimes we become so “serious” about their academics, sports, music, and manners that we forget to teach them to have fun. And being fun is no laughing matter. How can we teach our children to have fun?

  • Model having fun. Let them see you engaging in activities and having fun. Even if you engage in a competitive sport, let them see how fun it is.
  • Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at a joke. Laugh at a funny show on TV. Laugh with your children and laugh as a family. Enjoy the moment and laugh. Teach your family to laugh because Laughter is No Laughing Matter for Families.
  • Encourage your children to do their best in their chosen activity. However, never let them lose sight of fun in that activity as well. Those who have fun are the same ones who do their best. Teach them to enjoy playing their sport or their instrument. Teach them to have fun in the activities they choose.
  • Encourage creativity. Whatever creative activities you enjoy—music, storytelling, art, photography, dance—whatever mode you may choose, enjoy creativity. (Discover Your Inner Musician is one way to encourage creativity.)
  • Play games together and make them fun. You can play anything from “Salad Bowl” to badminton. It doesn’t matter what you play. Just play and have fun. After all, it’s all fun and games…until it’s something more.
  • Tell a joke or two…or three or more. Make funny stories and jokes part of your family heritage. (My favorite joke, of course, is The Infamous Dad Joke.)

I’m sure there are more ways to teach your children to have fun. What are ways you encourage your children and your family to have fun? Don’t hold back. Share them below so we can all join in the fun and watch our children reap the benefits of learning to be fun.

Is Your Marriage Like Chocolate Cake Without Icing?

Research published from Binghamton University has verified a secret ingredient of a stronger marriage. Well…it not really such a secret. Many people know about it without ever reading the research. They would consider it common sense, a “given.” So, maybe it’s not such a secret but…well, let me just tell you about the study and what it suggests.

The researchers of this study included 184 same-sex couples over the age of 18 years in an exploration of the connection between attachment style, touch satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Not surprisingly, they found a strong association between non-sexual physical affection and a satisfying, strong marriage. Non-sexual physical affection included things like cuddling, holding hands, and hugging.

As always, there was a caveat and I found it extremely interesting. Non-sexual physical affection had a different meaning and impact for men and women. For men, the presence of non-sexual physical affection was associated with an increase in marital satisfaction. In other words, physical affection was a positive contribution to the marriage, “the icing on the cake.”

For women, however, the lack of non-sexual physical affection was associated with relationship dissatisfaction. Its presence did not necessary create greater satisfaction. Non-sexual physical affection was an essential, expected ingredient for marital satisfaction. The lack of it was a negative and resulted in a less satisfying relationship. In other words, women want non-sexual physical affection as a basic ingredient for creating a satisfying relationship.  

As I said, non-sexual physical affection is a “not-so-surprising ingredient of a solid marriage.” What is surprising is how many couples leave this ingredient out of their marriage and so never enjoy a fully satisfying relationship. According to this research, leaving the snuggle and the hug out of your marriage is like enjoying a chocolate cake without the icing (my favorite part by the way) for men.

For women, having a marriage without the snuggles, hugs, or holding of hands is like trying to eat a chocolate cake made without any sugar or sweetener; you can’t even enjoy it.

So, reach out and hold your spouse’s hand while you drive down the road or walk around the block. Cuddle up on the couch to talk, watch TV, or listen to the radio. Give several random hugs throughout the day. Fill your day with acts of non-sexual physical affection. It is a crucial ingredient to your happy marriage. (For more on the benefit of physical touch in your marriage read Six Reasons to Hug Your Family.)

A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health

I take a few supplements to promote my overall health; you know, things like vitamins, minerals, fiber. Recently, though, I have discovered an amazing supplement that decreases physical discomfort, reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep. Better yet, this supplement costs NOTHING! What is this “magic pill”? Gratitude! Wait. Don’t quit reading yet. It’s true. It’s not a pill, but it does all those things and more. Consider these examples.

  • A study published in 2015 explored the role of gratitude in 186 people with asymptomatic heart failure. Those who exhibited more gratitude also exhibited better sleep, less depression, lower levels of inflammation, and a greater sense of self-efficacy in maintaining heart functioning.
  • A study published in 2009 included 401 people and found that the more a person exhibited gratitude the better sleep quality and duration of sleep they experienced. They also exhibited fewer daytime difficulties related to sleepiness.
  • Robert Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, states that “gratitude blocks toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.” An article entitled Gratitude is Just Good Medicine (and quoting Dr. Emmons) goes on to report that gratitude is associated with higher level of “good cholesterol” and lower levels of “bad cholesterol” as well as higher levels of positive “heart rate variability,” which is equated with less stress and greater mental clarity.  Gratitude can also lower blood pressure and improve immune functioning.

The list of benefits goes on. Gratitude is a powerful supplement that can improve all our lives and the lives of our families. So, here is your prescription for gratitude.

  • Keep a gratitude bullet journal for a month. Everyday write 3 bullets of things for which you are grateful. For instance, today I am grateful for: the rain, a car, and a bed. Do your best not to repeat any bullets; think of three different things every day. When you’re feeling down, enjoy reviewing it for a lift of spirits.
  • “Count your blessings” as a family. Family dinnertimes or during bedtime routines are wonderful opportunities to “count your blessings as a family.” Gather as a family and talk about all the things for which you can be grateful. You can even cut construction paper into strips, write one item of gratitude on each strip. Then make the strips into chain links as you loop them together to make a “blessings chain” to hang in a bedroom or family room.
  • Write letters of thanks to people within the family. Each week pick a different family member—a child, a parent, a grandparent—and create an envelop for them. Throughout the week, family members can drop short statements of gratitude and appreciation into the envelop. At the end of the week, gather as a family to read the statements of gratitude aloud for the person to hear.
  • As a family, write a letter of thanks to someone outside your immediate family. Who has had a positive influence on your family? Who has done something or given something for which you are grateful? Sit down as a family and write them a letter of thanks. Make a batch of cookies. Then take the cookies and the letter of thanks to their home. If you want, read the letter to them as you share the snack. (If you need more info on the thank you note read Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.)

These supplements of gratitude will improve family relationships, mood, and even health. It’s a great supplement. I am sharing as much of it as I can…and I’ll gladly accept it when others give it to me. How about you?  

A Little “Self-Nudge” Goes a Long Way

Have you heard of the “Quarantine 15”? Maybe you have even gained it. I know I’ve gained a good part of it. Overall, the pandemic has changed our routines, our activities, and our eating habits. It has impacted our moods, our emotions, and our relationships. We are home more, out less, and stressed more. One response to all this stress and inactivity could be choosing what is most comfortable, enjoyable, and attractive in the short run instead of choosing what’s best for us in the long run. The result? Weight gain. Binging our favorite TV shows while neglecting other important duties. Strained family relationships.

There is a way to help avoid this though. Self-nudging. Yes, self-nudging is a behavioral science term (Using self-nudging to make better choices). It describes a way of designing and structuring our environments to make it easier for us to make healthier choices. Although science refers to it as “self-nudging,” I believe we can also practice it within the loving support of our marriages and our families. When we do, it will strengthen our marriages and our families as well. Here are some ways to practice “self-nudging” in your family to promote healthier living and healthier families.

  • Use reminders and prompts. Reminders and prompts can encourage you to make healthier choices on a personal level and on a family level. For instance, putting reminders of your spouse’s birthday, your anniversary, and your children’s birthdays in your phone can prevent those important dates from “slipping your mind.” Leaving notes for your spouse or children to find that remind them of your love for them is another way to use reminders to strengthen your family. A picture in your suitcase can encourage faithfulness while on one of the many business trips you might have to make. The list goes on. Reminders and prompts can help build an environment that nudges you toward intimacy with your family.
  • Practice putting decisions into a different frame that reveals priorities. We often think of choices in light of what we want and find pleasurable in the moment. However, the choice between sitting down to play a video game or talking to my wife about childcare becomes more difficult in this frame. Perhaps, when it comes to our family, we need to frame our choices in terms of how to express love and build relationship. I want to play video games and relax. But talking to my wife about childcare expresses my love and concern for her. It allows us time together to build relationship. Or, I want to sit down and rest but taking my child to their friend’s house expresses love and allows us to have uninterrupted time to talk and build relationship. The choice becomes a little easier when we remember that higher priority of love and relationship.
  • Make the healthy things more accessible than the unhealthy. This self-nudging technique is obvious when it comes to food. For instance, keep more fruit and healthy snacks in your house than sweets and “not-so-healthy” snacks. But what about family? Not subscribing to channels that provide temptations or putting the computer in a common area of the house make unhealthy viewing less accessible. Charging children’s phones in a common area overnight rather than in their bedroom removes the temptation to stay up all night texting friends or surfing the net. Creating an environment in which your family knows you are accessible and available limits their need to turn to other people for their connection, sense of value, and desire for guidance. Keeping yourself available nudges the family toward health.
  • Build positive relationships. Support one another. Be accountability to one another. Use encouraging words to nudge one another toward health. Gentle guidance nudges families toward health. Clear, consistent rules and boundaries enforced with loving discipline will make healthy choices easier to make. Open communication and acceptance will encourage healthy choices.

These four points offers only “the tip of the iceberg” in describing what you can do in each area to “nudge” you and your family toward healthier choices. Get your family together and talk about each area. Let the whole family come up with ideas for “self-nudging” your family toward health. Write them down…and enjoy a healthy, growing family.

It’s All Fun & Games Until… It’s Something More

Teaching our children to be helpful and generous is all fun and games…at least in part. That is what I learned from a study published in November 2014. Actually, it was a series of four studies. The first study involved 1- and 2-year-olds assigned to one of two groups. In the first group, a researcher engaged a child in reciprocal play such as rolling a ball back and forth, pushing buttons on a musical toy together, or handing large rings to one another. In the second group, the researcher engaged in parallel paly with the child. Specifically, the researcher played with one set of toys while the child played with another set of toys.  After six minutes, the researcher acted as though they needed help reaching an object. Those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped the researcher get the object significantly more often than those who had engaged in parallel play.

The second study involved assigning children to the same two groups as the first study. It also added a third group in which the researcher merely sat nearby and talked to the child while he played. This time, the researcher left the room and a second researcher, who did not know which child was in which group, came into the room and exhibited a need for help. Once again, those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped significantly more often, even though the person they helped was unknown to them, a stranger.

The third study involved 3- and 4-year-olds in the same two groups as the first study: a reciprocal play group and a parallel play group. As in the second study, the researcher left the room and an assistant carried out the rest of the study. This time, rather than asking for help, the researcher offered the child 6 opportunities to give stickers to him- or herself or to the absent experimenter through the assistant. Guess what. Those engaged in reciprocal play were significantly more generous.

Finally, in a fourth study involving 4-year-olds the researcher asked two assistants to play with the child while he left the room to complete a task. One assistant engaged the child in reciprocal play for one minute. The other engaged in parallel play with the child for a minute. Then the experimenter returned. He showed the children a picture of the two assistants and asked them to point to the one they thought would give them a gift, help them open a door, or share a toy with them. The children consistently pointed to the one who engaged in reciprocal play with them.

These studies suggest that engaging our children in interactive play—play that involves sharing, taking turns, working together—nurtures their willingness to show kindness to others, even those they do not know but trust. It also increased their tendency to act generously toward others. Generous and kind children…triggered by our own interactive play with them. Simply playing a different game next to them did not promote kindness or generosity. Neither did sitting next to them and talking while they played. Getting involved in their play, interacting with them—tossing a ball back and forth, sharing play objects (dolls), or working on a project together (Legos)—promoted kindness and generosity. In other words, teaching our children to be generous and kind is all fun and games. So, be generous enough to kindly give your children the time to interact with them in play…and they will grow in kindness and generosity as well.

A Challenge for Families of Teens

The media often tells us about the challenge of teens. We hear about their fluctuating moods, out-of-control hormones, and risky behaviors. We raise concerns about the prevalence ratings of teen sexual activity, drug use, or bullying. But maybe these stories sell our teens short. Maybe there is much more to our teens than the media would suggest. In fact, research published in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology asked 191 ninth grade students to engage in five acts of kindness in a week. In response, the students completed 943 acts of kindness during that week! 94% of the teens reported completing 3 or more kind acts of kindness in response to that challenge. Not surprisingly, after completing one week of kind acts, the students showed an increase in their perception of their own kindness. Binfet, the author of this study, noted that “when encouraged to be kind, the teens surpassed expectations.”

This reminded me of a concept Tony Campolo espoused many years ago in his book Ideas for Social Action. He believed that young people are attracted to challenge more than entertainment, meaningful action rather than “pie in the sky when you die” promises. In this study, Binfet challenged students to kindness and their response “surpassed expectations.”

What does all this mean for parents and families? Perhaps, rather than focus on the challenge of teens, we need to offer our teens a challenge, a challenge to kindness, a challenge to reach out to the others in love, a challenge to live a life of service, sacrifice, and meaning. In response to the study above, Binfet suggested that our teens would benefit from parents and educators finding “ways to best structure opportunities for youth to be kind to help foster their development.” I believe this challenge begins at home. How can we, as parents, provide opportunities for our children and teens to show kindness to others? When we do, I believe we will be pleasantly surprised as our teens “surpass our expectations.” So, rather than bemoan the challenge of teens, lets challenge our teens and our selves to engage in acts of kindness.

Here is an experiment you can try this month. It is a challenge for the whole family, including your teens. Challenge every member of your family, including the teens, to engage in 5 acts of kindness every week for a month. Note the acts of kindness can be done within the family or outside the home toward friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. At the end of each week, talk about the kindnesses each one has shared and how those acts of kindness impacted you as an individual and the world around you.

Six Reasons to Hug Your Family

A hug is defined as the “holding or squeezing of someone tightly in one’s arms.”  But, in reality, a hug is much more than simply holding or squeezing another person. A hug is powerful. A hug can change a life. In fact, here are 6 reasons to hug your spouse, children, and parents on a regular basis.

  • Research out of Carnegie Mellon University suggests that receiving a hug on the day of a conflict contributed to feeling less negative emotion the day of the conflict and the day after the conflict. The hug also prevented the conflict from reducing positive emotion on the day of the conflict. In other words, a hug helps people feel better even after a conflict.
  • In another study involving 404 participants, hugs were found to buffer the stress caused by daily stressors and resulted in less severe symptoms when infected with a virus for the common cold. Want your loved ones to be less stressed and have fewer symptoms of illness? Give them a hug.
  • Hugs may boost heart health also. A study published in 2003 found that people who held hands with their loved one for ten minutes and then hugged them for 20 seconds (compared to those who simply rested for 10 minutes and 20 seconds) had lower blood pressure & less increase in heart rate during a public speaking assignment. In other words, physical affection, including a hug, reduces our reactivity to stresses and promotes better heart health.
  • A good 20-second hug releases oxytocin…and oxytocin counteracts stress, helps us relax, increases our level of trust, and increases our empathy and feelings of intimacy. You could say hugs release oxytocin and make us feel good.
  • Hugs also communicate affection and love to the other person. A hug communicates “You belong.” Who doesn’t like to know they belong? Everyone enjoys knowing they are loved. Communicate your love…give a hug.
  • Last, but not least, hugs feel good. You can feel the comfort and the relaxing of the muscles even as you feel the other person’s arms engulf you in a hug.

Hugs benefit our physical health, our emotional health, and our mental health. They communicate love and help people know they belong. Give your loved ones a hug today. Better yet, give them several hugs today.

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