Archive for Celebration

The Case for Getting Together with Multiple Families

How do we regulate difficult emotions? How do we get through the hard times of life without having a “nervous breakdown”? I’m sure it will be surprised no one to know friends help us manage difficult emotions and navigate difficult times. But researchers at UCLA conducted a study that suggest our friends help us “see the problem” in a new way, even a better way than if we tried to deal with it alone.

In this study, researchers showed 120 participants a series of negative images like sad faces, angry faces, or people living in poverty. Of course, these images brought up negative emotions for the participants. In the first part of this study, participants were instructed to respond in one of three ways: 1) simply allow their natural response to the image to run its course, 2) reinterpret the image or their response in an effort to feel better, or 3) listen to a reinterpretation of the image recorded by a friend who had come with them. Both groups involving reinterpretation (groups 2 and 3) felt better, but those who heard a friend offer a reinterpretation (group 3) felt even better.

It wasn’t just the friend’s voice either. A second part of the study used the act of counting to determine if the mere sound of a friend’s voice would alleviate the negative emotions aroused by the images. One group counted to themselves. A second group listened to a friend count. Listening to a friend count was no more soothing than counting to oneself. Apparently, counting does not help us deal with negative emotions, even if a friend does it. Our friend’s voice does not help us deal with negative emotions in and of itself. No, it’s our friend’s advice and counsel that help us deal with negative emotions. (The voice of your mother, on the other hand, may be the medicine that cures what ails you.)

The takeaway message is that friends help us manage difficult emotions and navigate difficult times. Leaning into our friends increases our ability to manage difficulties. In fact, we can manage difficulties better with friends than we can alone…which brings me to families.

Getting together with other families is a great way to develop friendships. Get together for a picnic or a game night, to worship or simply to share a meal will nurture and broaden your friendships with the other family. Whatever we do when we get together with other families opens the door to building relationships and finding the support we need to navigate the difficulties of life.

I remember my parents getting together our family together with other families to play games. The adults played cards while the children played other games. Friendships developed…and those friendships helped us all through difficult times.

They say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Maybe that sells the village a little short. Perhaps we could more appropriately say, “it takes a village to raise an emotionally healthy family.” Build your village. Enjoy time with other families.

The Superpower of a Compliment

March 1 was World Compliment Day, but I think we need a reminder of the importance of a good compliment more often than once a year. So, here’s a reminder of the superpower of a compliment. 

We all want our families to know how much we value them. And compliments make people feel valued. So, give your spouse a compliment. Give your children a compliment. Give your parent a compliment. Let them know how much you value them.

Compliments also reduce the negative effects of stress. What? A less stressful spouse? A less stressful child? A less stressful parent? All due to a simple, sincere compliment? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it is true. Give your family a compliment.

“Yeah, but you don’t know my family. They don’t care about compliments.” Research begs to differ. Research suggests we underestimate how good a sincere compliment will make the recipient feel. Honestly, don’t you enjoy a sincere compliment? So will your spouse, your children, and your parents.

“But if I give my family a compliment every day, they’ll get tired of it. It will become meaningless.” Not so. Sincere compliments, according to research, continue to lift the recipient’s mood every time they are offered, even when offered day after day. Compliments never grow old.

Don’t reserve March 1 for complimenting your spouse, children, and parents.  Get out there and compliment them today. Your sincere compliment will boost their positive mood. It will make them more aware of their inherit value. It will help them realize how much you value them. It will deepen and strengthen your relationship with them… and isn’t that what we really want? Give it a try. Compliment your family today and tomorrow. Compliment them every day for a month and pay attention to how this impacts their behavior and your relationship with them. You’ll love the results.

What I Learned at Family Camp This Year

Well, Terry and Jim Jones did it again. They organized another fantastic Family Camp Weekend at Camp Christian. We all laughed and cried as the speaker, Tim Hartman, taught timeless principles from God’s word. I appreciated not only his humor but his vulnerability in the memorable examples he used to support the lessons. I wanted to share a couple thoughts I found especially meaningful.

  • Our families, especially our children, need us to share our faith stories with them.  They need to hear how God is working in our lives. That means we have to open our own eyes to recognize God’s working. So, what is your faith story today? How is God working in your life and the life of your family this week? Let your family know. (This sounds like a great dinner conversation, by the way.)
  • God doesn’t need our anger. He doesn’t need us to make things work His way. He’s got it under control. In fact, “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  What does God want from us? He wants our faithful obedience…and that is challenging enough. Faithful obedience will bear witness to our families and our communities of God’s love. It will help build a loving community within our families and communities.
  • To practice a faithful obedience, we must learn to listen. Listening takes humility. Listening takes courage. Listening is an act of love and patience. I wonder what would happen if we all took even just one day a week and humbly silenced our need to be heard and listened instead, really listened to those around us? What would happen if we spent more time listening to our spouse then trying to justify our actions? What would happen if we spent more time listening to our children than in telling them what to do and lecturing them for their “mistakes”? Or, as the Tim implied, what might we accomplish if we listened intently to God and faithfully obeyed?
  • Finally, we are a tool…in the hand of God. We have a purpose. As we listen and faithfully obey, we become a tool under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Hopefully we will be as tenacious in that purpose as “Bowser the Rabbit Terror,” although I hope our purpose will be more lifegiving than the tenacious Bowser’s purpose was.

Family camp is more than just the formal times of worship and teaching though. It’s a wonderful time of fellowship and sharing. I especially love to see families engaged in activities with their children and other families. This year I was even allowed the opportunity to help build a dam with the teens and children present. I experienced the joy of following their direction as they constructed a stone dam, create a small, refreshing pool we could sit in and play. I thank them for allowing me to participate in this work with them.

All in all, we had a wonderful time of fellowship, fun, and learning. Thanks Terry and Jim putting it all together. Thanks for all who led in singing, prepared meals, served the food, cleaned, and gave devotions. Thanks for allowing us to enjoy the time together. Looking forward to another great one next year.

For Your Family’s Sake, Go To Bed

Every mother knows that ta lack of sleep tonight leads to an irritable child tomorrow. Now, a study that monitored 2,000 adults over an 8-day period reveals that a lack of sleep impacts adults as much as it does children. This study also provides a little more specific look at that impact. Let me share 3 things this study revealed.

  1. Adults who got more sleep reported higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions than those who got less sleep.
  2. Stressful events did NOT lessen positive emotions the day after a good night’s sleep like they did after a poor night’s rest.
  3. A good night’s sleep contributed to an “even greater boost in the positive emotions experienced the next day.” In other words, positive emotions were even better after a good night’s sleep.

These findings reveal how sleep impacts each of us. However, these results also show how sleep impacts our families. First, a lack of sleep contributes to irritability, which can harm family relationships over time. Second, positive emotions build stronger family relationships. A lack of sleep robs us of positive emotions. Getting enough sleep, on the other hand, prepares us to experience and enjoy positive emotions…and positive emotions cultivate greater intimacy.
So for the sake of your family, get to bed. Develop a good sleep habit.

Here are some hints to help you get a better night’s sleep.

  • Keep a regular bedtime and “wake up time.” Go to bed at a similar tune every night and set your alarm to get up at the same time every morning. This will contribute to a good night’s rest.
  • Limit light and noise in the room where you sleep. We sleep best in quiet, dark spaces. Make your room conducive to sleep.
  • Turn off screens 90 minutes before bed. Screens stimulate us and cause us to “forget the time.” We may decide to “check one thing” on our phone only to realize later that we “should have been asleep two hours ago.” Plus, the screen’s “blue light” interferes with our sleep. In fact, you might consider purchasing glasses with a “blue light filter” if your work demands you use a computer often. (Here is the enemy of teen sleep that may be the enemy of your sleep.)
  • If you are unable to fall asleep after about 30 minutes, get up and go into another room. Engage in some activity that will not arouse or stimulate you. Return to your bed when you are ready to fall asleep.
  • Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime. Studies suggest that a warm bath or shower helps people fall asleep quicker, sleep longer, and sleep more efficiently.
  • If worries about tomorrow keep you awake, write out a to-do list. Research suggests that the more specific the list, the faster people fall asleep.
  • Relax your body. Go through a progressive muscle relaxation routine. You can also focus on your breathing and relax.
  • Spend some time in nature every day. People sleep better after enjoying nature.
  • Exercise is also associated with better sleeping and sleep habits. Take time to exercise on a regular basis. It will help you sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

Not Enough Time in the Day to Find Happiness?

Have you ever said, “There are not enough hours in the day”? I know I have. I’ve felt the crunch of having too much to do and not enough time to get it done. I hate to admit it, but I even get grumpy and agitated when I feel pressured for time. Sometimes I ignore everyone and rush around trying to get everything done. Have you? If you have, you’re not alone.

Feeling the time crunch, however, has an impact on our emotional health and our families’ health. It interferes with our relational intimacy, and it limits our joy within the family.  It makes us feel disconnected and alone, even when surrounded by our loved ones. We might even begin to feel like “they just don’t care.” Fact is, we would be wise to look at the priorities undergirding our time crunches and how we use time. As we do, we might identify what Ashley Whillans calls “time traps” in her book Time Smart. As we identify them, we may want to change them. Let me share a few.

  • Believing busyness reflects status. Our society encourages us to think that the busiest people are the most important people, the most powerful people. This is not necessarily true. Even if it were true, do you want your family to see you as important and powerful or happy and kind? I’m going for happy and kind.  
  • Technology robs us of time. “Taking a moment” to check out a social media app or watch a couple videos can easily fall into half an hour, an hour, or even all afternoon. Playing a video game for “a second” can suck up hours of our time. Technology robs us of time before we even know it.
  • “Idleness aversion,” or being uncomfortable with boredom drives us to be constantly busy. In reality, having a period of time in which we have nothing to do is healthy. It’s true. “Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development…are the happiest people in the world” (Wm Lyon Phelps). “He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul’s estate” (Henry David Thoreau). Take time to improve your soul’s estate.
  • Undervaluing time and its importance in our emotional health. Investing in saving time is an investment in happiness.
  • Making future commitments with the false belief that you will have more free time later. You will not have more free time unless you put away these time thieves and start practice some of the time savers below.

So how can you become “time smart” and so promote your family health? Here are some time savers.

  • Turn off your cell phone for a day or during certain parts of the day. For instance, turn off the cell phone for dinner. Turn off the cell phone while out with family. Unplug for family fun. Doing so will help you avoid distraction and remain present for the moment. In so doing, you’ll enjoy the time.
  • Slow down and savor experiences. Rather than “rush through” a meal, savor the flavor, the conversation, and the company. (Learn how savoring equals a stronger marriage.)
  • Look for opportunities to experience awe. Awe increases our patience and our willingness to give of our time to others. It increases our happiness and sense of social connection. Learn to use the power of awe for your family’s health and well-being.
  • Be wise in making life decisions. Living a 3,000 square foot house demands more time than a 1,500 square foot house…and the smaller house may still satisfy all your needs. Living an hour from work takes more time from family than living 20 minutes from work. Certain jobs demand more time than others. Extracurricular activities for children and adults demand time that can take up family time. Make time part of the equation when deciding about activities, work, and living space.

How we manage time is an essential component in our personal well-being and in our family health. Learning to be “time smart” can increase your family health, providing more time for intimate interaction and fun together.  Take a little time and learn to be time smart…you and your family will be glad you did.

Be the Inspiration Your Family Needs

We all want to inspire our families to live a better life, don’t we? I know I do. I want my life to inspire my spouse and my children to live a more fulfilled life, a life filled with joy and the pursuit of dreams. Now, a review of 88 studies involving 25,000 participants reveals one great way we can inspire our family to act in kindness and generosity. Surprisingly, it’s really pretty simple too. What is it? Let your family see you engaging in acts of kindness and generosity. Let them witness you comforting someone, leaving an extra tip, acting cooperatively, getting another family member a drink, or some other act of kindness. It’s as simple as that. Let them see you being kind.

This review of studies revealed kindness is contagious. So, when your family witnesses your act of kindness, they will be inspired to act in kindness as well. Here are a couple of caveats to keep in mind though:

  • If you want your family to witness your kindness, you have to engage in acts of kindness and generosity. I know that seems obvious, but I still wanted to say it. To inspire kindness in your family, you need act in kindness around them.
  • Ironically, your act of kindness will inspire your family to act kindly whether your family witnesses the kind action in person or they hear you talk about it. So, create times in which your family can share stories about acts of kindness that they engaged in or saw others engage in. If you’re not sure when to have this kind of conversation, consider doing it over a family dinner. This would make a wonderful family discussion over any family dinner.
  • Another rather obvious caveat but…. You have to spend time with your family in order for them to witness your acts of Kindness or to hear the stories of your kindness. Spend time with family every day.
  • Finally, don’t expect your family to show kindness in the same way you do. The review of 88 studies cited above reveals that people do not simply mimic the kindness they witness. Instead, they “take on the prosocial goal and generalize it” to engage in acts of kindness that may differ from what they witnessed. So don’t expect your family to imitate your kindness. Instead, celebrate their unique expressions of kindness.

You can inspire your family to kindness simply by engaging in acts of kindness yourself. In the process, kindness just might become one of the defining characteristics of your family. I can live with that, can’t you? And that identity of being a “kind family” might just spill out into your community, inspiring your community to become a community of kindness… and wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Death by Marriage

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I am an advocate for marriage. A happy, healthy marriage is a little taste of heaven. Studies even suggest that people sharing a happy, healthy marriage live longer, have fewer strokes, and survive major operations more often, and more ( 10 Science-Based Benefits of Marriage for Your Health – Healthy Hints). But those are the consequences of a healthy marriage. An unhealthy marriage, one in which partners are “dissatisfied,” can kill you, especially if you’re a male.

A study published in 2021 followed 8,945 men for 32 years while assessing their medical data, lifestyle choices, and marital satisfaction. After 32 years, 5,736 of the men had died. Men who were dissatisfied with their marriage were 19% more likely to die than those who reported being satisfied with their marriage. This increased risk of death was similar to the increased risk of death for smokers compared to non-smokers or for physically inactive people compared to active. More specifically, fatal strokes were 69% more common among those who reported an
unsuccessful (AKA—dissatisfying) marriage compared to those reporting having a very satisfying marriage. In other words, an unhealthy marriage is a health risk factor.

Rather than risk death by marriage, commit to improving your marriage and act on that commitment.

  • Read a good book on marriage with your spouse. More than simply reading it, put the ideas and principles discussed in the book into action. A great book to start might be John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (read a review here).
  • Find a good marital therapist. Many couples wait until they are at their whit’s end to find a marital therapist. By that time, they harbor resentment, and one person has often already decided to leave.  Find a marital therapist before it gets to that point.  Start working to improve your marriage when you find yourselves feeling just a little disconnected and don’t know how to fix it.
  • Attend a marriage education seminar or workshop every year. Take the ideas and principles you learn in the workshop and apply them for the rest of the year. Make them the habits of your successful marriage.

These ideas are ways for you to learn about one another and strengthen your marriage. Each one can teach you to turn toward one another and work as a team. They can help you rediscover and express what you admire in your spouse. And they can help you learn the importance of daily habits to keep your marriage strong. That may not fix everything immediately. You may still argue and have bad days. But you will find your marriage on an upward path of growing health, happiness, and life…rather than stumbling down the path of death by marriage.

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.

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