Archive for Honor

Spread the Happy Contagion…of Kindness

Couldn’t the world use a little more kindness these days? I know I’m in favor of increasing the kindness around here—in my home and my community. And, I have a plan to do it, starting with my family. I’m going to show kindness to as many people as I can every day. I’m going to engage in simple things—things like holding the door open for someone, saying “thank you,” helping to carry groceries, offering  assistance whenever I can, smiling—you get the idea, simple acts of kindness.

You may be asking, “What good will one person showing kindness do?” First, it will do wonders in our families. Even more, as we practice kindness in our families, it will spread beyond our families to our communities because kindness is contagious. A recent review of 88 studies involving 25,354 participants over the last decade revealed that being nice to others is highly contagious.  Note those last two words…”highly contagious.” This review pointed out a couple of important facts about the contagion of kindness.

  • Helping others increases our happiness more than helping ourselves does. Interesting, isn’t it?  Start practicing kindness toward others. It’s for your own good.
  • Seeing other people benefit from kindness motivates us to share kindness more than receiving kindness ourselves. So, let your children see you being kind to their other parent. Let your spouse see you being kind to your children. Let your family see you being kind to those in the community. It will motivate them to engage in acts of kindness as well.
  • People don’t just imitate acts of kindness they see others perform. They modify, improvise, and adjust those acts of kindness. They create their own acts of kindness. Seeing kindness inspires them to engage in kindnesses beyond what they saw.

Yes. I am going to do it. I am going to increase my kindness within my family and my community. My spouse and children will witness this kindness and be inspired to engage in their own acts of kindness. I will witness their acts of kindness and be inspired to engage in even more kindness. The upward cycle will begin. Even our neighbors will witness our kindness and catch it. The contagion will grow and perhaps, in time, we will have a community of people engaging in kindness. Wouldn’t that be a change? A miracle? A relief! Will  you join me?

Do Your Kids This Favor

I know. It sounds obvious. But children thrive when their parents have a loving relationship. It makes sense. For the couple, research shows sharing life with a long-term loving partner has many benefits, like a longer lifespan, less incidences of heart disease, greater financial well-being, and greater life satisfaction. All of this benefits the children living with happily married parents as well. Even more, children living with happily married parents experience benefits beyond parents that live longer, healthier, and wealthier!

In fact, kids thrive when their parents are in love. A study completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2009 suggests that the quality of the parents’ marriage contributed as much to their children’s future mental and physical health as the children’s relationship with the either individual parent. Other studies have shown that children who live with parents who love each other stay in school longer and exhibit fewer challenging behaviors. Living with happily married parents simply creates an environment more conducive to happiness than parents who argue, fight, and threaten. Happily married parents provide children with a sense of security. In other words, your healthy marriage is important to your children’s physical and mental health.

So, how do you keep your marriage strong and loving? One way to keep your marriage strong is to spend time together. Time spent together and attention are the currencies of strong relationships, even in marriage. Here are some hints to spend time together.

  • Go for a walk together.
  • Schedule a time to talk everyday over coffee.
  • Try a new activity together.
  • Put a movie on, snuggle up on the couch, and watch it together. You can even use the movie as a starting point to talk about your Love Story.
  • Eat one meal a day together.
  • Practice Gottman’s “Magic Five Hours.”
  • Find a babysitter and have a date night. If you can’t afford a babysitter maybe you can make a deal with a family friend. You can watch their children one night and they can watch your children another day.
  • Have a picnic in the back yard. Stay out late enough to enjoy the stars.
  • Go to the park. 

Spending time with your spouse is a gift you give to your spouse, your children, and yourself. It strengthens your marriage and creates a happier home in which your children can thrive. What are your favorite ways to spend time with your spouse?

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!

“Stop Trying to Fix Me!”

“Stop trying to fix me!” Has your partner or child ever said that to you? Have you ever said it yourself? “Stop trying to fix me!” When people in our lives experience struggles or problems, they generally do not want us to fix it for them. They want connection…and connection involves empathy. Unfortunately, empathy does not always come naturally. The desire to “fix it” and “make them feel better” is often what comes naturally to us. We hate to see our loved ones hurt. We want to “make them feel better,” to “fix the problem.” So, rather than show empathy, we unknowingly say things that minimize and invalidate their feelings, things like…

  • “It could be worse….” During their painful situation, your loved one will find it hard to imagine anything worse. Besides, they do not want to think about something worse. They want someone to listen. They want someone to accept their feelings. They want you to hear their pain and validate their emotions.
  • “This could turn out well if you just….” No one really wants to take the moment of pain or sorrow to learn. There will be opportunities to learn after they navigate the current pain. Instead, your family member desires you to “be with them” in the moment, to “sit with them” in their struggle and support them through the pain.
  • “When one door closes, another door opens.” Many people have described the pain of this statement to me. It invalidates their current pain and implies that a person can only have one positive experience in their life at a time, one open door at a time. Instead, your family member simply needs to mourn the door that closed before moving to another door.
  • “It’s not that bad. I remember when….” This statement comes across as a “one-up” statement. It comes across as though you are minimizing the current pain by saying, “You want to know pain. I have felt pain. Your pain is nothing compared to mine.”

Statements like those above (and there are many others) are generally made with good intentions. They represent an effort to “make the other person feel better” and ease their pain. Unfortunately, they have the opposite effect. They make the other person feel unheard, devalued, and even more upset. Why? Because at the root of our emotions, we want connection and empathy, not “fixed.” We want to know we are understood and that our emotions are accepted. After we understand our emotions and know another person has accepted our emotions, we can work at resolving those emotions and finding a solution. 

So, instead of “trying to fix” your spouse, your children, or your parent, use these four skills to empathize.

  • Listen without judging. Hear more than just the words. Listen for the emotions underlying the words. Knowing that another person hears us deeply and has the strength to witness our struggle, gives us more strength to manage the struggle effectively. (Remember, the art of listening is more than responding.)
  • Identify and label emotions. Labeling an emotion puts a buffer between our emotion and our actions. It helps us avoid impulsive reactions and empowers us to respond appropriately instead. (Check out these 6 tips to make your children’s emotions your friend.)
  • Sit with them in the emotion. Walk a mile in their shoes. Allow yourself to experience their emotion to some degree. Maybe you have not had the exact experience yourself, but you have endured the human experience. You have experienced the joys, triumphs, pains, and struggles of humanity. Be vulnerable and sit with your family member in their emotion.
  • Summarize and validate their perspective and emotions. This will facilitate organizing their emotions as well as the opportunity to develop a potential response to the emotions.

When we “stop trying to fix” our family we are free to listen deeply and lovingly “be with them” in their struggle, to empathize and validate. By doing so, we open a door to future solutions. Perhaps more importantly, we open the door for deeper intimacy and love.

What Your Family Needs Now…

What the world, and your family needs now is NOT love, sweet love. No. your family needs a specific type of response from you, especially during these uncertain times. Sure, this response falls under the category of “loving action,” but many (including me) have missed the mark at times. A study published in the Journal of Communication revealed how we can hit the mark, and even the bull’s eye, more often. In this study, the authors recruited 478 married adults who had recently experienced an argument with their spouse. They offered these adults one of six types of supportive while talking to them about their disagreement. These six responses types ranged from low to moderate to high in “person-centeredness.”

Low “person-centered” responses were critical and challenged the person’s feelings… statements like, “Nobody is worth getting so upset about. Stop being so depressed.” Or “I don’t know why you’re so upset. You do the same thing.” 

High “person-centered” responses recognized the person’s feelings and may have even invited them to discuss or explore those feelings… statements like, “Disagreeing with someone you care about is hard. It makes sense you’re upset.” 

Which response elicited the best results? Well, not the low “person-centered” responses. These responses created resistance and anger in the person. They did not help the person manage their emotions or resolve their marital disagreement. In fact, they often led to the person feeling criticized and experiencing more negative emotions.

The high “person-centered” responses led to greater emotional management. The person felt validated and free to discuss their thoughts and feelings. This contributed to a move to resolution. In other words, high “person-centered” responses proved more effective in helping a person resolve marital conflict.

In our families, arguments and disagreements will arise. How you respond to those disagreements can lead to feelings of resistance and anger or to feelings of validation and acceptance. Your response can contribute to escalating disagreement or quicker resolution. The more “person-centered” your response, the more acceptance and validation your family member will feel…and the more quickly you will reach resolution. What would high “person-centered” responses look like?

  • High “person-centered” responses involve listening intently to understand even before speaking.
  • High “person-centered” responses express acceptance. They seek to recognize and validate the emotions and feelings of the other person, your spouse.
  • High “person-centered” responses recognize, respect, and accept your spouse’s experience, even if it seems different than your own.
  • High “person-centered” responses express sympathy, care, and concern for your spouse…even if you do disagree. It communicates that your relationship is more important than your disagreement.

Next time you find yourself in an argument with a family member, do an experiment. Focus on giving high “person-centered” responses. Listen to understand. Communicate acceptance and respect. Validate their emotions and their experience. Express care and concern. See if the resolution comes more quickly, if the intimacy feels more secure, and if you and your family member are more content with the process. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Intimacy…It’s Easier Than You Think

Intimacy—the state of having a close, familiar, and loving personal relationship with another person. We all desire intimacy in our marriages. More specifically, we all desire mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy in our marriages. But how can we develop that intimacy? It’s not as difficult as you might think. It only involves three ingredients and four steps.

First, intimacy is an interpersonal experience. It involves two or more people. For purposes of marriage, we will limit the intimacy to two people.

Second, intimacy begins with one person engaging in self-disclosure. At least one person must be courageous enough to disclose something about themselves. They might disclose information about their personal history, a life milestone, a past experience, or some emotion. The self-disclosure could be about a positive event or a traumatic event, a positive emotion or a heavy emotion. Either way, the self-disclosure represents a moment of vulnerability and a courageous invitation to connect.

Third, intimacy requires another person to pay attention to that self-disclosure. In paying attention, the person does not try to fix anything or change the person who engages in self-disclosure. They simply notice the self-disclosure, acknowledge it, and express interest in it. In other words, they accept the invitation to connect by showing interest in what the person has disclosed.

These three ingredients—two people in a relationship, one person willing to courageously self-disclose, and one person willing to pay loving attention to the disclosure—combine into four steps of growing intimacy.

  • Step one: one person reveals something personal about themselves. 
  • Step two: a second person responds attentively to that disclosure.
  • Step three: the interaction becomes reciprocal with both people paying attention and disclosing.
  • Step four: the intimacy that grows through this interaction promotes more self-disclosure and attentive responding.

That’s all there is to it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But these simple steps often present a challenge to us. If you accept the challenge, however, the rewards have a ripple effect that will grow stronger and deeper as it expands. Each intimate interaction becomes a piece of a positive relationship history contributing to the expectation of more intimate interactions. The intimate interactions and the belief that future intimate interactions will occur increase our commitment to our relationship. Our sense of togetherness grows stronger and the safety of our relationship deeper. Self-disclosure becomes easier and paying attention more readily engaged in. And the ripples continue to grow….

4 Questions of “When” for Childhood Independence

We all want our children to grow into mature, independent adults. In fact, children benefit when their parents encourage independence. Whether doing significant chores in the home, in the yard, or in the community, children grow more confident and competent when they engage in independent, meaningful tasks. (Read Chores: The Gift of Significance for more.) But, how can a parent know which tasks their child can complete on their own? And how can a parent move their children toward greater independence in general? Perhaps answering a few questions can help parents find the answers to these questions.

First, is your child developmentally ready for this task? If they do not have the developmental ability to do the task, do not expect them to do it. Make sure any task you ask of your child is developmentally appropriate for them. Asking a child to do a task for which they are not developmentally ready to do dishonors them. It will only create self-doubt and frustration in your child that will interfere with their learning and later independence. If they are not developmentally prepared and able to do a task, do it for them.

Second, does your child know how to do the task on their own already? Is it a task they know how to do and have the ability to do? If so, ask them to do it. For instance, if they can tie their shoes, let them. Of course, the examples will change as the child grows older. Can they sweep the floor, do some laundry, make a bed? Let them do it.

Third, if your child cannot do the task on their own ask yourself, “Can they do part of the task?” Perhaps they cannot cook dinner, but they can cut up vegetables. Maybe they cannot run the lawn mower, but they can pull weeds in the flower garden. Even if they cannot wash clothes, they might have the ability and knowledge to fold the clean clothes. Whatever part of an overall task they have the ability to do, encourage them to help with that part.

Finally, if your child cannot do the task on their own already, ask: can they do it with simple instructions or help? If so, do it with them. As you complete the task with your child, you can teach them how to do it independently. Let your child help with the laundry, setting the table, preparing meals, cleaning the house, doing yardwork…. As you work together, you can teach them how to do the task well and prepare them for doing it independently when necessary. As an added bonus you get to talk and build your relationship with your child while you work together.

We all want our children to grow into independent adults. They can only do so if we begin to teach them while they are home. These four questions can help you teach your children to become more independent at a pace appropriate to their developmental abilities. (For more on how meaningful tasks benefit children while moving them toward independence, read Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do Chores.)

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.)

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