Tag Archive for happiness

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?

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

Teach Your Child Happiness? You Bet

Who doesn’t want happy children? We all do…well, at least I know I do. But we often forget to teach them the skills and mindsets that contribute to happiness. No worries. It’s not too late. Now is the best time to start teaching them happiness. And here are 7 lessons to get started.

  • Teach your children gratitude. Happy people, just like the rest of us, have plenty of things to complain about but they have learned to focus on those things they are grateful for. They have learned to “give thanks in all things.” Teach your children to practice gratitude.
  • Teach your children to find their “flow.” Flow is an experience in which a person is fully immersed and involved in an activity they enjoy. Flow leaves us feeling energized and fulfilled. It is intrinsically rewarding and motivating. Help your child find those activities that give them a sense of flow. Such activities may include sports, dance, music, reading, yoga, hiking, or many others [For more read What is Flow in Psychology: Definition and 10+ Activities.].
  • Teach your child to celebrate the achievements of other people. Teach them there are plenty of opportunities for success and achievement to go around. Celebrate the successes of others. It is a great pathway to happiness.
  • Teach your child to take healthy risks. Teach them to enjoy an adventure, to leave their comfort zone to try something new or to go someplace new. People who try new things, meet new people, and go to new places tend to experience happiness as well.
  • Teach your children to persist. One way to do this is by acknowledging their efforts instead of their achievements. Acknowledging effort encourages persistence, even in the face of obstacles. Persistence contributes to happiness.
  • Teach your children to share. Studies have shown that toddlers who choose to share exhibit greater happiness. When you nurture your growing child’s willingness to share, you also nurture their happiness for a lifetime.
  • Teach your child that you love them. Remember, children have two currencies for love: time and attention. So spend time with your children. Engage them daily, even multiple times a day. Follow their lead in an activity. Recognize and acknowledge their contributions to the home, their efforts in school and their involvement in the community. Learn about their interests.

These seven things may not sound like much on the surface, but they will bring your child greater happiness…and that makes most parents happy as well.

The Pause of Gratitude

An article in Anthropology & Aging (2020) explored the impact of gratitude on the “quiet hope” and contentment of seniors. The people interviewed for the article engaged in a “pause of gratitude.” This “pause of gratitude” went much deeper than mere thankfulness. It focused on the interconnections of life, the social networks and the supports we all cherish.  It kept the social meaning and identity of each person in the forefront of our mind, enhancing their identity, their security, and their hope. As I read this article, I realized how important the “pause of gratitude” is for the whole family, not just seniors. In fact, we can all practice the pause of gratitude in our lives now and even begin teaching it to our children at any time. When we do, our lives will take on new meaning and hope. How can we help each of our family members develop a “pause of gratitude”?  Through many small daily acts of recognition and expression.

When the author of this article interviewed people, he noticed they would often stop in the midst of their narrative and take a very brief pause before expressing gratitude for some experience or some person in their life. This represents one aspect of developing the “pause of gratitude.” Practically, it involves the regular use of phrases like:

  • I am grateful for….
  • I’m glad that this person….
  • It’s good to….
  • It’s so nice to….
  • Thank you for….
  • I remember when this person…. That was nice.

These phrases are spoken on a regular basis when we remember people in our lives or the experiences we have enjoyed. These phrases can also be spoken at the time of an enjoyable experience as well. A wonderful way to practice this aspect of the “pause of gratitude” involves taking a pause with your family before bed or at the dinner table. During that pause, recall people and experiences from the day for which you are grateful. As you or a family member recall the people or experiences you find grateful, simply acknowledge your gratitude.

Another way to nurture the “pause of gratitude” involves the way we phrase statements about our actions, which in polite Japanese language is different than our western statements.  An example in the article explains that rather than saying “I volunteered,” a person would state “I was allowed to volunteer.” Notice, the statement “I volunteered” focuses on the individual. “I was allowed to volunteer” puts us in relationship with those who allowed us to volunteer. It allows us to express gratitude for the opportunity to volunteer by attuning us to the role of others in our actions. How might our sense of gratitude change if we began to say things like:

  • I was allowed the opportunity to learn from you (my teacher).
  • I am grateful you allowed me to eat lunch with you.
  • I was given the opportunity to worship with my church family.
  • Thank you for giving me the chance to talk with you.

Finally, the author noted one practice we might enjoy as a family. It involves focusing on three specific questions in relation to a significant person in our lives: 1) what have I received from this person, 2) what have I returned to this person, and 3) what trouble have I caused this person. As you can imagine, this brings to light the debt of gratitude we owe so many in our lives—for favors, support, or kindness. This activity might form the basis of a letter of honor we could give to someone as a family. (See Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.)

Ironically, practicing the “pause of gratitude” reflects on the past but grounds us in the present with a feeling of thanks. But it does not stop there. It casts hope into the future that we will experience such positive events and people again in coming days. Don’t you think you and your family would benefit from such a hope?

Family Happiness is for the Birds

Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds? Creepy…but recent studies show birds play a very different role in our lives and the lives of our families. For instance, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research explored the data collected from 6,000 people living in 26 European countries and from a variety of socioeconomic levels. They discovered that the richness of bird species in their living environment was positively associated with life-satisfaction. The greater the bird species in an area, the greater life-satisfaction people in that area reported. In fact, a 10% increase in bird diversity led people to report an increase in life satisfaction equal to the life-satisfaction reported when a person experienced a 1.53 increase in their salary.

You might be thinking, “Birds? What are you talking about? That’s crazy!” I know. That was my initial thought as well. But think of the joy you feel when you see the first robin of spring. Last spring, we saw orioles in our neighborhood for the first time and it was genuinely exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Another study in 2017 involving 1,023 participants who lived in an urban setting explored the impact of vegetation cover and bird diversity on depression, anxiety, and stress. In particular, experiencing bird diversity in the afternoon decreased participants’ experience of depression, anxiety, and stress. Additionally, having 20-30% vegetation cover in an area resulted in enough bird diversity to reduce the severity of depression, anxiety, and stress. “Is it the birds or the vegetation cover?” you might ask. The researchers couldn’t say for sure. But a more recent study may shed some light on how to answer that question.

For a study completed in 2020, researchers hid speakers that played a variety of bird songs along sections of a popular hiking trail in Colorado. By using the speakers, researchers could adjust the perceived diversity of bird songs along the trail. Researchers then interviewed hikers about their experience along the trail. Those who experienced a greater diversity of bird songs reported improved well-being. They also reported feeling better about life and about their hiking experience than those who heard fewer bird songs. One of the researchers said they were “kind of flabbergasted” that only 7-10 minutes of exposure to greater bird diversity led to participants experiencing improved well-being. “Flabbergasted. ”  I like that word. Frankly, I’m flabbergasted myself.

What does this mean for your family? It means that taking the opportunity to hear bird songs offers another way to enhance your family’s happiness. Birds! Not Alfred Hitchcock’s birds, but the birds in your own community. Here are a few ideas to gather birds so you can hear their song.

  • Put some bird feeders in your yard. Include a hummingbird feeder and a finch feeder. Plant some flowers that will attract birds. Then sit down with your family and enjoy the show. Count how many different types of birds you see?
  • Take a family trip to an aviary. You’ll see birds from all over the world and get to listen to their songs. And, you can have great family fun nights at the aviary.
  • Go for a family walk or hike through a local park. Enjoy your time together in nature and listen for the birds.
  • You might even purchase a CD of bird songs or download forest sounds filled with bird songs and play it quietly in the background at home. It may not be quite the same as the outdoor experience, but…who knows?

These activities are not for the birds. They are for you and your family. Enjoy the experience and the increased life satisfaction your family will gain as well.

Feeling Negative? Pessimistic? Put on a Smile

It is easy to get caught up in the stress and turmoil of life. When we do, we begin to view the world through a negative and pessimistic lens. We might grow a little more depressed or anxious. Maybe you have felt yourself growing more negative or pessimistic in response to the stresses of life. Maybe you’ve even noticed your child, your spouse, or your parent becoming more depressed, negative, anxious, or pessimistic. If so, you also know the pain this can create. But now you can thank researchers from the University of South Australia for revealing a way to change that downward spiral. And it’s as simple as…smiling!

Researchers at the University of South Australia stimulated the facial muscles of study participants to replicate the movements of a genuine smile. They did this by having them hold a pen between their teeth. They discovered that the activation of “genuine smile muscles stimulated the person’s amygdala, which then stimulated the release of neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive outlook.”

“So what?” you might ask. Let me explain. Stimulating the facial muscles of a genuine smile contributed to an increased ability to recognize other people’s positive facial expressions and body movements. In other words, participants became less negative and less pessimistic while becoming more accepting and inviting when the muscles of a genuine smile were engaged. Previous studies have shown that stimulating the facial muscles of a genuine smile increases a person’s ability to overcome stress more quickly as well. Combining these studies, we discover that engaging the muscles of a genuine smile helps a person become more positive, increases our ability to recognize other people’s positive facial expressions and body movements, and increases our ability to soothe ourselves more quickly when stressed.

But what does this mean for you and your family? How can your family reap the benefits of stimulating the facial muscles of a genuine smile? After all, we can’t walk around with a pen clenched between our teeth all day. How can we use this information to help our families? Here are 3 ideas.

  1. Smile. Smile when you see your family. Let them see your pearly whites in a genuine smile. Remember, a large percentage of learning comes through observation. When you smile, your family is more likely to smile with you. In other words, smile for a happier family.
  2. Encourage your family to smile. Tell a “dad joke.” Watch a funny movie. Listen to a comedian. Play a game your children enjoy. Be silly. Have fun. Smile.
  3. If all else fails, you can always have the whole family walk around for twenty minutes clenching a pencil in their teeth

Whatever you choose, bring a smile to your face and to your family. Everyone will be glad you did.

The New Order of “Awe-Walkers”

Would you like your family to experience more happiness? Less upset? Greater social connection? If you answer yes, the New Order of Awe-Walkers invites you to join their ranks. It’s free (well, I just made it up) and the required activities can be completed in as little as 15 minutes a week. I decided to start the New Order of Awe-Walkers in response to a recent piece of research. In this research, a group of people in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s were divided into groups by researchers affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco. Both groups were asked to go for a 15-minute walk once a week for 8 weeks. Both groups were also asked to take a “selfie” during their walk and send it to “the lab.” Finally, both groups were asked to complete a daily on-line assessment of their mood.

Only one group, however, was given instructions to cultivate awe as they walked. Specifically, they were asked to walk somewhere new, pay attention to details, and see “everything with fresh, childlike eyes.” This group became the “awe-walkers.” The other group simply went for a walk.

Not surprisingly, the “awe-walkers” improved their ability to discover and amplify awe. They also reported greater happiness, less feeling of upset, and greater feelings of social connection than the “non-awe-walkers.”

Even more surprising to me, the “selfies” taken by the “awe-walkers” changed over the time of the experiment. The “awe-walker,” although still in the “selfie,” became less focal to the picture and even secondary as the scenery around them grew more prominent and focal. In a sense, the world became larger. They became a little less self-focused in their selfie and more “a part” of a larger, more awe-inspiring world.

Based on this research, I invite your family to join the New Order of “Awe-Walkers.” To join only involves two steps… make that three.

  1. Commit to going for a 15-minute walk with your family every week.
  2. While walking, pay attention to the details around you. Intentionally see “everything with fresh, childlike eyes.”
  3. Talk with your family as you walk, sharing with one another what each one finds “awe-
    some.”

That’s it. Just fifteen minutes once a week to enjoy an “awe-walk” with your family….and then share the increase in happiness and social connection it will produce. Won’t you join the New Order of “Awe-Walkers”? (For more on the power of awe for your family read Using the Power of Awe for Your Family.)

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