Tag Archive for happiness

This Daily Experience Can Increase Your Family’s Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Activities for A Happy Family

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

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

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

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

What the COVID Lockdown Taught Us About Our Children

We have heard a lot about the negative effects of the COVID lockdown on our children’s mental health; and that is definitely a concern we need to address. However, negative effects were not uniformly reported. Some studies suggested positive effects of the lockdown on our children’s mental health. This lack of consistency aroused the curiosity of Emma Soneson, a PhD student and Gates Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge. She and her colleagues collected data from over 17,000 students (age 8- to 18-years-old) participating in a large, school-based survey called the OxWell Student Survey. For this study, the students completed questionnaires about their experiences around the pandemic, school, home, life, and relationships at the end of the first lockdown. Based on their answers, the students fell into three categories, each continuing about one third of the participating students:

  1. Those whose well-being improved during the lockdown
  2. Those who experienced no change in well-being during the lockdown
  3. Those who experienced a deterioration in well-being during the lockdown

What was different for these three groups? The answer to that question may give us good information about how to promote our children’s well-being in general, pandemic or not. So what’s different?

  • Nearly half of those reporting improved well-being also reported feeling less lonely or left out. 41% reported improved relationships with friends (as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 27% in the deterioration group).
  • Over half [53%] of those reporting improved well-being cited getting along better with family members, as opposed to 26% in the no change group and 21% in the deterioration group).
  • Those who reported greater well-being also noted a decrease in being bullied. In fact, 92% of those reporting improved well-being noted a decrease in being bullied, compared to only 83% in the no change and 81% deterioration group. Interestingly, that’s a lot of people saying bullying decreased in their life during the lockdown.
  • Another factor involved sleep. 49% of those who reported improved well-being reported sleeping more (compared to 30% in the no change group and 19% in the deterioration group).
  • Those who reported greater well-being were also those who remained in school every day
    or nearly every day versus attending once or twice. (In many areas, those with special educational needs or those whose parents feared their child falling behind through cyber school remained in school.) Some factor contributing to this group noting greater well-being may include more flexibility to tailor teaching styles to meet different learning styles, smaller classrooms, more focused attention from teachers, later waking times since the schools often had later start times, and more freedom during the school day.

Overall, this provides important information about ways in which we can promote our children’s overall well-being. Here are some ideas.

  1. Provide places for your children to engage in healthy peer relationships. This may include various clubs, sports, activities, churches, or even having their friends to your house. Provide an environment that can promote positive peer relationships.
  2. Spend time with your children. Build a strong relationship with your child. Engage them in fun activities, not just work. Invest in their interests. Share your interests with them. Enjoy your time together.
  3. Develop healthy sleep hygiene in your home. Model healthy sleep and so model for your child. Put limits on social media and cellphone usage so it does not interfere with sleep. Develop healthy bedtime routines.
  4. Watch for bullying. If your child is a victim of bullying, address it immediately. Go to the school to talk with the school staff about your child’s experience of bullying. Develop a plan to help decrease bullying. Build your child’s self-image so they can stand against bullying. If it continues, take your child out of the situation in which they are being bullied and find another place, a safe place, for them to learn.

Hopefully we are moving past this pandemic. There are, however, things we can learn and implement even after the pandemic is past. These four practices can improve our children’s sense of well-being even after the pandemic.

Want a Happy Family? Quit Trying to Find Happiness

We all want our families to experience happiness. Well, I know I want my family to experience happiness. I assume you do too. But happiness is elusive. In fact, it often seems that the more we focus on finding happiness the less happiness we find. The quest for happiness becomes self-defeating and leaves us disappointed. So, what can we do? We don’t want to live in sorrow. How can we promote happiness in our families? Paradoxically, the way to find happiness is to quit trying to find happiness. Happiness is a byproduct of other actions. So quit trying to find happiness and focus elsewhere…focus on places research has found that bring us happiness when we aren’t even trying. Let me share five places to look.

  • A study published in 2020 suggests that people who focus on positive ways to respond when things don’t go their way tend to feel happier over time. They allow themselves to feel bad at times, which allows them to experience a full range of emotions and learn how to respond to a full range of emotions. In other words, they learn how to manage positive emotions and negative emotions. If you want your family to experience more happiness, learn to respond in a positive, healthy manner when things don’t go your way and how to savor the emotion when things go well.
  • Another study noted that prioritizing behaviors and habits that lead to future well-being increases long-term happiness. Activities like exercise, working toward and achieving long-term goals, and learning, indirectly nurtured a sense of future happiness. Focus on developing good habits and routines around those activities that nurture future happiness.
  • A collection of studies suggested that engaging in activities to make someone else happy led to a greater sense of happiness than pursuing personal happiness did. In other words, happy families focus on making the other guy happy, whether the other guy is a family member or a person outside the family. Serve others. Do something nice for the other guy. It leads to a happy family.
  • This study involved over 15,000 people who reported their sense of happiness and their location multiple times a day. Results indicate that beautiful, “picturesque” areas produce feelings of happiness. People are happier in more scenic environments, and that includes man-made as well as natural scenic environments. A scenic mountain overlook or a tree-lined river walk in a downtown area will both elicit happiness. Make it a family tradition to visit and enjoy scenic spaces and enjoy the byproduct of happiness. (As an added bonus, you can experience the benefits of awe as well.)
  • Another study “checked in” with almost 2,800 people via their cellphones multiple times a day and found that people who have more “daily spiritual experiences” were happier. Spiritual experiences, those experiences that tap into transcendent feelings or feelings of connection to something greater than ourselves, reduced stress and promoted “human flourishing.”

There you have it. If you want your family to experience greater happiness, quit trying to be happy. Instead, focus on each of the tips above…and enjoy your happy family.

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.

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