Tag Archive for happiness

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.)

Get the Happiness of One Week’s Extra Salary

Imagine the happiness of receiving a bonus equal to one week’s salary. You can give your family that same amount of happiness just by doing this one thing together. A study involving 70,000 participants over a 2-year period confirmed that volunteering increases happiness. Specifically, people who volunteer are more satisfied with their lives. They also rated their overall health as better. And the more time a person spent volunteering, the greater their life satisfaction and perception of health.

This study also showed that anyone who starts to volunteer became happier over time. This held true whether the volunteers were happy or not when they began volunteering. In fact, volunteers experienced about the same increase in happiness that a person feels when receiving an extra week’s pay!

I’d love to let my family experience that kind of increase in happiness. Wouldn’t you? Good news. You can make it happen. Simply gather the family. Talk about places where your family can volunteer. Choose one and start volunteering. Give it away for family fun. Then, get ready for an increase in happiness that your whole family will enjoy.

Diet, Fitness, & Sleep…Oh My!

You can promote your family’s happiness, well-being, and even their flourishing by building a healthy family environment. It sounds too simple…too good to be true, I know. But a survey study from the University of Otago in New Zealand confirms it. In this study, researchers collected data on the sleep habits, exercise habits, and dietary habits of 1,111 young adults. They found sleep quality to be the most important health behavior predicting mental health and well-being—more than sleep quantity, exercise, and diet. That’s not to say these other factors aren’t important. They are. For instance, sleep quantity impacted depressive symptoms and well-being. Interestingly, too little sleep (under 8 hours) AND too much sleep (over 18 hours) contributed to an increase in depressive symptoms and a decrease in well-being for young adults. That middle ground, 8-9.7 hours of sleep, seemed to be the sweet spot in giving the best results for mood and well-being. (For more on sleep and creating an environment to promote quality sleep, read Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep. The information can apply to all ages.)

Physical activity also had an impact on depressive symptoms and well-being (although not as significant an impact as sleep quality). In fact, previous studies have shown that even an hour of physical activity improves mood!

Finally, eating raw fruits and vegetables impacted mood and well-being. Once again, we have to aim for the sweet spot in fruit and vegetable consumption. Less than 2 servings OR more than 8 servings lowered well-being (but not depressive symptoms). The sweet spot for improving well-being through the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables fell at 4.8 servings a day. (Another study suggested 8 servings had the greatest impact.)

So, if you want your family to experience less depression and a greater sense of well-being, get a good night’s sleep, engage in some daily physical activity, and eat your vegetables and fruits. It is well worth it to see your children in a positive mood and feeling good.

The Top 10 Ways to Promote Happiness in Your Family

Promote happiness in our families? I know I’d like to do that. How about you? Well, researchers in the UK may help us find an answer. They used smartphones to assess the happiness of “tens of thousands of individuals” engaged in various activities (39 specifically) at random times. Not surprisingly, the top activity contributing to happiness was “intimacy” and “making love.” Apparently, we enjoy intimate relationships (no surprise there). Our intimate relationships bring us happiness. That’s where we begin to promote happiness in our families…by building relationships.

The top 10 activities that brought people the greatest happiness in this study might be broadly sorted into three categories.

  • Outdoor activities like walking/hiking, hunting/fishing, gardening, birdwatching, and sports/exercising were noted to increase happiness. Each was in the top 10 activities promoting happiness.
  • A category I will call “artistic activities” also increased happiness. Artistic activities in the top 10 activities promoting happiness included theatre/dance/concert, museum/library, and singing. If we participate as an audience member in these activities, we often experience a sense of awe that can contribute to happiness. If we are a participant in the actual activity, we experience comradery and a potential syncing with other people.
  • Socialization activities contributed to happiness as well. This includes activities like talking/chatting/socializing and, of course, intimacy/making love. I would add a caveat. All the other activities listed in the top ten activities may easily involve socialization. We may engage in outdoor activities or artistic activities with other people. They may be activities that help us develop the intimacy that brings us happiness.

What does this mean for your family? You can increase your family happiness by engaging in outdoor activities and artistic activities together. Activities may range from fishing to going to the museum to singing together while gardening in the back yard. As you enjoy these various activities, socialize. Talk and chat. Enjoy one another’s company. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Now grab your spouse, your children, your parent…and get out there to nurture a happy family!

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!

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