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!
Families need a healthy diet of love and connection to thrive. How do we meet our family’s dietary need for love? Some families have one big meal a day to satisfy their “love cravings.” They try to engage in some extravagant show of love once a day (at best) in hopes that it will last until the next big show of love. It doesn’t…it never will.
Other families fear there is not enough love and connection to go around. They fear it will run out so they cling and “act out” to monopolize whatever attention and “love” they can get. This doesn’t work either. It ends up pushing others away.
Others, fearing love resources are limited, dole out love in scanty portions, just enough to keep you hungry for more. Everyone ends up feeling just little disconnected, confused as to whether they are really loved or not.
A better way of maintaining a healthy diet of love and connection is by sharing small but meaningful doses of it throughout the day. A study out of Penn State published in 2020 (see The Undervalued Power of Experiencing Love in Everyday Life for a review) called these small, meaningful doses of love and connection “felt love.” Participants in this study were randomly sampled via cell phone to determine when and where they experienced “felt love,” when and where they felt a connection with another person. Two findings were of special interest to me.
Experiencing small, meaningful doses of love throughout the day led to increased feelings of optimism and purpose. In other words, if you want your spouse, children, or parents to feel greater optimism and purpose, intentionally do and say things throughout the day that will make them feel loved. Give them physical affection. Compliment them. Appreciate something about them. Serve them. Sit and talk with them. Empathize with them. Connect. They will feel love and connection…and their feelings of optimism and purpose will increase.
“Nudging study participants to be more mindful of ‘felt love,’ and encouraging people to recognize random moments of warm-heart connection actually increased their sense of being loved” (Oravecz). Simply raising a person’s awareness of “felt love” and opportunities to express “felt love” raised feelings of being loved and connected.
Based on these findings, we could do at least three things to increase the feelings of love in our families.
Encourage each family member to offer a daily diet of multiple, small, and meaningful doses of love to other family members throughout the day.
Spend time at dinner or bedtime sharing stories of when each one received love and connection during the day and how each one shared love and connection with another that day. Making this conversation a routine will “nudge” your family members to “be more mindful” of such moments.
Model the intentional sharing of small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others in your home and outside your home. Hold the door open for other people. Let the other driver merge. Share the remote. Pay for a stranger’s coffee. Be creative and share small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others, including your family.
I don’t know about you, but I think our families and our world are hungry for this kind of diet. I know I am…so I’m going to share it with my family now.
Couples have disagreements. They argue. They get angry at one another. But many couples remain happily together in spite of this. How do they do it? How can a happy couple still have marital problems? That’s the question that a group of researchers (Rauer, Sabey, Proulx, & Volling) set out to answer. To answer the question, they looked at two groups of heterosexual married couples. One group was in their mid-to-late thirties and had been married an average of nine years. The other group was in their early seventies and had been married an average of 42 years. Researchers observed the couples discussing marital problems. This is what they discovered.
couples focused on issues with clear solutions first. This involved issues like distribution of household chores or
how to spend their free time. The solutions to these problems were more concrete,
measurable so to speak. Focusing on more solvable problems built up both
partners’ sense of security in the relationship. It strengthened the sense of
“we” in the relationship as they worked to successfully solve these “issues.”
It helped to enhance intimacy.
couples rarely focused on those problems that involved more difficult
solutions. They focused less on those
perpetual problems. Perhaps more difficult-to-solve problems threatened each
partners’ confidence in the relationship. By focusing on the more solvable
problems, they built a solid base of security that allowed for the greater
possibility of solving some of the more difficult problems through willing sacrifice
and difficult compromise as well.
married longer reported fewer serious issues.
They also reported arguing less overall. This, in combination with other
research, suggests that happy couples learn to prioritize their marriage. Over
time, they come to realize that some issues just aren’t worth the argument.
They learn to choose their battles wisely.
So, how do happy couples fight? In the words of
the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones, they “choose wisely.” They choose to
focus first on those solvable problems in their marriage. Doing so builds a
foundation of trust, a strong sense of security. It is a practical way of prioritizing
the “we” of their marriage above the individual. This foundation allows
them to solve some problems that remain more difficult to resolve. As they do
this, they learn to prioritize their marriage above individual wants and
desires, even those desires one partner may believe to be a need. Ironically, they
even learn that some of those “difficult-to-solve” problems really
aren’t as essential as they use to believe. They just aren’t worth the
argument. The relationship is more important. And rather than watching their marriage
decay in the pain of bad decisions (like the man who drank from the wrong cup
in Indiana Jones), they focus on gaining the intimacy, wisdom, and joy of a
happy marriage. They “choose wisely.”
Moral thoughts—thinking good things
or things that benefit another,
Engaging in moral deeds—doing
something that benefits another, or
Doing something kind for yourself—like
relaxing or treating yourself to something nice.
Interestingly, all three things
contributed to a person’s happiness and satisfaction with life. Beyond this,
however, each thing made its own specific contribution as well.
thoughts AND engaging in moral deeds
increased feelings of being virtuous as well as social connection. They both
led to an increase in feeling empathic, moral, and grateful for the day as well.
Only engaging in moral deeds
contributed to people feeling less angry, less isolated, more in control, and
as if they had a more purposeful life. It had the greatest impact on the
greatest number of measures of well-being.
something kind for yourself led people
to feel less emotionally exhausted.
What does all this mean for you and
your family? If we want healthy families, we need to root them in an environment
that nurtures well-being. We need to teach our children to live a life that
promotes well-being. We need to model a lifestyle that nurtures well-being in
the home and in the community. We need to practice that lifestyle and the
practice of that lifestyle consists of the three things: moral thoughts,
engaging in moral behaviors, and doing something kind for ourselves. Think
about each of those three components for a second.
Thinking good things to benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Ironically, in this study, most people reported that they engaged in prayer when told to think thoughts to benefit other people. Great idea. Pray for each of your family members on a regular basis. Think positive thoughts about them. For example, dwell on things you enjoy about them and admire in them. Think about those things about your family for which you are grateful.
Do things that will benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Do a kind deed for another person. Get them a drink. Help them complete a chore. Give a compliment. Encourage. Hold the door open. You get the idea. Do something nice for the people around you, including your family, every chance you get.
Do something nice for yourself. Don’t get carried away. No need to get selfish. But we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we are emotionally, physically, and mentally rested. So, do something nice for yourself every day.
All this reminds me of one of the commands given to the Israelites and buried in Leviticus. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:9-18). Our family and our world become a better place when we love one another—thinking good thoughts about them and doing things that will benefit them. We love them better as we learn to love ourselves in a healthy way. So, I guess we better do something nice for ourselves as well. Our families will be healthier places for it. Sounds like a good plan to me. How about you?
I have good news. It comes from a study completed by Yoshihiko Koga, a professor at Kyorin University in Tokyo. He gave a group of people three spoons of ice cream to eat upon waking and then gave them mental acuity tasks to complete on the computer. The other group simply got up and completed the mental acuity tasks. And guess what?! Those who ate ice cream exhibited improved mental performance and faster reaction times than those who did not eat ice cream. They were better at processing information and exhibited an increase in alpha waves, which are associated with concentration, relaxation, and mental coordination.
Next, Professor Koga compared those
who ate ice cream with those who had cold water to make sure the improved
performance was not the result of being “shocked into alertness” by
the cold of the ice cream. Once again, those eating ice cream performed better
than those who simply had cold water.
Professor Koga believes the ice
cream may trigger positive emotions and added energy, thus producing the
results noted above. (Ahhh…ice cream does bring back wonderful memories and good
Another study conducted by neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned brains of people as they ate vanilla ice cream. They found that eating ice cream immediately activated the same areas of the brain lit up by winning money or listening to a favorite piece of music. (Imagine how it would light up if we eat ice cream while winning money and listening to our favorite music.)
If you’re like me, you might be
rejoicing that science has already shown what I have always wanted to be true:
Eating ice cream is good for you. And, even better than I ever imagined, eating
ice cream for breakfast is good for you!! Now that’s some good news. Maybe we
should all give our children 3 spoons full of ice cream before they go to
school in the morning. Can’t hurt, huh?
If you’re hesitant to go the ice cream route, remember that the researchers believed the ice cream had this effect because it triggered positive emotions. So, you can help your children prepare for the day by eliciting positive emotions in the morning. Make the morning a time of positive interactions. Here are some simple ways to do it:
Lay out clothes and pack any necessary school supplies the night before so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning.
If you’re not a morning person, get up a little earlier so you can be fully awake and pleasant before your child awakens.
Keep the conversation encouraging, friendly, and supportive.
Have a good breakfast. (Add some ice cream in if you want…it will really brighten your children’s morning!)
Last Christmas I receive The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. I love it. It describes one of the things we seek most in life, hygge. “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down” (page 6). I love hygge. I’d like more of it in my life. I work to bring it into my family. And Christmas is one of the best times to create some hygge. In fact, Christmas is one of the most hygge times of the year. Christmas is the one time a year in which “hygge is the ultimate goal of an entire month” (page 218). To make Christmas truly hyggelig takes intentional planning, thought, and effort. But it’s worth the effort because everybody wants a hyggelig Christmas. So, here are a few ideas to make your Christmas an extra hygge Christmas as well.
Fire and candles. Hygge is always greater with the natural light of flickering candles or a glowing fireplace. The natural warmth and the dancing flame that cast shadows upon all those gathered to share the Christmas season is truly hygge. So, if you have a fireplace, light it up. If not, put some candles around the room and bask in the dancing shadows of their flickering light while sharing conversation with family and friends.
Food and drink. Food is important to hygge and Christmas is a great time for food. Enjoy your Christmas dinner along with Christmas cookies and pies. You might even enjoy some special beverages like eggnog, wassail, hot chocolate, or some other family drink tradition. You can share cookies with friends and neighbors, swapping your favorites with one another. The important thing about Christmas, hygge, and food is to enjoy it all together. Share food, company, and conversation to let the hygge flow.
Comfy clothes. No need to dress up or put on uncomfortable clothes. You’re with friends and family. Put on some comfy clothes for relaxing. Your company is much more important than your dress when it comes to hygge. The interaction and the shared experience are the key ingredients of joy, not the fancy clothes. So, hang up the tie and the put away the high heels. Put on the comfy clothes and enjoy one another’s company.
Music. Music always adds to hygge. Play some music in the background. Share your favorite songs. If you enjoy playing or singing, have a sing-along. Take it on the road and do some caroling. Of course, when you finish caroling, enjoy some hot chocolate, eggnog, or some hot buttered rum as you talk about your caroling adventure in the light of candles.
Company: Friends and Family. You may have noticed how often company, friends, and family were mentioned in the above ingredients. Hygge just isn’t hygge without our loved ones around us. Enjoy your time together. Put away the phones and the I-Pads. Forget the video games and PlayStations. Pull out a board game instead. Enjoy a game of cards or “salad bowl.” Talk. Reminisce. Dream. Laugh. Enjoy one another’s company. You know it doesn’t get any more hygge than this!
Have a very merry Christmas this
year, a Christmas filled with hygge, family, and friends.
This surprising contributor to a long life was uncovered after examining data from 4,400 couples over the age of 50 and living in the United States. For eight years, these couples reported on their life satisfaction and several other factors believed to be related to longevity. Of course, this study confirmed several factors known to contribute to a long life…things like physical activity and access to resources. But, one factor was surprising. A happy spouse was associated with longer life. That’s right. Those participants who had a happy spouse tended to live longer. Those whose partners had a higher life satisfaction lived longer. It seems that higher life satisfaction (happiness) in one’s spouse led to greater physical activity and less stress for both partners. This finding held true even when other factors—like resources, physical activity, self-rated health, and partner death—were taken into consideration. In other words, spousal happiness had a positive impact on longevity of life regardless of other factors that also influence longevity. (Read a review of the study in People With Happy Spouses May Live Longer.)
If you want your spouse to have a
long and happy life, learn to love life yourself. Build your happiness…your
spouse will live longer as a result. For tips on how to do this, read:
And, if you want to live a long life
yourself, promote your spouse’s happiness. Support your spouse’s dreams.
Acknowledge your spouse’s effort. Thank your spouse for deeds done. All these
will build their happiness…and contribute to your longer life. Even more,
you’ll both enjoy your long lives together; lives filled with dreams and
adventures you enjoy together; lives filled with satisfaction, joy and
Do you want a stronger marriage? Do
you want greater happiness for yourself and your marriage? Well, one of the
best ways to get a stronger, healthier, happier marriage is to give up. It’s
true. The best way to lift up your marriage is to give up. I don’t mean giving
up on the marriage or giving up on happiness. I mean give up your own personal
desires and making your spouse’s desires your priority…give up the need to push
your own opinion and listen to understand your spouse’s opinion. Give up your
need to have it “your way” and do it your spouse’s way. Yes, sacrifice, or giving up, will lift up
your marriage. Scott Stanley, a marriage researcher who has completed several
studies regarding sacrifice in marriage, defined sacrifice as an action
in which a person freely chooses to give
up something for their spouse without resentment (italics & bold added).
This type of action, this
“giving up,” can be as simple as watching the TV show your spouse
wants to watch rather than demanding the family watch “my TV show.”
Or, it might be as simple as giving up the last piece of pie so your spouse can
Sometimes sacrifice can be life
altering, like giving up a job to move to a new town where your spouse will
begin a new and better job…or giving up time and energy to care for a spouse
going through medical treatment for a major illness.
Overall, sacrifice often involves giving up personal control and self-gratification in favor of a commitment to our spouse’s well-being, intimacy, and growth…giving up our agenda for the betterment of our marriage. The moment of “giving up” to “lift up” your marriage can be difficult. However, the dividends for that moment of struggle are amazing—long-term happiness, growing security, and deeper intimacy. So, give it up…give it up to lift up your marriage! (For more read The Lost Art of Sacrifice in Family.)
What does it mean to “be
there” for your spouse and children? We often consider “being there” as giving
comfort during tough times or caring for others in difficult situations. We
think of “being there” as supporting others when they need help. Those
are good times to “be there” for our spouse and children; but they
are not the only times we need to “be there.” We also need to
“be there” during the good times to share the pleasant news, the
times of joy, and the times happiness. In fact, sharing good news and good
times with those we love builds stronger relationships. It helps the both person
“being there,” the person we are “being there” for, and the relationship. Let
me name just a few of the many ways “being there” in good times can help a relationship.
Sharing good news or good experiences with a spouse, parent, or child who is engaged in the
conversation enhances the meaning and weightiness we attach to those joyous
times. These moments of sharing become foundational to our memory. We remember
positive experiences more vividly when we share them with someone who engages
in conversation with us about them. So, if you want your spouse and children to
have lots of good memories filled with meaning in their lives, engage them in conversation
about those events. “Be there” for them in celebrating the good news.
On the flip side, the person hearing about their loved one’s good
news or happy experience feel happier. You’ve likely had that experience.
Someone told you about their positive experience and you were genuinely happy
for them. You rejoiced with them and felt happier yourself. So, listen intently
to your family member’s good news and rejoice with them. Share genuine
happiness for their good fortune. You’ll be happier for it. Along these same
lines, share your own good news and positive experiences with your family
members. Don’t hold back and keep it secret. Let them rejoice with you. They’ll
be happier for it…and you’ll be happier that they are happier. Everybody’s
happy…sounds like a good family night of sharing.
Sharing good news and happy
experiences with one another also builds
stronger, more intimate relationships. Sharing our good experiences is
linked to relationship bonding and safety. When a person telling about their
good experience knows the listener is receptive and engaged, they feel more
secure in the relationship. To go even further, sharing good news with a
receptive family member makes us more grateful for one another, enhances our
sense of fondness for one another, and increases our dedication to one another.
Sound good? It sure sounds good to me.
Don’t just “be there” for your family during the
hard times. “Be there” for the good times as well. Celebrate the joyous occasions.
Rejoice together. “Be there” in good times and in bad.
Researchers have discovered several activities that help reduce the risk of Dementia. Things like education, regular intellectual stimulation, financial security, gardening, knitting, and a mother’s diet during pregnancy have all been shown to reduce the risk of dementia. However, one decision helped men specifically. This one decision helped men live longer and reduced their risk for dementia. Lawrence Whalley, professor of mental health in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, puts it this way, “a boy is never told what he needs to do if he wants to live a longer life. But what he should do is marry an intelligent woman.” Yes, you heard it right. Men who marry intelligent women live longer, happier lives. And, they are at lower risk for developing dementia. In fact, some men with “intelligent wives” showed physical signs of dementia in brain scans but did not experience any symptoms of the disease. Despite what the scans revealed about the structure of their brains, they were “fully functional and ‘highly intelligent.'”
So, if your wife engages you in
conversations that challenge your thinking, if she encourages adventures that
present new opportunities for learning, or if she accompanies you on
stimulating activities, take a moment to reflect on the precious gift you have
been given. She is a gift that contributes to your long and happy life. She is a
gift helping you remain mentally healthy. Why not do something today to show
her how much you appreciate her presence in your life?
PS—I told my wife about this
research. She just smiled and said, “No surprise there.” I have to say, if marrying an intelligent
woman helps a man live long, healthy, and wise…I have a lot of years left! I am
truly blessed. How about you?