A new year has begun. I’m glad. I am tired of the hassle, the bureaucracy, the constant barrage of sensational seeking in the news. I want to shed the heaviness of stress and feel the lightness of joy. So, I’ve decided to start an epidemic in my family. That’s right. I want to become ground zero for sending cheerfulness viral this year, starting right here in my own home with my own family. Perhaps you will join this epidemic to spread cheer and joy in your family and, from there, into the world around us. Here are some ways I plan to spread cheer this year.
Emoticon with big toothy smile
Smile. I am going to find reasons to smile. When I don’t feel like smiling, I will intentionally smile. I will smile at my spouse when she walks into the room. I will smile at my children every chance I get. I will smile at the clerk who rings up my groceries and even the person who cuts me off in traffic. I will smile because I’m happy to be alive. Smiling brings joy to the one smiling and the one who sees the smile. (Read On Safari for the Elusive Smile for more benefits of smiling.)
Laugh. Yes, I want to laugh. I will seek out jokes to make my whole family laugh. I will laugh at myself. I may even tell more dad jokes (learn about The Power of the Dad Joke) to create more “rolling eye laughter” among my family. A good hearty laugh is good for us. It will reduce stress and draw our families closer together. (More in Laughter is No Laughing Matter)
Show kindness. Nothing increases cheer and joy more than sharing a kind deed or being the recipient of an unexpected, kind deed. So, this year I will make it a point to show kindness to others. I will hold doors open for my family and the stranger behind us. I will give away the last cookie and let my spouse control the remote—in a real blast of kindness I will even let my children control the remote. I will wash dishes and do other chores around the house. I will seek out ways to help my neighbors. Cheerfulness and joy will ride into our lives on acts of kindness; I’m seeking ways to remain on kindness the whole way into the lives of all those I meet. (Click here to learn about The Mighty Power of Kindness and 8 Ways to Teach Children to be Kind.)
Express gratitude. In the midst of our abundance, we sometimes lose sight of how richly our families are blessed. We neglect to offer thanks and become burdened with the weight of ungratefulness and even entitlement. This year I will combat that sense of entitlement and say “thanks” to those who wait on my table at a restaurant or ring up my drink at the gas station. I will thank those who teach my children. I will thank my children and my spouse for all they do. I will become known as “the guy who always says thank you.” Wouldn’t you like to know that guy? Wouldn’t you be glad to help that guy? I would. This year, I’m going to “be that guy!” How about you? (Learn about more benefits of Intentional Gratitude in this short blog.)
Practice acceptance. This may prove one of the hardest behaviors in my search for cheer this year. In the words of the serenity prayer, “I will accept the things I cannot change.” Bureaucracy will continue to mount its assault. Hassles will remain countless. Stressors will constantly arise. But, I will accept these impingements on my joy as reminders of what I have. The hassle of being caught in traffic reveals the blessing of owning a car. The bureaucracy that raises the cost of nearly everything reminds me that I have employment and income and opportunities. The stress of paying bills reminds me of the abundant material blessing I have—running water, TV, internet, heat, air conditioning, transportation, etc.—that many in the world are forced to live without. Which brings me to the final way I will spread cheer this year…
Practice generosity. Our families truly are blessed. Unfortunately, those blessings sometimes enslave us and we begin to hoard the blessings. This year I will “break out of the hoard” and share…generously…as abundantly as possible. There is joy in giving, great joy. In fact, an ancient writer tells us that Jesus even said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” Your act of generosity may even get paid forward in another act of generosity, creating a rippling effect from ground zero in the epidemic of cheerfulness (read about a way to Pay It Forward here).
I’m starting this year…ground zero for an epidemic of cheerfulness and joy. I’m making it a point to spread cheer in my family and beyond. The world MAY BE a better place for it; but my family and I WILL BE a happier people because of it. Will you make your family a happier people?
Forget the jolly guy in the red suit and the sentimental pics of families peacefully picking out the perfect Christmas tree. Christmas has become a harsh taskmaster. This taskmaster begins to snap out orders with the crack of a whip just before Thanksgiving, when the “black Friday sales” start on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. He barks out commands about buying perfect gifts, finding the best tree, putting up the most extravagant display of lights (before the neighbors), baking the tastiest cookies for all to talk about, attending the parties, watching for sales, and paying Christmas bills. The list of demands goes on and the pressures increase. Stress overwhelms as we strive to meet each of the Christmas Taskmasters commands. Yes, Christmas has become a harsh taskmaster.
Obeying the harsh taskmaster of Christmas, I risked life and limb to fight through the gridlock of traffic, cut off by impatient drivers weaving in and out of traffic, to arrive at the mall in search of the demanded perfect gift. I walked through a crowd of people seemingly unaware of personal space and common courtesies bumping and pushing past me to be the first one to buy the “gift of the year.” Suddenly, steadying myself against the tide of crazed shoppers driven on by the taskmaster of Christmas, I caught a glimpse of a manger scene. Quietly, peacefully, Mary and Joseph gazed in adoration at the Baby Jesus, the Son of God. I stopped for a moment and realized they too knew the taskmaster of Christmas. They felt the pressure of living as an oppressed people under the harsh rule of a foreign power. They had traveled to Bethlehem in response to the political demands of the taskmaster. They have fought the frenzied crowds seemingly unaware of personal courtesies. The taskmaster would not even allow them a place to lay their head. Mary and Joseph knew the taskmaster’s accusation against an unwed yet pregnant teen. The taskmaster whip came down hard on Mary and Joseph as they searched Bethlehem for a place to rest. There is no rest for you, scolded the taskmaster.
Yet now I see Mary and Joseph looking on in worship at the Light of the world, the Creator of all, God Incarnate, Emmanuel. I love that name—Emmanuel. He is the God who was with Israel to deliver them from the harsh taskmaster of Egypt, the One who was with us to deliver us from slavery to the taskmaster of sin. He is the One with us to liberate from the taskmaster of the Law. He delivered and liberated us from the harsh taskmasters, so we have no need to fall under another. Perhaps Mary and Joseph have an important message for us. They were unfazed by the taskmaster’s whip. They simply looked to the Baby Jesus, the Incarnate God who has come to set them free once again. The Christmas taskmaster holds no power and rule over them or us. We do not need to worry and scheme for the perfect holiday experience or struggle and rush to meet the demands of Christmas giving. We simply need to rest in gratitude and amazement. We need only look in quiet trust at the perfect, generous gift God has already given to us, His Son. We do not need to succumb to any taskmaster. We can give ourselves to God and then to others in celebration. We are free! Free to love and wonder, rest and share, serve and bless. We are free to experience peaceful worship of the Christ Child rather than feel the pressure of the frenzied crowds of Bethlehem (or the mall traffic). We are free to celebrate the joyful adoration of seeing the Child in the manger rather than rushing to satisfy the taskmaster’s pomp and circumstance. We are free to love Christ, our Savior, and one another more deeply. Have a joyous and merry Christmas!
My mind has not cooperated with me lately. I want to write a blog on family, parenting, or marriage and my mind just doesn’t want to cooperate. It wants to wander, go blank, or think on other things. It wants to do anything but help me write blog related to family issues. Right now it is Saturday before Easter and my mind wants to dwell on that. Please bear with me as I share.
I wonder what the disciples thought on that Saturday after Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is in the grave…dead. The Word has been silenced and there is nothing left to say. The Way has gotten lost and we are left to wander aimlessly. The Truth is believed a lie…. Where can we place our trust and faith? Life Himself is dead! The Light of the World has been blown out and darkness surrounds us, leaving us to sit frightened in the midst of the unknown and unseen. The Good Shepherd is gone and we (His sheep) are vulnerable—without food, guidance, protection, or care. The Living Water has dried up. We are left high and dry, parched and dying of thirst. All Hope is gone. Our only Hope has been buried. Jesus is dead.
But wait…in the silence something stirs. Prophecy whispers hope as the buried seed shifts in its grave. The heart of creation begins to tremble ever so slightly with anticipation. Tomorrow waits impatiently to dawn. Sunday is coming! Light will break forth like the dawn. Truth will be confirmed and authenticated. Hope will take root and shoot into the sky. The Way will once again guide us into Life. The Word will share His Wisdom and redemption. Yes, Life will burst forth from the tomb and lead a triumphant procession of those once held captive. But, today I ponder a quiet day of anticipation. Tomorrow will come!
How will your family celebrate the Resurrection Day?
I’m going to let you in on a secret. I love this family fun night…but don’t tell my family. Every year I pretend to dislike it. I pretend to begrudge the whole process even while I participate. In reality though, I have a wonderful time and love…here it is…decorating the Christmas tree. (Shhhh, don’t tell my family.) You know why I like it? We put on jazzy Christmas music, drink some hot cocoa, and work together to complete a project. We talk, joke, and laugh the whole time. Each ornament carries a story or a memory. Some ornaments speak to our individual interests. Other ornaments represent our vacations or fun activities we have enjoyed. Still others remind us of our first year of marriage, the year our daughters were born, or the special “rite of passage trip” my wife took our daughters on when they turned sixteen. We even hide a “Christmas pickle” in the tree just for fun. Each year, we have to make the “big decision” of whether an angel or a star will sit atop the tree. This opens the opportunity to talk about the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. And, we place a giant nail on the tree to remind us that the Christ child, whose birth we celebrate, is also the Savior who died for our sins. As my daughters leave home, I think my wife and I will still decorate our tree…but I will miss doing it as a whole family. I hope you enjoy this family fun night as well. In addition to the ideas mentioned above, you can…
String some popcorn to hang on the trees.
Pick a theme and decorate the tree accordingly.
Make paper snowflakes to put on the tree.
Put some cotton on the tree to look like snow balls.
Hang some candy canes on the tree. Take them off and eat them throughout the season.
Use your imagination to come up with more creative ideas for your family tree.
Go ahead and decorate your Christmas tree. Enjoy your time together. Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the reason for the season. Take time to celebrate the joy of remembering. But, please (puh-leeeez) don’t tell my family how much I love this activity, it will ruin my reputation!
The Christmas season has definitely arrived. I see it in the overwhelming traffic. I hear it in Christmas carols ringing in my ears. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, baking, and decorating, I watch children count down to the “big day.” If you are like me, you love the anticipation of Christmas. Advent Calendars, the “Elf on a Shelf,” and journeying wise men help us build the expectation of Christmas. In the midst of this hustle and bustle, I like to sit down and contemplate the long awaited Christ Child and the new life He brings. It helps raise my own expectation and anticipation of the Christmas season. I am often struck at the contrast between our current Christmas priorities and those of the first Christmas. Maybe you are too. Jesus did not come to earth as one of the economically privileged, a member of the ruling class. Instead, He arrived in poverty, a member of a conquered and oppressed people. He could have entered the world as royalty; but, He came as a Servant. Rather than setting His Son up in a position of power, God delivered Him to us in a stable, to a family with little resource and no influence. Unlike those of us who live in the “Land of Opportunity,” God did not try to give His Son privilege, prestige, power, or material wealth. Those things did not seem to make it onto God’s priority list for His Son. However, He did give His Son a family. Jesus did not just “pop up” in the desert as a Man with the power and influence to change the world. He arrived as a baby, born into a family, nurtured by a mother who “pondered all these things in her heart” and cherished her Son. He matured under the guidance of an earthly father who was willing to act swiftly to protect his family. Surely the family is one of God’s top priorities—not power, prestige, or material wealth, but family. God, the Father, made the gift of family a priority on that first Christmas day by giving Jesus a loving family to guide Him and nurture Him as He matured. Even more, He gave us Jesus (“unto us a Child is born”), a Brother who willingly gave His life so we might become part of His eternal family! Let’s follow God’s example this Christmas and share the gift of family with our parents, our spouses, our siblings, and our children. No other gift will make Christmas as meaningful as the gift of a loving, intimate family!
Thanksgiving is more than a seasonal discussion of gratitude…more than a big family meal…more than a day of watching football. Thanksgiving, in my opinion, is a way of life. A lifestyle of thanksgiving provides many benefits to a family life. In fact, after reading these five benefits of thanksgiving, you might decide to let the day of Thanksgiving this year “jump start” a whole year of gratitude for your family.
A lifestyle of thanksgiving teaches us to appreciate the blessings we have. A thankful family replaces a sense of entitlement with an appreciation for the unearned gifts received…gifts like someone doing our laundry, preparing our meals, or paying the bills to keep our house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. A lifestyle of thanksgiving will takes us a step further to realize that every breath we take, every heartbeat that sends blood coursing through our body, and every time we run down the stairs are gifts we have been freely given. We truly are a blessed people.
Thanksgiving replaces a selfish attitude with an attitude of generosity. As we realize how much we have received and how freely it was given, our desire to share will increase. We will become more generous. Generosity in a family leads to more acts of kindness and sharing…something else for which we can give thanks.
Thanksgiving helps us develop greater peace of mind. When we neglect to offer thanks for the gifts we have received, our selfish desires grow. We look at what we do not have and experience want, a growing desire for more. We experience envy. We grow demanding. A lifestyle of thanksgiving puts our desire in perspective. Thanksgiving turns our focus toward the blessings we have received, the abundant material blessing we have, and the amazing opportunities each day presents. Gratitude replaces desire and envy. Giving thanks replaces demanding. A lifestyle of thanksgiving helps us focus on how much we have to be thankful for.
A lifestyle of thanksgiving increases our joy and hope. As we focus on the blessings and gracious gifts we have received, we build a joyous past. We nurture an expectation that our future will be provided as well. We no longer need to worry and fret over what the future holds. Instead, the joys of thanksgiving will have strengthened the realization that God does provide and that life is good. We will have established a hope based on the memories of thanksgiving, a hope that God will also take care of our tomorrow. No need to worry, give thanks.
A lifestyle of thanksgiving even helps make tough times more bearable. For three ways thanksgiving does this read Intentional Gratitude.
A lifestyle of thanksgiving can benefit our families all year long! Why not let this season of Thanksgiving “jump start” a year of gratitude for your family? You can practice thanksgiving all year round by starting a thanksgiving tree, a gratitude journal, or simply making a point of thanking one another every day for something. Believe me, the benefits will prove priceless!
If you’re like me, after reading that title you’re probably thinking, “Family fun and holiday preparations? Yeah right? What planet do you live on?” I mean really. We haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving and I am already hearing Christmas music in the stores. But, I believe I have rediscovered a way to have family fun and prepare for the holidays! Not only can we have fun while preparing for the holidays, but this Family Fun Night will make the holidays less hectic while building family intimacy. Sound too good to be true? Well, this family celebration can do it! Celebrate your family with a family craft night. Think about it. You can make tree ornaments, table settings, wall decorations, or crafty gifts to give to the in-laws (or anyone else for that matter). If you struggle for ideas, check out Craft Gossip or the Etsy Blog. Remember, as you work on your masterfully creative crafts, talk to one another. Share ideas. Recall holidays past and the fun times enjoyed. Dream about future holidays. Make a wish list for gifts you’d like to receive. Talk about gifts other people might enjoy receiving. Laugh. Have fun. Oh, don’t forget to throw some hot chocolate and other edible goodies into the mix. When all is said and done, you will have had a wonderful family night of fun while preparing decorations, gifts, and ideas for the holidays! So, slow down, enjoy one another’s company, and prepare for the coming holidays with a family fun night of crafts.
Thankfulness is in season right now…however, it has benefits for the family all year round! That’s right; an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness benefits families all the time. Let me share a few of the research based benefits of thankfulness so you can use them to strengthen your own family.
· Gratitude makes us happier. Did you know that taking 5 minutes a day to record your gratitude in a journal can actually increase your sense of well-being by 10%? That’s the same impact as doubling your income…and taking 5 minutes a day to keep a gratitude journal is a whole lot easier than doubling your income! So, if you want a happy family, take five minutes during supper or just before bed and let each family member name a couple things for which they are grateful. Write them down and keep a journal. Review it once in a while to remind yourself of all you and your family have to be thankful for.
· Gratitude makes us healthier. Want to spend less on family medical care? Want to have a healthier family, allowing your family to get out and do things together? Practice gratitude. Those people who keep a gratitude journal tend to have fewer physical symptoms, less physical pain, more sleep, and increased sleep quality as well as fewer symptoms of depression. Interestingly, in one study a group of people with high blood pressure were instructed to “count their blessings once a week” and had a significant decrease in “systolic blood pressure.”
· Gratitude reduces materialism. Becoming aware of and expressing gratitude for what we have shifts our focus away from things that do not really matter. Practicing gratitude helps keep our focus on what does matter—like family, friends, health, and the multitude of blessings we already have. Practically speaking, when our family practices gratitude, family members will ask for less and whine less about “what I wish I had” or the newest gadget “I need.” Instead, we will joyfully share with one another from the bountiful blessings we already have and enjoy.
· Gratitude makes us less self-centered. An attitude of gratitude focuses on other people—their acts of generosity, kindness, and benevolence. Gratitude focuses on what I have been given, implicitly turning my focus on the grace and generosity of others. As your family practices gratitude, the whole family will become more giving, generous, and other-focused.
· Gratitude also reduces feelings of envy. Have your children ever said, “But so-and-so has a…” or “But why does my older brother get to stay up later?” Perhaps you have even had that fleeting thought of envy—”Man, I wish I could afford a house like that.” Gratitude is the antidote for those feelings of jealousy and envy. Model focusing your attention on those blessings you have…and expressing gratitude for those blessings as well. Teach your children to recognize their blessings.
· Gratitude creates a happy past. The past we recall is somewhat a choice. We can keep the good or the negative aspects of our past in the forefront of our memory. By keeping a mental record of blessings in the forefront of our memory, we recall a more joyous past filled with blessings. As we express gratitude for what we have today, we prime our mind to remember the blessings of yesterday.
· Gratitude strengthens your marriage. Marriage loses passion when spouses become less appreciative and interactions become more negative. Practicing gratitude is one way to counter the loss of appreciation and the increase of negative interactions. In addition, we admire those character traits for which we are grateful. So, being grateful for those positive character traits in our spouse and the positive things they do will increase admiration and adoration for our spouse. Increased adoration and admiration translates to more passion too. Not only is this good for you, but your children will feel more secure and have greater happiness as they witness their parents expressing gratitude for one another and sharing a twinkle of admiration and adoration in their eye as they talk of their spouse.
· Gratitude improves decision making. In one interesting study, doctors were given a patient record that included a list of symptoms and an incorrect diagnosis of lupus. Half of the doctors were also given a token of appreciation to evoke gratitude. Those who were given the token of appreciation were more likely to expend more time and energy to confirm and then correct the misdiagnosis. The doctors who did not receive a token of appreciation were more likely to stick with the incorrect diagnosis. So, if you want your children to think through decisions more often and have increased flexibility to change their poor decisions into better decisions, give them “tokens of appreciation for” (AKA–show gratitude for, thank them for) their efforts and other positive actions. Practicing gratitude toward family members will motivate them to improve decision making. Cultivate the art of thanking one another daily…every chance you get!
Gratitude really does fabulous things for a family. This blog only reviews 8 fabulous family benefits of thankfulness. Check out a full 31 Benefits of Gratitude to discover even more benefits! In the meantime, why not use gratitude to strengthen your family? Model gratitude in your own life so your family can follow your lead. Teach gratitude by asking everyone to share something for which they are thankful. You can do this at dinner time, bed time, or any time when you happen to be talking with one another. Keep a gratitude journal, make a post-it gratitude list on the hallway wall, create a gratitude tree craft on the fridge…. You get the idea, be creative in keeping a gratitude journal as a family. Then, reap the benefits of a grateful family!