Family memories build health and happiness. Memories of camping, swimming, reading, singing, or playing fill in the gap of our family identities. Memories of being loved and cared for, celebrated on birthdays, witnessed in activities, or encouraged in pursuing interests contribute to individual identity as well as family identity. Perhaps that explains why we all want our family filled with positive memories of joy and love…they make for a healthier individual and family identity.
But what makes a joyful memory last for a lifetime. One memory expert suggests two key components make memories stand out. First, they need to be linked to a lot of other memories. Each memory needs to have a connection to other memories so that it becomes part of a larger network of memories. You can make this happen by:
- Talking about activities after you have completed them. Revisit the activity in your family discussions. Talk about what each person enjoyed about the activity. Elaborate on those moments and facets of enjoyment. You’ll learn about one another and help create a lovely memory that lasts a lifetime.
- As you enjoy that discussion, let it remind you of similar memories. For instance, discussing a trip to the zoo in which you saw a gorilla sitting under a tree may remind you of a previous trip in which the gorilla walked over to the glass or ate a banana…or the memory of a movie you watched in which a gorilla played a key role. Enjoy the new memory and the old memories as you talk. In this way, the new activity becomes part of a larger network of similar memories.
Second, for memories to be remembered they have to “be a little bit weird,” they have to stand out as somewhat surprising. Once again, you can add to the excitement and “weirdness” of memories with a few simple ideas.
- As you share the memories with family and friends, talk about what you liked and what surprised you about the activity. Fishing is fishing, except when you have a story about the biggest fish caught and the even bigger one that got away.
- Share some unexpected aspect of the activity. For instance, camping becomes unusual in the midst of a storm, the epic card game played in the tent during the storm, and the awesome mud slide you enjoyed after the storm.
- Enjoy the novelty of each experience and talk about that novelty with your family. Remember the movie when your daughter jumped because a toy rolled under her feet or the concert in which your family member saw their favorite artist for the first time.
- Laugh about the uniqueness of your experience, whether it be the struggle, the beautiful, or the unexpected. Enjoy telling the story and enjoy reliving the bonding you experience because of the uniqueness of that activity.
Memories are foundational to a healthy family. You can build memories that last a lifetime by sharing how that activity fits in with other memories and, at the same time, was just a “little bit different,” a “little bit weird.” Oh…and by the way…have fun making those memories.
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.
We all know it’s true…so why do we do it? We know we can’t by our children’s happiness with material goods & gifts, but we try. Our children look upset and we buy them something to “lift their spirits.” We feel guilty because they seem so angry and disappointed after we discipline them, so we assuage our guilt and their anger with a gift. We hope it will make them happy. But a recent study demonstrates that giving gifts does not increase our children’s happiness. Well, sort of….
Specifically, this study demonstrated that children over 12-years-old derive more happiness from experiences than from material things. In other words, our children over 12-years-old are going to experience more happiness if we do something fun with them than if we give them a gift.
Children between the ages of 3- and 12-years-old, on the other hand, did derive more happiness from material things than experiences. But there is a caveat. This age group still loves experiences (just consider the joy of Chuckie Cheese, amusement parks, and trampoline parks). Developmentally, however, they need a physical reminder to jump start their remembrance of the experience and so experience the happiness it gave them. In other words, experiences provide an enduring happiness for children between 3- and 12-years-old as well…IF they have a picture or a small token to remind them of the experience. For children over 12-years-old, these reminders are not necessary. They simply find more joy in the experience than in the possession (see The ESSENCE of Adolescence & Love Your Teen’s Risky Behavior for More).
All this being said, our children will find greater happiness when they enjoy experiences with us. While you enjoy the experience, take a picture or two. Buy a souvenir. Talk about the experience and replay the happiness often (Learn How to Give Your Children the Memories of a Lifetime). Do this and children of all ages (0 to 99-years-old) will experience greater happiness.
Neuroscientists from the University of Geneva recently published a study demonstrating an interesting way to improve memory. It will work for your children, your teens, and even you! The way to enhance your memory is as simple as getting physical. That’s right. Put down the remote. Turn off the Xbox. Get off the couch and get moving.
In the case of this particular study, participants attempted to learn a motor sequence (like typing) after spending 30 minutes of moderate cycling or after 15 minutes of intense cycling or after a period of rest. The participants who participated in the intense exercise learned the motor sequence more quickly. They memorized the motor sequence more easily than those who rested or exercised moderately.
You might be thinking, “I don’t need to learn to type faster. I don’t need to learn any motor activity right now.” Maybe so. (Although it may help you memorize the sequence of the video game or the password you ‘punch in’ to various devices.) Still, a previous study showed that exercise at a moderate level of intensity enhanced associative memory. Associative memory is the ability to learn and remember relationship between items. For instance, learning to associate a name with a person, a label for an object, or a smell with a food. It can help you remember the which capitals go with which states or what symbols have what meanings in math or science. You get the idea. Associative memory can help your children with academic work.
So, if you child is struggling to do their homework, take a break and go outside. Go on a quick bike ride. Play some catch. Go for a jog. Take a swim. Wrestle. Play some one-on-one basketball. Then return to the homework. It might just help them learn it quicker and better!
Memories help shape our identity. They reveal our priorities and impact how we view the world around us. As parents, we want our children to have wonderful memories that support their happiness, resilience, and maturity. With that in mind, here are two principles you can implement to help your children recall their greatest memories.
- We remember best those times and moments that gave us the greatest reward. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about creating flashy and spectacular memories. I’m talking about creating the most rewarding memories. What do our children find most rewarding? Our time and attention. The greatest reward our children desire is to have enough of our time and attention to connect with us on a deep level. Their greatest memories will be of those times they spend with people, times in which they interacted and connected with others. Give your children your time and attention so they will have a multitude of wonderful memories in which they had your full attention for long enough to really connect…joyful times of connection.
- We remember best those experiences that we recall and relive often. Each time we recall a memory, we strengthen the neural activity that keeps it strong. We solidify its formation in our brain. In other words, talking about the wonderful times we experience with our family strengthens our memories of these wonderful times. Tell the stories of the “amazing catch” or the “time it poured while we were camping.” Laugh again at that funny experience with the cat. Recall the awe of watching the sunset or the awful smell of the monkeys at the zoo. Talk about it. Reflect on the emotions experienced. Recall the sensations stimulated. Relive those moments of love, connection, and joy. The more you do, the stronger the memory will grow.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Just spend time connecting with your children over fun, joyous experiences and then talk about those experiences. It really isn’t hard. But it will give your children the memories of a lifetime, memories on which to build a life of joy.
There’s a killer loose in the family! He’s popping up everywhere: on the news, in social media, from other people. He may live in your home. He may even live in you! Every time he mutters his loathsome words he vandalizes our brains, packing down a neural rut leading to pain and misery. In time he will establish a rut so deep that just a word or even a look will send your whole family tumbling down the pathway toward more of the same agitation, misery, and depression! Who is this vandal? The Constant Complainer! That’s right. Constant complaining creates a neural pathway in our brains that makes complaining easier and more likely to occur. In time it will even become the default pathway…a highway leading straight to agitation, misery, and depression for everyone in the family. It doesn’t matter if the Constant Complainer is a Venter, a Chronic Complainer, or a Sympathy Seeker the result is the same. They suck the energy out of the whole family and leave everyone feeling empty, agitated, and miserable (Read Research Shows That Physically Complaining Rewires Your Brain to be Depressed and Anxious for more). I do have good news though. You can kick the Constant Complainer out of your family by practicing these skills.
- Change your expectations. Generally, complaining is unproductive. It accomplishes nothing but increasing frustration, misery, depression, and anxiety for you and everyone around you. In college I hated to wash clothes and I complained about it every time. My complaining fueled my hatred and increased my misery each time I had to wash my clothes. Then it dawned on me. Complain or not, I still have to wash clothes…or stink. Might as well accept it and figure out a way to enjoy it. I changed my expectation from “this is wasting my time” to “at least it gives me a chance to read my book or talk with friends.” I still don’t jump for joy to wash clothes, but I do it without complaint. Sometimes we have to change our expectations.
- If you are going to complain, do it right! Rather than complain for complaining’s sake, make sure you have a positive goal in mind. Pause and think about the reason you want to complain and what you want to accomplish. What is underlying your complaint: anger, frustration, hurt, irritation? What do you really want to see changed to make things better? Who would be the right person to take your concern to? What solution can you offer when you voice your concern? These questions will help you do more than just complain constantly. They will help you find a way to remedy the problem and reach an outcome that will bring you satisfaction. (Read Five Mistakes We Make When Complaining for more details)
- Share gratitude. Don’t get stuck in the rut of complaining when you don’t have the power to change something. Instead, think about what you have to be thankful for. For instance, rather than complain about the traffic, be grateful you have a car and can go so many places. Rather than complain about having to do the dishes, be grateful you have dishes and the opportunity to enjoy the delicious meals that result in dirty dishes. Rather than complain about your spouse, consider what they do for your family and you. Be grateful. Make it a habit to voice your gratitude to others. Rather than packing down a neural rut of complaining you will establish a neural highway of joyful gratitude.
- Think about the positive memories of your life and family. Even though this is similar to sharing gratitude it adds another positive neural highway to help eliminate complaining from your home. Ponder the positive memories of family vacations. Contemplate the intimate conversations with your wife. Dwell on the memories of laughter with your children. Create more positive memories by participating in family game nights, vacations, outings, family dinners, and family celebrations. Each time you engage in a family activity, intentionally focus on the positive times you are enjoying and the joyous memories you are creating.
Practice these four actions and you will get that killer, the Constant Complainer, out of your home. You will replace those neural ruts of complaining with neural highways to joy and intimacy.
I just had to tell you about this study. It really is a great study and can benefit your marriage a great deal. Researchers at McGill University explored the possible link between engaging in regular sex and memory. They asked 78 young women between 18- and 29-years-old about their sex life and then gave them memory tests involving facial recognition and verbal recall. The results: women who had more frequent sex had significantly better scores on the verbal memory tests. In other words, regular sex was associated with better memory in verbal areas (not so much for facial recognition). (Read more about this study in Sex on the Brain). A similar study involving men is currently in process and seems to be leaning toward similar results. Regular sex is associated with better memory.
The authors suggest that making love may benefit the participant’s memory in a number of possible ways.
- It may boost the level of neurotransmitters in the brain which, in turn, supports new brain cell growth in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a brain structure important for memory.
- It involves exercise; and exercise promotes new brain cell growth in the hippocampus as well.
- It increases blood flow to the brain, which also supports new brain cell growth.
Interestingly, previous studies have also found an association between regular sex and lower risk of dementia. In other words, making love to your spouse could help you both increase memory and stave off dementia.
So, I figure we may have found this year’s New Year’s resolution, one you and your spouse can enjoy while enhancing your memory and helping to shield one another from dementia. Enjoy regular times of physical intimacy and love making. Only one caveat to remember: making love is more than just jumping in the sack. It all begins in the kitchen (Read Improve Your Sex Life…Before You Hit the Sheets and Forget the Flowers & Do the Dishes for more on starting in the kitchen).
My family and I just returned from our annual trip to Family Camp at Camp Christian. Once again, Jim and Terry Jones organized a wonderful weekend of relaxation, fun, and worship. We enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and making new friends. This year, Tim Jones was our speaker. Tim and his wife, Lisa, minister through “Windows of Hope” with BLOC ministries in the inner city of Cincinnati. They are passionate, loving people with a great sense of humor and a deep love for Christ. Tim encouraged us to do several things to strengthen our families.
- He encouraged us to “Be Real” in our homes. No one’s life is perfect. We all have our ups and downs. We grow closer, more intimate, and even stronger when we do not hide those ups and downs from one another but use them as opportunities to connect instead. It may feel vulnerable to “open up”, “get real,” and share our deepest emotions, but it will give your family an intimacy and strength you will never know otherwise.
- Tim also asked the question, “What’s The Big Deal?” In this workshop, Tim shared the impact of sin in the lives of individuals and families. Every sinful action is connected to wires that “blow up” a series of consequences that can kill relationships and destroy lives. We may ask, “What’s the big deal?” but the consequences are deadly! In response, Tim encouraged us to live a life of faithfulness and integrity in our families, a life to protect them from the deadly consequences wired to sinful behaviors.
- We also learned about “God’s Secret Weapon” (one of my favorite lessons, I might add). God has a “not-so-secret” weapon He has given to us, a weapon we can use to touch other people’s lives inside and outside our families. This weapon is “God’s favorite move” and has become one of mine as well. It brings release of pain and breaks the powers of loneliness. It breaks down walls and overcomes barriers. What is God’s favorite move, the secret weapon He has given to us? Kindness. One way to show kindness is through the open arms that welcome one another into the grasp of a loving hug! I think I’ll give a few extra oxytocin hugs (read 3-2-1 Release to learn about this “move”) today to celebrate “God’s favorite move.”
- Finally, Tim reminded us that we have a “built in, self-activating, guilt free, God ordained party package”…and we need to use it to Celebrate family and life every day! Celebrate family and life by sharing activities like singing, dancing, laughing, and playing. After all, life is a gift. Family is a gift. Friendship is a gift. Every breath we take is a gift. Celebrate! If you have trouble coming up with ideas to celebrate family, try some of the ideas on the “Celebrate Page” of the Honor Grace Celebrate website.
- One other thing, unrelated to the worship times, that I always find inspiring at family camp. Every year we have a talent show. People from preschoolers to adults share their talent. And, we truly witness some amazing talent at Camp Christian. Many times we experience the joy of watching this talent mature and grow as children grow up. Most of all though, I love that the talent show is fun and encouraging. The audience encourages each and every person who shares. There is a real sense of love and encouragement permeating the talent show. No competition. No ridicule. Just fun, love, and encouragement…a real celebration of the life and talent God has given.
Well, that’s what I learned at family camp this year. We had a great time. Thank you Jim and Terri for organizing another great weekend. We look forward to next year. Will you join us?
School time has returned. Morning routines need adjusted to accommodate school’s early start. Afternoon schedules get adjusted to fit in homework and extracurricular activities. In the midst of these adjustments, I recommend one additional change to your routine. Your children will likely enjoy this small change. In fact, my daughter used to make this change because she thought it was fun. She climbed a tree, sat down in a nook between branches, and read her book. Why would I suggest you make climbing a tree part of your children’s daily routine? Because this kind of activity can boost your children’s memory and potentially increase learning. It’s true! A recent study conducted by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Florida found activities like climbing trees, walking or crawling on a three inch wide beam, running through an obstacle course barefoot, or lifting and carrying awkwardly weighted objects can boost a person’s memory by 50%! Why do these activities boost memory? Well, these activities require at least two things: 1) an awareness of where your body is without stopping to look at it and 2) planning some route of movement. That skill combination enhances working memory… boosts your memory and potentially enhances learning. If that sounds like recess, I agree. It also sounds like we need to encourage our kids to climb a tree or run through an obstacle course after school. It might make their homework go faster…and improve the quality of work they complete. And, if you participate in these activities with them you will boost your memory too! So, rather than sitting back to watch your children climb a tree, get out there and join in—climb a tree, race through the obstacle course, boost your working memory and your children’s working memory while having fun with your children. How can you beat that?!
I wish I had done this family fun night when my daughters were in early elementary school. Actually, this family fun night will result in two family fun nights: one now and one in the future. On the first family fun night, gather your family together to create a family time capsule. Here are 7 suggestions for creating a family time capsule. As you proceed through the steps, have fun learning about one another and sharing the objects you choose to place in the time capsule. Talk about the object each person chooses to include in the time capsule and what makes that object important to them. Here are the steps.
- Get a water proof box to use as the time capsule.
- Have each family member write a letter to him or herself. In the letter, each person can explain what he/she enjoys doing and what he/she find most exciting and fun. Put the letter in an envelope and drop it in the time capsule.
- Take a photo of each family member to put in the time capsule. Take a family photo to put in the time capsule as well. And, don’t forget to include some photos of your pets; they are family, too.
- Let each family member pick an object (or some representation of an object) that has special meaning to him/her. Put at least one object in the time capsule for each person. This might include a stuffed animal, a matchbox car, a favorite book, a nick knack, etc. If someone does not want to part with their special object, take a picture of it to put in the time capsule.
- Add artwork, school reports, movie stubs, or other objects that say something about your family’s current activities, values, and priorities.
- Make a list of your family’s favorite activities and current “best friends.” Drop the list into your family time capsule.
- Pick a date (15 to 20 years into the future) to open the time capsule. You can choose a holiday (like New Year’s Eve), a birthday, or some random date to gather as a family. The purpose of this gathering will be to open the time capsule. Write the date on the time capsule and put it in a safe place.
You have just enjoyed the first of two family fun nights. As the day you chose to open the time capsule draws near, you have the opportunity for the second family fun night with the same time capsule. Print out invitations for each member your family reminding them of the upcoming “Time Capsule Opening.” When the “day of the opening” arrives, gather your family in one room and open the time capsule. Enjoy celebrating your family as you review the contents of the time capsule. You will have a wonderful time sharing family memories of the last 15-20 years. Who knows, you might even choose to create a new time capsule to open in 20 years with your grandchildren!