Rather than trying to pique your interest, I’m just going to say this plainly. According to a study published in 2020, daily spiritual experiences, defined as experiences related to God as well as “transcendent feelings not related to God” (like feeling a deep inner peace or harmony), make people happier. Daily spiritual experiences also help reduce the effects of stress according to this research.
These findings are the result of monitoring 2,795 people via their phones for 2 weeks, asking them about positive and negative emotions as well as their current activity at random times throughout the time of the study.
The results go even further by suggesting that if two people experience equal amounts of stress, the one with more spiritual experiences is less likely to report depressive symptoms and “more likely to indicate feelings of flourishing.” On an individual level, a person experiences greater mental well-being on days in which they have more spiritual experiences. Why? Perhaps because spiritual experiences reduce self-centeredness and increase a sense of connection with Someone/something bigger than our selves.
Here’s the takeaway for our families. We can use this knowledge to increase well-being in our family by encouraging individual and family spiritual experiences. How can we do that?
Pray as a family and individually. Take a moment as a family to offer a prayer of thanksgiving before meals. Make prayer part of your family bedtime routine. This offers a time to offer prayers of gratitude, pray about difficult circumstances, and offer pray for other people.
These ideas will help shape an environment in your home that is conducive to spiritual experiences for your family and for each person in your family. With those opportunities for spiritual experiences, your family will also enjoy the benefit of greater happiness.
Every couple wants to keep their marriage healthy and strong. In fact, we all want our marriages to grow stronger and healthier every day. Expressing gratitude to our spouse is one great way do this. But a study published in May of 2020 suggests an even more powerful way. I call it the Proactive Relationship Advancement sYstem [ P.R.A.Y.].
This study involved 95 married couples and sought to discover if general gratitude had a different impact on marriage than prayers of gratitude. A person who practices general gratitude expresses gratitude easily. They tend to attribute good intent to their spouse, notice the good things their spouse does, and openly express gratitude for it. As you can imagine, this general gratitude contributes to a happier, healthier marriage. In fact, according to this study, a husband’s general gratitude contributed to him having greater marital satisfaction. A wife’s general gratitude contributed to her having greater marital satisfaction as well. Notice, a person’s general gratitude enhanced their own level of marital satisfaction. Interestingly, a person’s expression of gratitude toward their spouse did not enhance their spouse’s marital satisfaction. In this study, it enhanced the grateful person’s own marital satisfaction.
So, how did prayers of gratitude for one’s spouse compare? After running statistical tests comparing the effect of prayers of gratitude to general gratitude, the authors concluded that a husband’s prayers of gratitude for his wife increased his marital satisfaction over and abovewhat generalized gratitude did. The same was true for wives who engaged in prayer of gratitude for their husbands. It increased their marital satisfaction over and abovegeneral gratitude. They found one additional benefit that prayers of gratitude offered beyond what generalized gratitude offered. When a wife offered prayers of gratitude for her husband, her husband experienced greater marital satisfaction!
Interesting, right? Thanking God for your spouse increases your own marital satisfaction above and beyond the marital satisfaction gained through general gratitude. And a wife’s prayers of gratitude for her husband also increased her husband’s marital satisfaction. Prayers of gratitude for your spouse proactively strengthen your marriage. They become self-fulfilling, prophecies of an increasing marital satisfaction. With that in mind, I recommend we all start participating in this Proactive Relationship Advancement sYstem (P.R.A.Y.) today. For the sake of your marriage will you join me in P.R. A.Y.er? (For more on the impact of prayer in marriage, read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity.)
Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution for your family would include religion. Why? Because raising kids with religion or spirituality may protect their mental health. I’m sure that sounds controversial and naïve to some, but a study published in 2018 suggests it to be true. This study looked at the data of 5,000 people who participated in a long-term study. It looked specifically at children’s religious involvement from pre-teen years into their twenties. Those who attended religious services at least one time a week with their families when they were children and teens were about 18% more likely to report being happier, 30% more likely to do volunteer work, and 33% less likely to use drugs in their 20’s. In addition, those who prayed or meditated every day reported more life satisfaction, exhibited a better ability to process emotions, and were more forgiving than those who never prayed.
Another study, published in 2019, reviewed 32 studies and found that religious training and involvement was associated with less anxiety in general. Religious training and involvement were associated with less anxiety in relation to various diseases and across different cultures and countries as well.
These are just two studies that suggest a positive impact of religious involvement on mental health. Why does religious involvement have this impact? Perhaps the recognition of “something bigger than ourselves” helps reduce stress and anxiety as does the social support inherent in most religious communities. In addition, there is the impact of a Benevolent Higher Power generously caring and providing for us. With all this in mind, could your family enjoy a potential decrease in anxiety? Then a good New Year’s resolution for your family might include involvement in a religious community. Happy New Year.
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?
Every now and again, I bring home
flowers for my wife. (Now that I think about it, maybe I should do that today.)
We put them in a vase with water and enjoy them…until they wilt. We also have
flowers in a flower garden in our back yard. Guess which flowers last longer.
You know it; the flowers in our backyard. They are planted in rich, nurturing
soil that generously provides the nutrients they need to grow and blossom time
Our marriages also need a rich,
nurturing soil to generously provide the nutrients necessary for our marriages
to grow and blossom time and again. Each spouse is part of the rich soil in
which your marriage is planted. And, from our richness we need to generously
provide at least seven nourishing qualities in extravagant abundance to our
spouse and our marriage.
Generously give your time…lots of it. I’ve quoted it before and I’ll quote it again, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.” We give our time to those people and things that are important to us. So, make sure your “Daily Planner” reflects the priority of your spouse and your marriage. Give them the time reflective of their value. (Practice a marital sabbath to give time to your spouse.)
Generously give your caring attention and presence. Spending time with your spouse is important. However, it takes more than merely being a body in their vicinity. Lavish them with your caring attention. Let your active daily involvement in your spouse’s life, your presence in their life, speak of your concern, love, and affection.
Generously give your ears. Remember the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.” Give your spouse your ears in abundance. Listen deeply. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen. Listen. Listen. (Listening deeply in this way will prove a powerful way to improve your marriage.)
Generously give your affection. It’s been said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth” (Virginia Satir). Don’t keep your marriage on a survival mode. Be generous. Give your marriage what it needs for growth, lots and lots of affection in words and actions every day. (For more on the power of generous hugs and affection read And a Hug to Grow On.)
Generously give simple acts of kindness and service. Kindness and service are powerful. They proclaim our love. They melt hearts and restore relationships. They nurture an environment of encouragement. They stimulate greater intimacy. Give kindness and service to your spouse with extravagant generosity. (Try these 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
Generously give forgiveness. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness from time to time. Forgiveness is necessary for a marriage to survive and flourish. Give your spouse forgiveness as often as needed. And, if you’re asking for forgiveness bear the fruit of repentance with great abundance.
Generously give prayer for your spouse’s well-being. Notice I say pray for your spouse’s “well-being.” Don’t ask that they change to become the person you want them to become. Accept them and pray for their well-being. Pray for their happiness. Pray for them to feel loved. ….(Read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity for more on the power of prayer in your marriage.)
Yes, generosity can save your marriage. Throw
caution to the wind and start lavishing these seven gifts of grace on your
spouse today. And watch your marriage blossom and grow.
I have sung this song so many times on patriotic holidays; I’m sure you have as well. Today, I want to do more than sing the words. I want to pray the words which wonderfully voice a prayer our country so desperately needs. Won’t you pray it with me?
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.
For purple mountains majesties above the fruited plain!
America, America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown they good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet, whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness.
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm they soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine.
Till all success be nobleness and every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!
I love being married. I find more joy and happiness, adventure and excitement, joy and contentment, even fun and ecstasy with my wife than I could have ever imagined. But, let’s face it. Marriage is not all fun and games. It’s not always easy. I also experience irritations and frustrations in my marriage that impact me more deeply than any I experience in other relationships. I’m sure my wife can say the same. (Still, I did plead perfection when telling her about this blog. She simply snickered and shook her head in response. Go figure.) Anyway, the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests a way to increase the positive side of marriage and decrease the negative, increase the joy and excitement while limiting the frustrations and anger. And, it’s based on over 20 years of research! (Full disclosure—I only reviewed some of the studies from the last 10 years.) Based on their research, staff at the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests an activity that any of us can engage in on a daily basis to improve our marriages. It’s simple, yet powerful; easy to do yet profound in its impact. Want to know what activity they suggest? Praying for your spouse. That’s right. Praying! Coming before God (your Higher Power) to ask that your spouse be blessed and protected. Making intercession with God for your spouse; asking Him to help your spouse achieve his or her goals. One caveat—none of these prayers in these studies asked for their partners to become the person they wanted them to be. No, they offered sincere, unselfish prayers focused on their partner’s well-being. Overall, research suggests that saying prayers for one’s partner has many positive effects. Let me share just a few from the last 10 years of research (Read more here).
Praying for one’s spouse has a softening effect on conflict (Butler et al, 1998). In other words, conflict becomes less harsh for those who have a praying spouse.
Praying for one’s spouse predicts relationship satisfaction beyond what positive or negative behaviors in the relationship can predict (Lambert et al, 2008).
Praying for one’s spouse over a 4-week period leads to greater gratitude toward one’s spouse than did thinking positive thoughts about one’s spouse or engaging in daily activities together (Lambert et al, 2009).
Praying for one’s spouse increases the willingness of the one praying to forgive and did so more than simply speaking positively about one’s partner (Lambert et al, 2010).
Praying for one’s spouse predicts greater commitment to the marriage (Fincham et al, 2010).
Praying for one’s spouse while praying with your spouse leads to a greater sense of trust and unity in the relationship (Lambert et al, 2012).
Increased relationship satisfaction, more gratitude, more willingness to forgive, greater commitment, greater trust and less harsh conflict…all through the simple act of sincerely and unselfishly praying for your spouse. I’m getting started now. How about you?