A recent article in Real Simple magazine summarized some of the current research on happiness. Happiness, contentment, joy – are all things we associate with a “carefree summer.” Yet somehow busyness and stress keep intruding into our lives, even into our summer days.
So let’s pause for a moment, and perhaps over a refreshing glass of iced tea, let’s reflect…
What makes you – and your children – happy? Before you read on, pause and jot down 3 quick answers, without thinking too hard. Ready, go!
Now, according to a survey conducted by Real Simple magazine, guess which word came up the most?
Family. Odds are, your answer had something to do with this too, yes?
The next tier of words that were associated with people’s happiness included: love, laughter, home, children, and grandchildren, along with beach, sunshine, and chocolate!
Other research studies in the field of positive psychology have likewise found that one of the most important determinants of personal happiness is the quality of our relationships. It’s not about money or work (though job satisfaction is important too), or about having “stuff.” It’s about family and friends.
Of course we care about our family and friends. Yet we often neglect to share the gift of love and laughter (along with sunshine and chocolate!) with them. We race through the day with “too many things to do” and complain that there’s “not enough time” to just hang out and have fun.
Yet what could be more important? Nothing. Having fun and cultivating a positive, attitude, actually produces many other vital life benefits – including stronger immune systems, more satisfied marriages, greater work productivity, and more charitable contributions to society.
Happiness is the cornerstone of well-being that produces a positive ripple effect that not only benefits you, but also your children, community, and society. Why do you think our founding American fathers considered the pursuit of happiness as one of the fundamental human rights?
About 50% of one’s general happiness or mood appears to be genetically determined. That is, we are partially hard-wired for a certain degree of happiness or pleasantness. Another 10% is due to environmental circumstances. The remaining 40% has to do with how you develop your thoughts, feelings, and habits. How you think and behave – the choices you make – go a long way to adding to (or subtracting from) your happiness.
And since we know that FAMILY is one of the most important factors in how we experience happiness, it makes sense to focus on what you can do to improve those family relationships. When you enjoy your kids and family more, you’ll experience more happiness, which will lead to more enjoyable family time, and so on – creating a positive snowball effect.
As Henry James, the great American philosopher and psychologist said quite accurately a hundred years ago: “Tension is habit. Relaxing is a habit. Bad habits can be broken, good habits formed.”
Here are 3 simple tips that can help you improve your happiness habits.
- Repeat actions and activities that have made you happy in the past. Duh! Think about one of the most fun family times you can remember with your kids. Where were you and what were you doing? Okay, if it was at Disney World, you can’t repeat that daily. Yet what about all the smaller, simpler fun laughing times you’ve shared at home? Or a comfortable, contented time you’ve shared? Remember the warm feeling in your gut, the joy in your heart, as you just enjoyed this fun time with your gang? Well, do that some more.
- Immerse yourself in the moment. Make sure whatever you’re doing, you’re fully engaged in it. If you’ve chosen to have some “down time” or “family time”, focus fully on that activity, and those people, during that time. Yes, that may mean everyone turns off their electronic gadgets for a little while, or at least makes a conscious effort to put them in the background. – Unless, of course, you all can enjoy the digital activity together, then go for it!
- Do something that serves a larger purpose. Believe it or not, the old saying “giving is better than receiving’ really does have some merit. Studies show that when we feel we’re contributing to the well-being of others, it has the positive side-effect of increasing our own happiness and sense of satisfaction. So, what can you and your kids do that feels like you’re contributing some value to others? When you engage in some charity, service, or community events together, with the intention of contributing a little bit to others’ happiness, you’ll find that gift returns to you in the form of uncounted blessings.
So, here’s to a Happy 4th of July! A Happy Summer! A Happy Tuesday! A Happy Bedtime Story! Whatever it may be, here’s to cultivating a sense of gratitude and happiness for this moment, and each moment, that we can share with our children.
Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, mindfulness teacher, loving husband and dad. He invites you to join in an ongoing conversation that seeks to restore sanity to humanity – one child at a time. Join us at www.AMindfulVillage.com.