De­velop a hap­pi­ness habit

Fam­i­lies share their happy rit­u­als.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CATHER­INE NEWMAN

COULD the se­cret to fam­ily hap­pi­ness be as sim­ple as a comfy couch, the lat­est Pixar ti­tle, and a shared bowl of pop­corn?

Hap­pily, yes! It turns out that even the most ba­sic fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties, when done with a bit of in­ten­tion and rit­ual, can boost con­tent­ment in last­ing ways. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side, stud­ies in­di­cate that habits such as a weekly movie night or shar­ing “I’m grate­ful for ...” thoughts at the din­ner ta­ble have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on over­all hap­pi­ness.

Still, in the typ­i­cal crazy-busy house­hold, it can be dif­fi­cult to stick with any rou­tine, no mat­ter how fun and easy. As a mother to four kids aged nine months to 14 years, Lyubomirsky knows this all too well. But she be­lieves it’s worth the ef­fort to keep try­ing.

“It’s all about fit,” she says. “You need to find what works for you and your fam­ily.”

Some au­thors and blog­gers share the mood-boost­ing tra­di­tions that work best for them. They might just in­spire your fam­ily to pick up some happy habits of your own.

Just say yes

Who does it: Suzy Becker, au­thor and il­lus­tra­tor of One Good Egg, Kids Make It Bet­ter, and other books; spouse, Lorene; Aurora, age 9.

What they do: Yes Day came into be­ing “when we got sick of hear­ing our­selves say no,” Suzy ex­plains.

To coun­ter­act the neg­a­tives, she filled a cup with six “Have a nice day” slips of pa­per and a sin­gle “Have a Yes Day” one. If Aurora draws the lat­ter at break­fast, her re­quests (Can I stay up late? Can I watch TV be­fore break­fast?) get a yes. And so do Suzy and Lorene’s: Will you walk the dog with me? Will you try a lit­tle bite of fish? Yes!

Why it’s awe­some: It’s not just that there aren’t any nos on Yes Days, it’s that there are fewer nos ev­ery day, since Aurora tends to save up all her ask­ing. And Yes Days have turned out to be more about in­di­vid­ual stretch­ing and fam­ily to­geth­er­ness than the an­tic­i­pated screen and junk-food ex­cesses. “I love the un­spo­ken ‘ within rea­son’ part,” Suzy says. Aurora keeps it rea­son­able, says Suzy, be­cause she knows there will al­ways be another Yes Day.

Cel­e­brate small things

Who does it: Lor­raine (LiEr) Tei­gland, blog­ger, ikat­; spouse, David; Emily, age 9; Jenna, 7; Kate, 5.

What they do: LiEr is known for turn­ing out gor­geous craft projects on her blog, but each week she calls a time-out to have tea with her three daugh­ters. It’s an idea in­spired by her own childhood in Sin­ga­pore.

“The kids are es­pe­cially fam­ished af­ter be­ing at school all day, and we miss each other dur­ing the week.” So ev­ery Fri­day, they do a spe­cial tea to mark the end of the school week in a cer­e­mo­ni­ous way. Some­times LiEr bakes scones, and they set out a pretty cloth and the tiered serv­ing trays; other times it’s store-bought muffins on a bare ta­ble or hot choco­late at Barnes & Noble.

Why it’s awe­some: Sit­ting down to­gether to break bread – or scones – has proven ben­e­fits but, says LiEr, “It’s not so much about the eat­ing,” it’s about giv­ing her girls an oc­ca­sion they can count on, a mo­ment to breathe, even when life gets busy with school.

“We play card games and talk about our week, maybe plan for the weekend,” LiEr ex­plains. “It’s some­thing spe­cial they look for­ward to.”

Re­live spe­cial fam­ily mo­ments

Who does it: Emily Neuburger, au­thor of Show Me A Story; spouse, Tom; Leah, age 8; Hazel, 6. (Baby Oliver isn’t quite ready to par­tic­i­pate.)

What they do: Emily pro­longs the fun of fam­ily get­aways by cu­rat­ing a dig­i­tal va­ca­tion slide show, com­plete with a songs-of-the-mo­ment sound­track. The crew sits down to­gether to savour it, then works back through past slide shows to see the same shots in dif­fer­ent years: sea­side ice cream, mini golf, the girls in the back­seat of the car.

“They clam­our to watch last year’s, and the year be­fore, and it’s like a rab­bit hole. They love it. And we get to see how much they’ve changed.”

Why it’s awe­some: “We’re mak­ing mean­ing and mem­o­ries for them,” Emily ex­plains. In­deed, ac­cord­ing to hap­pi­ness ex­pert Lyubomirsky, reminiscing about won­der­ful times is another one of those re­search-proven mood boost­ers.

“When we asked peo­ple to think about the best day in their life and re­play it in their mind, like a video­tape, that in­creased their hap­pi­ness lev­els,” she says.

Movie nights

Who does it: David Vi­enna, blog­ger, thedad­dy­; spouse, Larissa; Wy­att and Boone, age 5.

What they do: “Be­fore we had kids, ev­ery night was Movie Night,” re­calls David. “Ex­cept, we just called it ‘night’.” And now this “to­tal movie nerd” is shar­ing the love with his twin boys. Once a weekend, the fam­ily or­ders in a pizza and watches what­ever movie strikes the boys’ fan­cies.

“We fin­ish ev­ery screen­ing by talk­ing about what the story taught us. And the won­der­ful thing is, even if we’ve seen it be­fore, the les­son may dif­fer.”

When they watched The Sword In The Stone, for ex­am­ple, the first time they talked about how Wart learned that brains of­ten de­feat brawn; af­ter the sec­ond view­ing, they dis­cussed how prac­tice helps you mas­ter a skill. “Se­ri­ously, I think my boys could skip school and just watch this movie on re­peat to learn ev­ery­thing I want them to know.”

Why it’s awe­some: For David, the post-movie chitchat is key. “When a movie ends, we say, ‘OK, guys, what did we learn? How did you in­ter­pret it?’” He thinks such dis­cus­sions will give them skills to find lessons in the films’ sto­ries and in their life ex­pe­ri­ences.

Of course, the big ideas come with a load of gig­gles, and that helps, too. Stud­ies show that laugh­ing to­gether can build stronger re­la­tion­ships.

Board games bond­ing

Who does it: El­iz­a­beth Foy Larsen, co-au­thor of Un­bored: The Es­sen­tial Field Guide To Se­ri­ous Fun; spouse, Wal­ter; Peter, age 14; Hen­rik, 11; Luisa, 9.

What they do: Board games are not just un­bor­ing for El­iz­a­beth’s fam­ily. They’re an in­stant, low­cost way to bridge the fam­ily’s some­times tricky spread of ages and in­ter­ests and serve as a mood booster dur­ing dark, end­less Min­nesota win­ters.

Why it’s awe­some: Play­ing brings the sib­lings closer – but with­out call­ing at­ten­tion to it­self as a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. You might say that the point­less­ness of a game is its point ex­actly.

“We get in­stantly very, very silly, and then we’re laugh­ing to­gether again, and we’re all just soft­en­ing to­ward each other. I no­tice that there’s a nice lit­tle af­ter­glow when we spend that time to­gether.”

Plus, putting screens aside in the evening and hav­ing some un­plugged fun (another Healthy Habit!) pro­motes bet­ter sleep for all.

Kind­ness rit­ual

Who does it: Chris­tine Carter, so­ci­ol­o­gist, hap­pi­ness ex­pert, and au­thor of the book Rais­ing Hap­pi­ness: 10 Sim­ple Steps For More Joy­ful Kids And Hap­pier Par­ents; spouse, Mark; Fiona, age 13; Molly, 11.

What they do: Four times a year, Fiona, Molly, and their grand­fa­ther fill zi­plock bags with es­sen­tials (socks, bot­tled wa­ter, an en­ergy bar, lip balm, sun­screen, and a tan­ger­ine) and dis­trib­ute them, in per­son, to home­less peo­ple.

“Some­times, they call it a Kind­ness Scav­enger Hunt,” Chris­tine ex­plains. They started in­clud­ing lip balm be­cause one of the girls no­ticed that home­less peo­ple of­ten have chapped lips. One of the kids wrote a note that said sim­ply: “We see you and we care.”

Why it’s awe­some: Mul­ti­ple stud­ies have shown that do­ing good deeds in­creases feel­ings of well-be­ing and con­nect­ed­ness. For Chris­tine’s fam­ily, “it’s an act of em­pa­thy and imag­i­na­tion.”

Mak­ing and de­liv­er­ing those care pack­ages ben­e­fits peo­ple in need, of course, but it has also given the girls “a re­ally deep grat­i­tude for their own home, and they ex­pe­ri­ence their own power, their abil­ity to help,” Chris­tine says. “Is it weird to say it’s so much fun? But it re­ally is! And the peo­ple are so ap­pre­cia­tive. It’s so pos­i­tive for every­body.” – Fam­ily Fun Mag­a­zine/ McClatchy Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Sick of hear­ing your­self say ‘no’? Have a yes day to coun­ter­act the neg­a­tives.

(Clock­wise from top) Give your kids an oc­ca­sion they can count on, and cel­e­brate small things; get sib­lings to bond over board games; and use movies to spark dis­cus­sion.

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