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Twelve Tips for a Happier Family, by Dr. Louise Hart

Posted Mar 10 2010 7:04am

NOTE FROM SUSAN: I recently found a new friend in Dr. Louise Hart. She is an amazing parenting expert, educator, public speaker, author, adventurer and all-round incredible woman. She has fabulous information for parents and families on her website, www.drlouisehart.com , and in her books, including The Winning Family . I’m certain you’ll find the following article by Dr. Hart, “Twelve Tips for a Happier Family,” to be well worth the read. Enjoy!


Twelve Tips for a Happier Family
by Dr. Louise Hart

It is in our nature to pursue happiness; why, then, is misery so common? How is it that the rates of depression in the U.S. are ten times higher than they were 50 years ago? And how is it that the average age for the onset of depression is 14, as compared to 29 in the 1960s? Where have we gone wrong?

Fortunately, there is good news: The Positive Psychology movement has ushered in the new Science of Happiness. We now know that happiness can be learned. In this article you will find proven tools and simple strategies for improving the quality of your life. An uplifting approach, new skills, and different choices can make a world of difference in your life. When you make positive choices, you begin an upward spiral. Things will just keep getting better and better.

Here are Twelve “Happiness Boosters”
1. Close relationships. The most important factor in a satisfying life is having close relationships. Brain research tells us that humans are “hardwired for connection.” As we improve our ability to get along with others, family life gets better and better.

2. A sense of purpose. In order to be happy, we need to have a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. Children give our lives new meaning and a profound sense of purpose. All the things we do for them on a daily basis -- feed, clothe, and comfort them, and teach and support them -- are part of our mission to be good parents.

3. Nurture positive emotion.
When we are enjoying positive feelings, we are creative, expansive, and tolerant. When we are in a good mood we are more likable, and our connections are likely to improve. This is also true for our children and our partners. It’s worth the effort to put more positive emotion into their lives and our own.

4. Positive expectations. When adults have negative expectations of children, they project those expectations onto their kids. Kids “read” that. They don’t want to disappoint you, so they are likely to do what you really don’t want them to do. Children live up to -- or down to -- your expectations. Expecting good things of them will inspire the positive behaviors you want.

5. Improve your listening skills.
Think back to a time when you had something important to say and you were not listened to. What happened inside of you? Now remember a time when the person really listened, hanging on to your every word. You felt important, loved, worthwhile. Good listening is a gift -- to both the speaker and the listener. It is an opportunity to be in tune with another person, to experience his or her inner world, to have empathy, and to be connected. This skill is crucial for connecting with others and for being happy.

6. Keep feelings moving. To be healthy and happy we need to know how to deal with a full range of feelings. “Healthy kids emote all the time; they roar and cry and yell and giggle and keep their emotions in motion, moving through them.” (The Winning Family, Louise Hart) All emotions are okay. You can help your children move through their emotions by letting them express those emotions. Then you can help them put a name to each emotion. When kids can “talk it out” they don’t have to “act it out.” They don’t have to hold their feelings inside. Becoming comfortable with all of your own feelings can help you re-parent yourself as you parent your child.

7. Let go of perfectionism.
“Perfectionism is the world’s greatest con game. It’s a concept that doesn’t fit reality.” (On the Wings of Self-Esteem, Louise Hart) My favorite definition of a perfectionist is: someone who takes great pains and gives them to others! Humans are not perfect. Kids drop, spill, and forget things, and so do we. When we expect “perfect” we end up being frustrated, disappointed, and angry -- very unhappy. Decide right now to stop pretending to be perfect. Laugh at bloopers. Resolve to learn how to let go of perfectionism.

8. Play more.
Be silly. Have more fun. When we play, important things are happening beneath the surface. The thrill of being alive pervades our bodies. If you have forgotten how to play, your children can help you remember. My children helped me remember some wonderful old games like hide-and-seek and squirt-gun fights. They even encouraged me to try new games like hacky-sack and skateboarding. Through our children we can see the world with fresh eyes. With them we can cut loose from stuffy adultness, be totally foolish, and get away with being unforgivably silly! We can reclaim forgotten parts of ourselves and rediscover the finer points of childhood. Families -- and life -- are supposed to be fun!

9. Appreciation and gratitude. Moms work hard. Dads work hard. Yet research has found that they mostly don’t feel appreciated. When we don’t feel appreciated, we may feel resentful. We may grumble about how hard we work and how ungrateful everyone is. The good news: Appreciation is easy to give and it can improve the emotional climate in your home. Here’s a homework assignment for you: Make a Gratitude List. Think of five or ten things you are grateful for every day. Do it with your family. Talk about this at dinner or when you’re putting your kids to bed. Focusing on gratitude will make you happier.

10. Simplify, simplify, simplify. We Americans are trying to fit more and more things into less and less time. And it doesn’t work. Too much stuff and too many activities stress and overwhelm us. As the emphasis on material possessions increases, so do the levels of depression. Too much stuff burdens us and distracts us from what really brings us happiness: a sense of purpose and meaning, and playing and having fun on a daily basis.

11. Adjust your focus.
Do you see the glass as half-empty or half-full? Do you first see the low grades or the high grades on the report card? Are you a fault-finder or a strength-builder? I remember visiting my mother when I was pregnant with my first child. I wore a dress that I made myself. My peers thought I had done a wonderful job and had told me so, so I was eager to show it off to my mom. I knocked on the door. When she opened it, she looked me over from top to bottom and said, “You have a spot on your dress.” Sadly, she missed the beauty of the garment and my excitement and triumph in creating it. Her focus on finding fault hurt me deeply and disconnected us even further. If she had had a positive focus she could have seen the beauty of the dress and my excitement; it would have been a sweet moment that brought us closer. (She might have mentioned the spot later and helped me remove it. This would have felt like a favor, not an attack.)

12. Emotions are contagious. Little children who are loved and cared for have a natural joy; when you’re in tune with them, their joy can be infectious. Older children, even ten-year-olds, can be taught the skills of optimistic and hopeful thinking and action. In The Optimistic Child, Martin Seligman reports that when children learn to be optimistic and hopeful, their rates of depression are cut in half during puberty. Adults can also learn to be optimistic -- if they really want to learn.

As you apply these tips you will notice an increase in your own positive feelings -- and those of your family members. Begin now and keep at it. Little changes can make a big difference.

Making your kids happy makes you happy. And when you are happy and smiling more, your kids will be happier and laughing more. These choices -- these changes -- can begin an upward spiral towards having a happier family.

© 2010 Dr. Louise Hart is a Community Psychologist, professional speaker, and author of The Winning Family , a guide to Positive Parenting praised by Mothering Magazine -- “Uniquely inspiring, accessible, and non-guilt provoking!”

“As a parent educator for 28 years I have read every parenting book available. This is still the best book there is! It has changed so many lives.” -- Nevin Valentine, Napa Valley College CA

Sign up for the free Positive Parenting Workshop at http://www.drlouisehart.com .




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