Category Archives: Relationships

Leisure Time at Home Makes Grandchildren Happy

Can’t afford that pricey vacation to Disney World with the children or grandchildren?

family-vacationA new study from Baylor University points out that family happiness is often found right at home.

If you’re a baby boomer like me, as a kid, you probably spent a lot of time at home eating family dinners, playing board games, and watching “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” and “Wonderful World of Disney” every Sunday night.

But have you noticed that today’s exhausted families seem to be constantly on the run dashing from one destination to another?

Turns out our parents may have been on to something back in the day. Sure, it’s fun and exciting to go new places and create memories. But simply hanging around the house enjoying familiar activities also has its benefits.

In fact, this new study points out that leisure time spent at home may actually be a more effective way to foster true, long-lasting happiness.

“When the brain is focused on processing new information—such as taking part in an unfamiliar activity with unfamiliar people in a new location—less ‘brain power’ is available to focus on the family relationships,” lead author Karen K. Melton, PhD., assistant professor of child and family studies, said in a press release.

family-home-drawingIn other words, a quiet evening spent together participating in familiar activities inside the home – while reducing distractions such as cell phones – makes it easier to reap the emotional benefits of quality time together.

There’s another benefit too.

Family members can feel free to “express stress and conflict as well as pleasure during leisure time” if they’re at home, Melton added. This necessary and natural process of blowing off steam that can lead to solving family issues is something that probably won’t happen in public places where people are watching.

Although many experts recommend eating together and discourage watching TV, Melton said there is not a one-size-fits-all schedule for leisure activities that guarantees happiness.

“For some families, quality togetherness is having dinner together or playing games; for others, it may be hobbies, videos or TV, music,” she said. “At the end of the day, what matters is that we are social beings who crave a sense of belonging and connectivity.”

This idea also fits into studies that show children do well with regular, predictable, and consistent routines at home.

That’s good news both for parents and grandparents limited on time and resources.

If you’re a grandparent like me, that means when the grandchildren come to visit, you don’t have to feel the need to run out and do something new and exciting every day. Quit trying so hard, slow down, and enjoy simple activities at home with the children.

Want a few ideas of activities you can try out with your children or grandchildren at your house? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read a favorite book and have your child or grandchild add his own twist for a unique ending.
  • Have some old-fashioned fun in the backyard. My grandchildren love to play “Eat it or Wear It” with various foods. Want something tamer and less gross? Try good ol’ Freeze Tag, Kick the Can, or Red Light Green Light. They’ll love it! Make an obstacle course. Or pick up a piece of rain gutter at the hardware store, add water and a soap “boat” and voila! You have a race track.
  • Grandma and Grandpa, show the kids some of your groovy moves during the disco era. Dim the lights and give each child a flashlight to turn on and off for that full disco effect. Break out your old Bee Gee, ABBA, and KC and the Sunshine Band albums. Or younger parents, share your favorite dance moves like the Sprinkler, The Macarena, or the Robot with MC Hammer or New Kids on the Block playing in the background. Or choreograph a dance routine to your kids’ current favorite songs.
  • Ready for some quiet time? Lie on a blanket outside and do some star gazing. Do a puzzle together. Make a shoe box dollhouse using cardboard, matchboxes, toilet paper rolls, and scrapbook paper (I spent countless hours doing this as a kid!). Remember string art and play dough? They still work like magic!
  • Kids love to perform. Hold a family karaoke night. Give out “awards” for the silliest performance, best duo, most dramatic voice, or best outfit. Make a “runway” out of folded blankets, play some music, and have a fashion show with exaggerated catwalks and poses. Try a comedy show complete with corny kids jokes, a puppet show based on the children’s favorite story, or a magic show displaying their favorite card tricks.

Save money and take the time to veg out at home. In the long run, your children or grandchildren may be happier!

Images courtesy of digital art and graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

75-Year Long Study Reveals Secret to Happiness

Happiness is….

Searching HappinessEveryone is searching for happiness. So, how would you answer that question?

An impressive 75-year-long Harvard study tracked the lives of 724 men from their teen years to old age to find the answer. Sixty of those men are still alive and participating in the study along with their 2,000-plus children.

What makes the study fascinating is researchers focused on two very different types of men. The first set of men were sophomore students at Harvard and the second set were from troubled and disadvantaged families in Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.

As different as they were, apparently happiness was achieved in similar ways.

No surprise, wealth and a successful career did not always equal happiness. (Although, by the way people are standing in line for hours and going crazy for the billion dollar lottery this week, it appears people still think money brings happiness.) Having a meaningful connection to the type of work they were doing was more important than achieving traditional success and wealth. Intelligence didn’t guarantee happiness either.

As all the song lyrics seem to agree, it seems that love is the answer. The greatest takeaway from the study was the revelation that relationships bring us the most joy and happiness. As Mary Stuart stated, “To be kind to all, to like many and love a few, to be needed and wanted by those we love, is certainly the nearest we can come to happiness.”

You probably could have guessed as much. But there’s more to the study than just that.

In a recent TED talk (a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks), Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the study discussed some of their findings.

What can we learn from this study?

Happy FamilyThe Quality of Relationships Matters

No surprise, the men in both groups who had better relationships with family, friends and community were both happier and healthier than their less social counterparts. They also lived longer. On the other hand, lonely people who were isolated had more health related problems and reported feeling less happy. They also suffered from sleep disorders, had more mental health issues, and lived shorter lives.

However, not just any old miserable committed relationship will do. In fact, the study showed that people who were alone were happier than people in turbulent “high-conflict” relationships. That agrees with research that has shown chronic stress from a bad marriage can affect the immune system.

The quality of close relationships mattered more than the number of friends the men had or whether they were in committed relationships. Interestingly, the Harvard study found that the people who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Take a mental note to nurture your relationships into old age.

Happy MarriageA Good Marriage Can Help Your Memory

Stable, secure, and supportive marriages not only contributed to happiness but to better memories as well.

The Harvard study found that married people who had never been divorced, separated, or experienced “serious problems” before age 50 performed better on memory tests later in life. Other research has found that marriage has been linked to a lowered risk of dementia.

In other words, participants who felt they could rely on their partners during old age in times of need found their memories stayed sharper for longer.

Men with Mommy Issues Fared Badly

In a conclusion that surely would have pleased Freud, the study suggested that a man’s relationship with his mother matters long into adulthood.

Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mother were less likely to develop dementia later in life and more likely to have professional success. In fact, they earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.

Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers—interestingly not with their fathers—were associated with effectiveness at work.

Stay Away from the Booze and Cigarettes

Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce between the Harvard study men and their wives and it was strongly correlated with neurosis and depression. Together with associated cigarette smoking, it was the single greatest contributor to their early morbidity and death.

Happiness is Love

Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who led the study from 1972 to 2004, wrote regarding this study, “The 75 years and 20 million dollars expended on the Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’“

Now that you know what made these men happiest over three quarters of a century, hopefully you’ll make any necessary changes. Quit chasing financial success and crying that you didn’t win the lottery, let go of any mommy issues, stop smoking and drinking too much, and concentrate on the relationships in your life.

Some powerful and enlightening insight to take with us into and beyond 2016!

Images courtesy of imagerymajestic, photostock, and Tina Phillips at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

What Are Your Life’s Happiest Moments?

If you look back on your life, which moments would you count as your happiest? What would be your biggest regrets?

time to evaluateThat’s the intriguing question online insurance company Beagle Street asked 1000 “life experts” aged 70 or older to mark the release of a new heartwarming, short four-minute film called “Happiest Moment.”

The film is produced by BAFTA-nominated Gary Tarn and features some of UK’s oldest couples – including Maurice and Helen Kaye from Bournemouth, who are 102 and 101 and have been married for 80 years.

Fascinating stuff, right? What did the older generation say and would you agree with their answers?

The Happiest Moments in Life

Happiest momentsPerhaps not surprisingly, the top three best moments in life the participants listed were the birth of their first child, their wedding day, and the birth of their grandchildren.

Other happiest moments included the day of retirement, moving into a new home, meeting the man or woman of their dreams, the first kiss with the person they love, and watching their child’s first steps and hearing their first words.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the subsequent births of siblings rated number four on the list of happiest moments. As the oldest of four, maybe I feel just a bit smug about that.

One woman described the joy she felt seeing her wounded husband in a hospital during World War II as one of her happiest moments in one of the touching interviews that might have you dabbing your eyes.

What noticeably did not make the top ten on their list were any career-related achievements or anything to do with material gains. Obviously, job promotions and buying a fancy car were not as important as loving relationships.

We can learn from that, folks.

Regrets in Life

Interestingly, more than half the people questioned said they had absolutely no regrets in life.

The most common regret of those that had them was choosing the wrong career and not pursuing lifelong dreams.

Also in the top five were getting divorced and getting married too soon. One in ten of those with regrets wished they had worked harder in school and seven per cent regretted not traveling the world more.

old manAdvice from Life Experts

The short film, Happiest Moment, includes advice from the older generation aimed at the younger ones. What wisdom from their experience in life did they want to pass on to the generation following them?

The number one piece of advice was to never take the people you love for granted.

Other top pearls of wisdom were “believe in yourself,” “nothing worth having comes easy,” and
“don’t hold grudges.”

What Can We Learn?

Since it’s scientifically proven that happier people live longer, we should take some notes.

What makes life matter when you look back?

Me – I would agree with most of their choices. The primary difference is that I would include the day I got baptized and dedicated my life to God on my list of happiest moments. After that, I would definitely include the day I met and married my husband, our first kiss, and the births of my children and grandchildren at the top of my list.

Clearly, relationships with those we love are more important than money and the key to contentment according to this study of older people in Britain who were looking back at the high points in their lives.

Matthew Gledhill, managing director of Beagle Street, put it well when he said: “The overwhelming message from those with the most life experience is that the key to happiness is to worry less and live in the moment with the people you care about most.”

Still living in the moment, one 80-year-old woman said, “I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.”

True, this study is not exactly scientific and gives us a limited snapshot of happiness, but it supports countless research that suggests family relationships and social connections overrides career or monetary success when it comes to happiness and life satisfaction.

In other words, counting your blessings instead of your material gains will definitely give more meaning to your life at the end of the day.

How about you? Do you agree with their list of life’s most fulfilling and joyful moments? I’d love to know. If you’re so inclined, tell me what you would include on your list in the comments below.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles, kangshutters, and taoty at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Finding Happiness in Marriage

Me and my husband, Scott, getting ready to cut the wedding cake 36 years ago.

Me and my husband, Scott, getting ready to cut the wedding cake 36 years ago.

This week my husband, Scott, and I celebrated 36 years of marriage. Whoop! Whoop! I can honestly say that I love my husband more than the day I married him and our years together have been joyful ones that have flown by.

Actually, studies have shown that getting hitched is good for our happiness. In general, married people report greater happiness than those who have never been married, and those who are divorced, widowed or separated.

Not to say that you can’t be happy if you’re not married. In my personal opinion, it is much better to be single than unhappily married. If you are using your life for a greater purpose, I absolutely believe you can be happy as a single person.

That being said, if you choose to marry, how do you find happiness?

When people ask me how my husband and I have stayed happily married for so long, I have to credit Bible principles. Here are five that we have lived by:

  • Be considerate and care for your mate’s feelings. Instead of always looking out for your own personal interests, look out for the interests of your spouse. Choose your words carefully before speaking and communicate with kindness, respect, and love.
  • Be realistic. When you get married you may think everything will be easy and perfect. However, since we’re all imperfect, that standard is too high. Expect problems. When confrontations arise, listen carefully with an open mind. Be patient, forgiving, and understanding.
  • Focus on your spouse’s good qualities and remember why you chose to spend a lifetime with your mate. Work as a team. Learn to be united in your thoughts and feelings.
  • Make your marriage a priority. Remember that your marriage is one of the most important things in your life. Make sure you regularly spend quality time together and give each other undivided attention. Make your spouse feel needed and appreciated. Look for ways to make each other happy.
  • Take your vows seriously. Do not look at divorce as an option “if things don’t work out.” Be loyal and determined to make your marriage a success.

Of course, it helps if you choose the right person in the first place. I am very fortunate that even though I was young, I chose someone with the same values and goals. Scott is my best friend and we are extremely compatible. As Dr. James C. Dodson said, “Don’t marry the person you think you can live with; marry only the individual you think you can’t live without.”

A recent picture of me and hubby hiking in the La Quinta's beautiful Santa Rosa Mountains.

A recent picture of me and hubby hiking in the La Quinta’s beautiful Santa Rosa Mountains.

Of course, Scott and I don’t always agree on every single thing, so we try our best to follow the tips I’ve outlined above. However, I do not feel like our marriage has been “hard work.” It’s been way more fun than that!

Each anniversary is a celebration of love, trust, loyalty, partnership, friendship, shared laughter, joy, new experiences and adventures – as well as determination and tenacity.

I wholeheartedly agree with a quote by Andre Maurois, “A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short.”

Happiness is Catching

Misery loves company, but evidently so does happiness.

Image courtesy of photostock/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Of course, you probably already knew that associating with happy people can make you happier as well. But research has shown that there seems to be a third-degree, indirect spread of one person’s cheerfulness.

For example, say you have a happy friend. Researchers at Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego discovered that increases your chances of happiness by 15 percent. If the spouse of that friend is happy, it increases the likelihood of you becoming happy by 10 percent. If a friend of a friend is happy, it increases the likelihood of you becoming happy by 6 percent.

“What we are dealing with is an emotional stampede,” Nicholas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said. “”Each additional happy person makes you happier. Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness.”

What is surprising about all this is that your mood can brighten thanks to someone you haven’t even met. Evidently, the effect extends beyond the people we come into contact with – reaching friends of friends. In other words, emotion can ripple through clusters of people who may not even know each other for an extended period of time. Think of that!

That means people who are happy boost the chances that someone they know – or even someone they don’t know – will be happy. Because the power of happiness can spread up to three degrees, elevating the mood of that person’s husband, wife, brother, sister, friend, or next-door-neighbor.

This is not only interesting but also important since happiness has been shown to have a substantial effect on reduced mortality, pain reduction, and improved cardiac function. Other studies have shown that obesity and smoking can spread in social networks, but isn’t it nice to know that we can catch happiness like an emotional virus from others as well? Just like laughter is contagious, moods can also be infectious.

Of course, having more friends increases happiness but having HAPPY friends has a much bigger influence on your state of mind. So find some cheery friends with happy spouses and other happy friends and you’ll have a win-win situation.

And if you’re feeling inexplicably joyful today, you can thank your friends. And your friends’ friends. And your friends’ friends’ friends.

Boomers Don’t Be Too Busy to Bond: How to Develop Meaningful Relationships

“If you have learned to love, then happiness will surely knock on your door,” says the book Engineering Happiness – A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life.

Image courtesy of  Photokanok/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Photokanok/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The fact is surrounding yourself with people you love is one of the most important contributors to your health, mental well-being, and happiness. And no, I’m not talking about Facebook friends and Twitter followers. I mean the caring, supportive relationships we have with our spouses, families, and friends that give us strength and bring immeasurable joy into our lives.

In today’s rushed world, it’s easy for us boomers to get sidetracked with all our responsibilities. At a time when we’re often at the peak of our careers, caring for teens, and scrambling to take care of aging parents, it’s easy to neglect relationships. Or perhaps you’re like me. Like most writers, I have a tendency to be an introvert. I can happily spend hours alone at home writing in my office or reading a book. Although I deeply cherish my family and friends, I don’t always have a strong drive to be with other people.

That being said, I know that it’s in my best interests to push aside any anti-social tendencies, make time in my busy schedule, and nurture the relationships with my husband, children, grandchildren, family, and friends.

Like most valuable things in life, maintaining relationships with the people we love requires time and conscious effort. If you’re ready to reset your priorities and spend more quality time with friends and family, the following five tips can help create happier and more meaningful relationships in your life:

  1. This first suggestion may surprise you, but sometimes loneliness stems from insecurities. Work on your self-confidence. Remember that you are a unique individual and have something special to offer. It’s hard to establish meaningful relationships with other people if deep down you don’t feel that you’re worth another person’s love.
  2. Show genuine interest, remain curious about your loved ones, and be a good listener. Have honest, deep conversations to discover what passions you share with friends and family. Pay close attention to what other people value the most and make the effort to connect with them on that basis.
  3. Practice the golden rule and treat others as you wish to be treated. True friendship requires mutual respect, unselfishness, kindness, consideration, thoughtfulness, and genuine care for the other person. Be there in times of happiness and grief. A kind expression, an empathetic smile, or a gentle hug goes a long way.
  4. Don’t be a fault-finder. A critical, judgmental, unforgiving attitude can drive people we love away. Remember, no one is perfect. Be empathetic and compassionate. Regularly express your gratitude and love to friends and family for all their care and support.
  5. I wrote about the importance of a positive attitude in a previous blog, but you will have more meaningful relationships if you are an optimist. Positive, happy people make other people feel good and brighten up a day simply with their presence. Have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself.

Take an inventory of all the people who care, and then make the effort to maintain your relationship with them by following these five tips. As Barbara Bush said, “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”