By Dr Justin CoulsonMonday 23 Mar 2020
The 20th of March was International Day of Happiness, a day declared and celebrated by the United Nations since 2012. It’s the day that recognises that happiness is a fundamental human goal.
And while this year’s March 20 was a most unusual one, with a pandemic currently shutting down much of the world as we know it, there’s probably no more important time to work on the things we can, that are proven to makes us happier.
A mountain of research shows that being happy is not just a natural human desire – it is actually really good for us. Happiness makes our hearts healthier, it improves our immune system, it combats stress, it lowers pain, it’s associated with improvements in long-term illness, and even increases longevity – meaning that happy people live longer.
So, in honour of International Day of Happiness, as crazy as it was this year, here are five ways we can promote happiness in our families:
1 – If You Have a Partner, Date Them – Regularly!
Parents provide their children with a blueprint for how to live a happy life. When you are happy, and your relationship with your partner is strong, your kids will absorb this influence often without even noticing it.
One of the best ways to have a strong, happy relationship with your partner is to continually date each other. In fact, research shows that couples feel increased love for each other when they spend time exploring new and challenging activities together (such as rock climbing, a cooking class, or art lessons). There is something wildly romantic about facing challenges together and seeing something new in one another.
* And yes, in this time of a pandemic with lockdowns and activities shutting down, you’ll have to get a bit more creative. But your relationship needs TLC, especially in a stressful time. The rewards will be worth it!
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2 – Have Family Dinners
Family dinnertime might be the single best thing we can do as a family. It is the most reliable time of the day to connect with our loved ones, and connection leads to greater happiness.
Family dinnertime also promotes great outcomes. It has been proven to develop in children have lower anxiety, better physical health, less likelihood of engaging in high-risk teenage behaviours, and lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. They also do better at school!
3 – Less Stress, More Sleep
The child raising years are a busy time. But, in a survey of a thousand families where kids were asked, ‘if you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?’, their number one wish was that their parents were less tired and less stressed. (The parents thought it would be more time together, but they were wrong.)
More sleep and less stress will make our families happier, but it can be a big ask. Maybe we could start by dropping just one extra commitment, making Sundays quieter, or going to bed earlier each night instead of watching mindless TV or surfing the web. Small changes can greatly increase our family’s happiness.
4 – Share Your Family History
Families with a strong sense of family history are the happiest. The more kids know about their heritage, the more they feel a part of a story that is bigger than themselves. They have a better sense of control over their own lives, have higher self-esteem and are even able to handle stress better.
Look at family photos together. Tell stories about your family often (dinnertime is a great time!). The best stories don’t shy away from negative things, but talk about the family’s ups and downs. They also end by emphasising how your family always sticks together.
5 – Remember: Love is Spelt T-I-M-E
There is nothing that creates more happiness than spending time with another person. A dad at one of my seminars recently (a lovely Kiwi) told how he takes his family out for ‘chups’ every Tuesday. They call it “Chip Tuesday”. It’s not a big or expensive outing – and kids don’t need that. But they do need consistent availability.
We also need to be available when our kids need us. Let them know they are always welcome to come to you. It’s important to honour that request for your time.
Lastly: A Quick note on Screens and Happiness
Screens degrade the quality of our relationships (it’s called technoference, a play on the word ‘interference’, and it’s not good). So, to really promote happiness in our families, we need to put the phones and the tablets down, shut off the computers and turn off the television. We need to spend that tech-free time looking each other in the eye, talking and having fun.
Our families need us to be present to be happy. And we need that as well.
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families. About the Author: A sought-after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.