Category: Family Culture

Experiments to Improve Family Relationships

Experiments to Improve Family Relationships

 

A few years ago, I mentored a mom who has four children. I had known this woman for a while, and we were friends. She is a great mom and a wonderful person. At one of our sessions, we talked about her relationship with her 17-year-old daughter.

My friend was answering some thoughtful questions about “how” she is when she is with her daughter. She realized that she was often too critical and that their conversations were usually about chores and schoolwork even though her daughter has things she wants to share. The seventeen-year-old wanted to talk with her mom but she didn’t seem to know when the time was right. She chose to share when her mom was working, getting ready to go somewhere, or helping another child. They wanted to spend more time together, but they were both often tired and on edge. To avoid blow-ups they avoided each other.

Experimenting With Making a Change

When mentoring I often ask my client to pick one or two things that they would most like to see changed in the relationship with someone that matters to them. Then I ask them to come up with an experiment to see what might happen to the relationship.

I love experiments because they are just that, experiments. They are designed for the purpose of seeing if you can get a certain result by doing something new or different. Sometimes the experiment is successful and sometimes it isn’t. When you don’t get the desired result, you just design a new experiment. No failure here.

This mom came up with an experiment to increase the time she and her daughter spent talking and to decrease the time they feel tired and at odds with one another.

I want you to remember that this girl is 17, almost 18 years old. I work mostly with children from infancy to 12 or 13. Nevertheless, the mom tried using a connection technique that I teach all the time to use with children. For one week she was going to give her daughter as many random touches as she could remember.

A random touch looks like this:

• As you walk past the child you reach out and touch them in a friendly way while smiling. No conversation is necessary.
• If you see a child sitting on the couch, a bed, or any place like that, you plop down by them, lean back, and rest for 10 to 30 seconds. Then you squeeze a knee or pat a shoulder and go on your way. No conversation is necessary.

The Result of the Experiment

Here is what came out of the experiment. The relationship felt better. They spent more time together even when tired. Mom was more aware. The daughter talked and mom listened more. My friend and client said that looking at the relationship and asking questions about it helped her to be more conscientious about the fact that the relationship was more important than the management part of parenting. She also said she felt more purposeful in the relationship. She was keenly aware of what she wanted the relationship with her daughter to look and feel like.

After a few weeks of the experiment, she and her daughter had four weeks left of life as they had known it. Her daughter was graduating and moving into a new phase of life. She was leaving home to work for the summer. She and her mom decided to go to lunch once a week for the final four weeks. They were really looking forward to it despite being at odds just a few weeks earlier.

In a family, relationships trump just about everything else. How we see people matters. Our stories about them and their behavior impact how we, as adults, treat them. It doesn’t take much to “shift” a relationship into calmer and more peaceful waters. I like to remember that it isn’t the big things that make relationships firm and comfortable. It is the small and simple things we do on a consistent basis.

Questions To Ask About Your Relationship with Your Child

Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself about the relationship you have with each of your children:

• What is the primary conversation you have with the child? What are you talking about?
• What is the energy/mood between the two of you most of the time?
• What assets does the child bring to the relationship?
• Are there behaviors that block the relationship?
• What are you tolerating in the relationship? A toleration is anything that is draining your energy.

Now design an experiment to try something new. Remember that it is an experiment. You don’t know how it will turn out and that is OK. If you don’t get the result you want, design a new experiment. Like any good scientist, you will eventually find what works!

Share this exciting information with those you care about. Not everyone knows they can experiment.

What Use is a Good Imagination?

Jack, Mary, and Ben using the really cool horns they invented.

What use is a good imagination?

It might surprise you to know that when child development experts talk about “critical thinking skills” and “creative problem-solving abilities,” they refer to the imagination. That is what our imagination helps us to do. For human beings to have well-developed imaginations, you provide children with opportunities to exercise their imaginations. This practice happens best when children PLAY. In fact, some child development experts believe it is the only place that it happens. Play is also the place where executive functioning is developed in children. Executive functioning is a must to become a fully developed, successful adult.

Jack’s super duper invention!

A good question you, as parents, might ask yourselves is, “Are you providing your children enough opportunities for this type of play.” It is a good question because organized sports, music lessons, dance lessons, karate lessons don’t count. Playing board games with the family doesn’t count and doing just about anything on the computer doesn’t count. TV doesn’t count and playing video games doesn’t count. These things don’t count because, in the case of organized sports or lessons, etc., children are not free to use their imaginations and creativity. In the rest, they are watching someone else’s creativity and imagination.

In my mentoring, this comes up because it is a problem for parents. They don’t want their kids to waste time. They don’t want wasted materials. They don’t want messes. But these are the things that go into imaginative play, playing with paints, play dough, costumes, glue, and crayons—making a mess. Exploring the woods, splashing in a puddle, wondering how a caterpillar inches by, or pretending to be a tiger, stalking in the jungle are ways to increase a child’s imagination. These types of play use time, resources and often create a mess.

Homemade guns. Notice that Benny’s is a play drill and Mary’s is an umbrella.

In today’s world, there is a push to make sure that our children are prepared for life, go to college, get a good job. Often parents think that if they give their children too much free time, they are wasting their opportunities to prepare. Even though this thought comes from the best of intentions, it is not helpful for children. Children need time and space to develop their creative imaginations free from adult agendas. So even if your children complain, “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!” please trust that if you leave them to figure it out for themselves, how to fill their time, their innate creativity will kick in, and their imaginations will soar!

When I was a child, my parents were not involved in managing our days. We had our chores to do and possibly homework, but when they were finished, we were free, and frankly, we made the most of it. We acted out all the fairy tales we knew. I served as a soldier, nurse, or bad guy in every war I had ever learned about. We made mud cakes and decorated them; we hand-stitched doll clothes; we painted and used clay. We made houses out of fall leaves, and we built innumerable forts out of snow. We had plenty of time for play.

This type of play is a challenge today because our children are growing up in a digital world. They will carry that world in their pockets. But with your help, they can be taught while small, to play and use their imaginations. The first five years of a child’s life are the most suitable time. Here are five tips to help you help your young child use their imagination.

Five Tips to Strengthen Imagination

1. Help your child to activate their imagination. Engage in their play. If they bring you something they have drawn or made, ask them about it, pretend-play with them.
2. Ask thoughtful questions. I especially like this at mealtimes. I wonder what would… What if…
3. Make time for imaginative thinking and play. Make sure there is plenty of free and unstructured time to think, explore and pursue interests and ideas. There is evidence that playing outdoors and in nature stimulates imagination and learning. In addition, some quiet time alone can help children to plan and work through an idea.
4. Encourage different experiences. Read together. Make up stories in the car or at dinner. Visit museums, botanical gardens, parks, etc.
5. Show your playful side and imagination. I have written about this a lot. What you model for your kids is what they will copy. So even if play isn’t your thing, choose to be silly, to pretend on occasion, and to let your hair down.

Jack’s Darth Vader mask (the lid to the pop corn popper)

If your children are older than five, all is not lost. Have you seen the car commercial where the parents look back at their children and ask, “Do you still have bars?” while they are using their phones. At some point, the kids reply, “No, nothing.” And there it is. Get your kids away from all that is digital. Go camping, boating, have screen-free time in your day, put phones away during meals, and ask questions or make up a story with each person taking a turn to add to the plot. With some thought, you can help your older children to imagine.

I recall a family meeting my daughter had with her older kids. All the phones were turned off. The tv was off. No one called on Alexa for anything. They each had poster paper and a stack of old magazines and photos printed off the computer. They talked about what they would like to have happen in their family in the next three years. Where would they like to go, who would they like to see, what did they want to do. Then they used markers, scissors, and glue to create what that would look like for them. They had a great evening, and it used their imaginations.

If you want your children to go to college, have a good job, be successful and happy adults, then encourage them to play and use their imagination!

Let’s help kids use their imaginations and share the value of doing so with others! 

Technology is a Two-edged Sword

Technology has been a boon in so many ways. I am amazed at how well versed my nine-year-old grandson is in the use of technology. I watch other kids, and I am equally impressed. But technology, for kids, also has downsides. Here is one that I regularly see with the children that I interact with often; they have a more challenging time filling their time when technology isn’t available.

Because her kids are still relatively small, one of my daughters has some very consistent technology rules. Her kids must fill many hours of their day with ordinary play. This need to play is valuable because when kids play without adults, they develop their executive function skills, which are vital to becoming successful adults.

But children who have access to technology for many hours a day have a more challenging time engaging in inventive play with other kids. And this doesn’t just impact small children. I remember watching a group of teens sitting on the steps by my apartment. They were all together, but they were talking to each other on their phones. For over ten minutes, not a single word was spoken. No one looked up from their phones to even look at each other.

I watch my grands play video games with their friends. They aren’t in the same house. They are yelling and laughing with each other, but they cannot see each other’s body language and reactions in real-time. The way many kids play and interact with other kids has changed.

However, if we are wise, we will manage the technology use of our younger children. Of course, as they move into their teens, the time does come when you must let go more, but you can help them practice managing this two-edged sword for a while.

There are some good reasons for managing your childrens technology as well as your own:

1. Technology makes you grouchy – A study done by the Boston Medical Center revealed that parents who get absorbed by email, games, or other apps have more negative interactions with their children.

The Boston Medical Center study was conducted by Dr. Jenny Radesky, a fellow in developmental and behavioral pediatrics. Because she’s an expert on children’s behavior, she was curious as to how the allure of smartphones might affect the quality of time parents and their children spend together. What did they find? Radesky and her team reported there were “a lot of instances where there was very little interaction, harsh interaction or negative interaction” between the adults and the children.

2. Technology contributes to losing the ability to relate to others – remember those teens I observed? Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson of Seattle Children’s Hospital commented, “My concern is that if the device use becomes really excessive, and it replaces our day-to-day interactions, then kids won’t get much practice with having conversations, reading social cues, and responding sensitively to something that the other person expresses.” (“Don’t Text While Parenting—It Will Make You Cranky”).

A Wall Street Journal article describes “silent fluency” as “the ability to read cues like tone, body language, and facial expressions. Email and texts don’t convey empathy, tone, or subtext the way face-to-face or phone conversations do. We have to learn those things by interacting with real people.” (Bauerlein, “Why Gen-Y Johnny Can’t Read Nonverbal Cues”).

Larry Rosen, a well-known psychologist who has studied the psychology of Facebook interaction, wrote, “Our study showed that real-world empathy is more important for feeling as though you have solid social support.” (Larry Rosen, “Why Would Kids Who Spend More Time On Facebook Display More Empathy Online and In Real Life?”).

Isn’t that what we want in our families? Don’t we want our children to feel solidly supported? Don’t we want them to be able to support each other? Of course, we do. Most of us want this feeling in our family culture, but we won’t move as efficiently or effectively in the correct direction unless we model interactions between real people more often than we model interactions with technology.

3. Technology creates emotional distance and loneliness – Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18 to learn about their parents’ use of their mobile devices and how the kids felt about it. The words they used over and over again were “sad, mad, angry and lonely.” (Neighmond, “For the Children’s Sake, Put Down That Smartphone”).

In short, kids and parents begin to experience an emotional disconnect. This can prove problematic as children grow and experience more challenging things because who can they talk to? It won’t be those with whom they feel little connection or trust. There’s a sense of isolation and loneliness when technology is too prevalent in a home.

Turning away from technology and getting Present with your children will pay huge dividends when they become youth and young adults. It will impact your long-term adult relationship as well.

4. Technology gives the illusion of naughty children and makes for weary parents – Technology can make kids act out. Review #1 above. It can make kids cranky, and if you are too involved in your tech, they will act out to get your attention.

There are many books out there on how technology can affect your children’s brains for good and ill. There are also a ton of books on how to help not just your kids, but your family manage technology. Here is the thing that I think will help you the most – remember your summers. Those lazy days were filled with running and jumping and laughing and playing. And when you remember, you will want that a bit more of that for your kids.

So how do you manage technology?

As I said, there are lots of books on the subject but here are three tips to get you started:

1. Have set times when you and your children will use technology. I know a mom
who realized checking her computer first thing in the morning was messing up her day. She decided to turn the computer off each night before bed and leave it off until afternoon the next day. It’s made a world of difference

2. Try unplugging. Have a day, a few times a week, each month, or each year when you completely unplug. A few years ago, I shared how one family goes screen-free once a month each year. Yup, a whole month! Unplugging gives your mind a break. It re-energizes you. It puts you back in control.

Sunday is my day to unplug. I don’t scroll through social media, look things up online, write or answer emails, send texts, etc. Instead, I use my phone to visit with friends in real, live conversations. It is refreshing and rejuvenates my spirit.

3. Decide on technology-free times for your family. Which regular family activities will be technology-free? During those times, turn off all technology, including landline phones as well as cell phones. There are many possibilities—mealtime, family reading time, car time, bedtime, and family meeting/activity nights, to name a few.

When we take control of our use of technology and help our family members learn to control theirs, it is easier to feel connected and supported as a family; it is easier to create a family culture of Presence.

Take the time to make a technology plan for your family. Then share it with your friends.

Focus and Light – We never have all we need but it will be enough

I have a field that I keep weed-free.

I have been doing this now for two years. I have learned many things while toiling in the field. This week, two experiences gelled for me that I believe will be highly meaningful to some of you. Because I want you to get the full import of what I am attempting to share, I will take the time and words needed. Thank you for bearing with me.

I have been able to keep this field cleared on my own with just a hoe. I go there six days a week for 15 to 30 minutes. I have carved the field into sections in my mind, and I do one area each day. But, here is something I have noticed. No matter how careful I am in each section, I miss weeds!

Since the field is weedless dirt, I can see where I have walked in each section. Often, right next to a footprint, there will be a weed or a small group of weeds. This is a consistent phenomenon. How does it happen? I scan the whole area around me before I take the next step. But no matter how careful and methodical I am, it happens every day! I have thought a lot about that.

Here is what came to me this week – focus and light.

You can only focus on one thing at a time. Then you shift your focus to the next place and so on. You cannot focus on the entire section, or even the whole area right around you, just one spot at a time.

Here is something else. When I walk out to the field, I hoe weeds as I move to the section I intend to work. There is lots of dirt, and those tiny green seedlings are clear. I can see them, and I hoe them up as I go. But the odd thing is that as I make my way back from the section I just finished, I see weeds I missed. What! In this case, it is an issue of light—the light matters regarding what weeds I can see. Depending on the direction of the light, I can see certain plants but not others. It happens every day. Like focus, it determines what seedlings I see and what seedlings I miss.

This focus and light issue happens in parenting. We can see a problem that needs resolving, and we give it all we’ve got. Then later, we realize that there was another issue just as vital, if not more so, and we missed it. It can cause us grief because if we were being good parents how could we miss something so important.

Let me give you a real-life example so that you understand what I am sharing with you.

There was a time when four of our oldest five were struggling in school and with drugs. It was bleak. I was a focused, good mother. I spent enormous amounts of time trying to help these kids, keeping them alive, finding them services, attending counseling, etc. It has been decades since then. They are in their forties and fifties, have worthwhile lives, contribute. I believe they are reasonably happy.

But in my effort to focus on what seemed so important, vital even, I missed the pain of my two youngest children. I was there physically; we had meals on the table, I attended concerts and football games. I loved them and made sure they were safe. But I wasn’t emotionally available to them. It was all going to the four I was keeping alive.

These two youngest are now in their thirties. They also have worthwhile lives; they contribute, they seem reasonably happy. But I know they are still dealing with the pain of feeling abandoned, unseen. This was never my intention. I thought I was getting all the weeds, but I missed some despite my careful scanning of the area.

And then there was the issue of light (knowledge). My resources were limited, my information was lacking, and I couldn’t see what I couldn’t see. As I have moved forward, I have gained more knowledge. I can clearly see what would have worked better for the four than what I was doing. I also know how I could have helped those younger two, so they felt seen and heard.

I have been tempted to allow myself to feel like a bad mom, a failure. The truth is that for a long time, I did allow that. Then I gained more knowledge, light, and I STOPPED!

Thursday, this whole issue of focus and light was brought home to me even more. I wasn’t weeding a section of a vast field. Nothing was overwhelming in what I was weeding. I was working the strip between the sidewalk and the road. It is about 3 feet wide and 12 feet long and gravel-covered. Those weeds stick out like sore thumbs. You can quickly scan from one side to the other with each step. When I got to the end, I was feeling good. I was sure I had gotten every weed. But on the way back, right where I began, I found two weeds that I had missed.

Then I weeded a strip down the side of our driveway. It is only 1 foot wide. Easy peasy, right? And besides that, I was weeding on my hands and knees. But you know what, as I reviewed my work, I still found a couple of weeds I had missed.

Our focus and knowledge aren’t ever going to be perfect. Despite our best efforts, we can and will miss things that matter. If we could see them, we would do something about them but we don’t see them. What can we do when this happens, and our children are wounded because we are human and imperfect? It isn’t helpful to berate ourselves. Guilt is not an emotion. It is a state of internal condemnation. It damages and does not enlighten. Some call this state shame.

When we find ourselves lacking in our parenting skills there are better ways to respond. Here is what I have learned after many decades.

Speak kindly to yourself despite your failure. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, for lacking the knowledge you needed, for not seeing every need.
Be honest and take responsibility for what you missed. You did miss it. Avoid blaming anyone or anything else. Your honesty will help you see clearly so that you can move forward.
Increase your knowledge so you can make whatever repairs you can.
Remember that your kids came with an empty bag. You have added something to it even though you didn’t want to or plan to. Know that the cleaning out of their bag will help them become the people they are meant to be.

As for my two youngest, they have some work to do. It is their work. But I am here to support them. I pray so that I can know how to do that in the best way. Often, I am counseled by the Spirit to step back and leave them to their work. At other times I am guided to reach out.

They will do what my five oldest have done and are still doing. These older ones are emptying out their bags, and they are growing into amazing men and women. I’ve seen it. You will see it. If you never give up on your family, if you don’t berate yourself for being imperfect, if you keep growing and learning, increasing your light and knowledge, then you will see what I have seen. You are a good person and parent. You are doing your best, and as you improve your best, it will be enough!

Let parents you care about know that they can do this despite being imperfect!

Is there a deeper truth?

How it all started!

Alzheimer’s is a challenging disease to deal with. The brain isn’t consistent. So today, my mom can remember something, and tomorrow she has no clue. It is a temptation to repeat things, hoping the information will somehow stick. The dog has to be in the middle of the pad. This is a porta-potty. Don’t use the garbage can. Don’t fold up your used underwear. It goes here.

The other day my mom ate three bowls of cereal before lunch. This isn’t the first time it has happened. We buy her favorite cereal, raisin bran. It must have sweetened flakes because mom cannot monitor her use of sugar, and we leave it in the refrigerator so she can find it when she gets up in the morning if one of us isn’t in sight.

Mom thinks she is hungry because one of the effects of her dementia is that she no longer recognizes thirst. So, whenever she needs water, she feels hungry. I was out in the garden, and Don was resting. We weren’t there to get her a drink and help her manage how she was feeling. That is why she ate three bowls of cereal in four hours.

When I came in to fix lunch, I was put out. I need mom’s weight to stay reasonable to manage baths and things that will come up down the road. I need mom to eat nutritious food. I don’t want her to become ill and end up in the hospital. These were my thoughts as I explained again why she shouldn’t eat three bowls of cereal before lunch for the dozenth time. She won’t recall any of the conversations. What she will remember is that she was in trouble.

Was there a deeper truth?

Later, I was telling my daughter Jodie what I had done. I was confessing because I realized that my motive for the conversation wasn’t as noble as I had supposed. Then Jodie shared a life-changing question with me. She had learned that it was helpful to ask this question when she felt upset – ‘Is there a deeper truth?’

Let’s look again at the situation with my mom. I want her to have a manageable weight. Is there a deeper truth? I want her to eat nutritious food. Is there a deeper truth? I want her to remain healthy, so she doesn’t end up in the hospital. Is there a deeper truth? Her greatest fear is having to be in a nursing home. I want to make sure she can stay here with us. Is there a deeper truth?

I hated to admit it, but there was a deeper truth. I am a woman of order. I like things my way. Her eating three bowls of cereal was out of order. Not being hungry enough to eat lunch with us was not part of how I envision a family lunch. You get up, eat breakfast, drink water, then have lunch. This is the proper order.

All those other things are true. I care about them, but when I was honest with myself, it wasn’t any of those things that had me so worked up. It was that my plan had been messed with. But, of course, I’m sure you won’t judge me too harshly. You do this. We all do this.

This question can help you to parent better

I can think back to my parenting and the times I got upset with one of my kids. Of course, after the fact, I could come up with lots of good reasons for my distress. However, if I had asked myself this question, I can assure you that often the truth would have been attached to my plans, feelings, desires, and sense of how it should be.

I don’t think we can avoid being upset over things that happen in a family—a mud ring left in the tub; the center cut out of an entire piece of construction paper; clothes stuffed under the bed. Homework lost or left undone, a child not coming home on time, the left-over roast being eaten when you had planned a meal around it. The list is endless.

But we can respond better if we will ask ourselves the question – ‘Is there a deeper truth’ until we get to the bottom of why we are really upset or distressed. Then we will be able to manage whatever the situation is with greater calm. We will be better able to teach. We will feel better about ourselves. We will leave our children feeling better about themselves.

I have numerous opportunities to practice asking myself this question every day. I am getting a bit better, and hopefully, I will become a master eventually. If you decide to begin asking yourself this question, I’ll bet you will also have many opportunities to practice. I hope you choose to ask yourself this question more often. It will bless you and your family.

I needed this question. You probably need this question. Who else do you know
who would benefit from knowing this question?

Choose to Let Go of Suffering

Today, August 6, 2021, I finished reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis for the second time. The first was when I was a young woman in my forties. Now I have read it as a much older woman. I have to admit that my life’s experiences have made it much more meaningful than when I first read it. After all, you can’t know till you get there. : )

I certainly haven’t passed away and entered Heaven or Hell, but I have had far more experience with what the people in the story experienced while on earth.

On the back of the book, it says, “… comes to some significant realizations about the nature of good and evil.” However, I was more moved by the knowledge that, yes, in this life, we often choose to suffer. Here are a few phrases from the book that confirmed that.

“There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery.”

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it.”

“That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that, we begin living.”

Back in 2015, I wrote an article about this very topic. This book so moved me in that regard that I looked it up. I am re-sharing it here, updated, because understanding that I was free to choose to suffer or not has been life-changing for me. It will be so for you too. I will put 2021 in front of what I add to the original article. After all, it has been six years, and I will have learned more. : )

Choose to Let Go of Suffering

I have a friend who is very dissatisfied with parts of her life. She is filled with disappointment, dissatisfaction, resentment, and frustration. Some of her struggles are the same as mine, so I have shared how I have learned to be happy, even though life and people can be disappointing. Recently she said, “Well, you are just settling.” I have given this much thought, and here is what is true – I am choosing to let go of suffering. I am choosing to be happy by choosing how I will respond to my circumstances.

2021 – I know that I am 100% in control of how I respond. Knowing this has changed my life because it has moved me from being a victim to having personal power in how I look at things and react to situations.

Embracing Serenity

I love the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. It hung in my childhood home for many years, and I read it often. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.

The philosopher W.W. Bartley juxtaposes Niebuhr’s prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme (1695) expressing a similar sentiment:

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.

Serenity is the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. How often have you longed for that state of mind? Did you know it is a choice and not the result of your circumstances?

Making the Choice to Let Go of Suffering!

My marriage has been a good one. I love my husband, and he loves me. But some things caused me to feel resentment, frustration, dissatisfaction, and disappointment. Too many things! Sometimes I suffered. I would hold on to those moments of suffering and bring them out whenever I needed to remind myself why I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be.

As I got older and wiser, I wanted to ‘see differently’ what was happening or had happened. I began praying about the issue. Then, one day while driving to an appointment, I had this thought come into my mind – “You have suffered by choice.” I was stunned. What in the heck did that mean?

So, I asked out loud. “Heavenly Father, I don’t get that at all. Show me what that looks like,” and He did. I had a memory come clearly into my mind. I could see my husband’s actions and mine, and I saw that I chose to suffer. Yikes. I began from that moment to go back into my memory bank, to all the places where I had felt hurt, disappointed, etc., and examine them through this new lens. It became clear to me that I had chosen to suffer when I could have chosen peace instead. My response to what was happening made all the difference.

Not long ago, I read a fantastic book, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is…: A Season of Unlikely Happiness by Laura Munson. She went on a journey in letting go of resentment, frustration, and disappointment. Laura chose a path of happiness in the most challenging time of her life. It confirmed what I had learned for myself, that we can choose happiness even when we are sure we are being wronged. (WARNING: This book does use the F word a lot but was an excellent read.)

What Does Letting Go of Suffering Look Like?

Let me share some mundane examples of choosing to let go of suffering.

All my life I have wanted a bed with beautiful bed pillows. It wasn’t possible for me to have this in my family of origin for many reasons. When I was newly married, it wasn’t a real option either. However, I did come to a place where I could finally have them. But my husband doesn’t want to move a big pillow to take a nap, rest after work, or when he goes to bed. He can’t see the point. Mostly, he isn’t aware whether they are on the bed or not. He doesn’t see them. They aren’t even part of his thinking.

It has been a huge irritation to me for quite a few years. I always get up earlier than Don. He will make the bed but never puts the bed pillows on. When I come into the room, I put them on, and when I come in next, his pillow has been removed so that he can rest or nap. As I look at the gap where the bed pillow should be, I feel resentment and frustration build up. It is disappointing!!! If he loved me, he would put those pillows on the bed, right! Grrrr. You all know exactly how this feels!

So here is what I decided to do. I decided to stop suffering. When I get up in the morning, while Don is still sleeping, I make my side of the bed, putting my wonderfully beautiful bed pillow in place. When Don gets up, he makes his side of the bed, and his bed pillow stays propped against the wall. Every time I walk into the bedroom now, I feel happy. There is the bed pillow I always wanted right where I want it, on my side of the bed. I know that some of you are saying to yourselves, “How tacky is that. She is settling!” I get it, but I have decided not to suffer. I am in control of my response. I am happy with my bed pillow, and it feels great!

2021 – This year, I gave these beautiful pillows away to my daughter, who loves them. I didn’t need them anymore. I have moved to a new place. I am grateful that I haven’t spent the last six years angry and frustrated at Don over a pillow. That would have been a terrible waste of energy, and it would have been hard on our relationship. Having a kinder, more profound connection with Don has always been more important to me than bed pillows, no matter how lovely. I am grateful that six years ago, I made a choice to put my relationship above them. It has made ALL the difference.

I have also always wanted beautiful towels in the bathroom that never get used. They just hang there and look beautiful. Raising seven children and growing up the oldest of nine, you know that there were NEVER unused towels in the bathroom.

So, when all our children left home, I thought, “Now is the time.” Wrong! My husband just can’t understand the idea of unused towels in the bathroom or taking the extra steps to use the hook on the bathroom door. So here is how our bathroom towel rack looks – one used towel, unfolded, drying. Very convenient and very “not decorative”!

I have to say this caused no small amount of disappointment and frustration in me for a long time. First, I resented that I couldn’t have what I wanted because my husband stood in my way! Then, when I went into the bathroom, I would see that towel rack with its unfolded towel and remember that I never got nice decorative towels, and then I would feel disappointment and frustration. I wasn’t happy!

When I decided to stop suffering, this is what I did. I acquired a small shelf which I put in my bathroom. I got it from my mom. I trifold the towels and keep them color-coordinated, and it looks terrific. When I am in the bathroom doing whatever, I look at the towel rack, and it feels so lovely. It is perfect. I don’t mind Don’s unfolded towel or the fact that my color-coordinated towels aren’t hanging up. When I go into the bathroom, I see that I have this orderly, beautiful rack of towels. It feels satisfying to me.

2021 – Since writing this, we have moved again. In our tiny bathroom, there is NO towel rack. None. We have two hooks on the wall. My beautiful green towels are hanging there, drying or awaiting the next shower. I am so glad I didn’t live with frustration over having towels hang a certain way to feel content. If I had, I might not feel as good now when I have no towel rack at all. I still have this small antique shelf which looks very near the same today as it did in 2015. And looking at it still brings me a feeling of contentment.

2021 – I had another experience with letting go of suffering in 2016. It was such a clear example of how we burden our most important relationships when we choose to suffer over things we think matter but which, in reality, are not truly important.

Don is a gadget-man. He bought a new stovetop grill at the county fair and was excited to use it. The
following day was Sunday, and we needed to get to an important reception right after church. I said, “Honey, there isn’t time to grill chicken today and make it to the reception. You’ll have to do
it tomorrow.”

After church, Don was nowhere to be seen. I knew he had left early to go home and grill chicken! Sure enough, when I got home, the grill was on, and he was cooking. When we got to the reception, they were cleaning up. The bride and groom had left. We ate at a table alone while others cleaned up around us. I was so angry!

I chose to feel angry because I decided that his grilling was either because he didn’t listen to what I had said or he didn’t care. I held onto this upset feeling as we drove to the reception and ate in silence. I held on to my ill feelings as we went home and for a chunk of the evening.

Finally, I grew tired of my self-inflicted unhappiness. I asked Don, “Remember when I said
there wasn’t time to grill chicken today. I can think of two reasons why you went ahead and did it. Either you didn’t hear what I said this morning, or you didn’t care what I wanted. But I know you, and you
love me. You’re not insensitive. So, there must be a reason I haven’t thought of.”

He looked at me with a stricken face and replied, “Gosh Mary, I thought I could do it in time. I thought the whole thing would take thirty minutes. I didn’t know it would take so long.”

I had to laugh because I could tell from his poor face, he had believed it would only take thirty minutes and was shocked to find out it took longer.

At that moment, I wished I had chosen to let go of suffering earlier. We could have felt better as we drove to and from the reception. We could have had more genuine enjoyment talking to the bride and groom’s family and sending our love to the newlyweds through their families. We could have enjoyed that cake as we spoke with those of our friends clearing up. So, you see, it could have turned out better despite our lateness if I had chosen to let go of suffering.

Will You Let The Thieves of Joy Into Your Home?

Bed pillows, bath towels, and receptions are not very important. But this principle of choosing happiness, of choosing to let go of suffering, of changing what you can and accepting with grace what you can’t, works in things that do matter. It comes up over and over in my mentoring; the need to be correct, to prove that we have been inconvenienced, the need to let others know we have been wronged, wanting to make sure others know how we have sacrificed for them, to name a few. Disappointment, resentment, dissatisfaction, and frustration are the thieves of joy! You can let these thieves into your home or not. It is your choice.

I have given you some examples of the mundane. But I have used this knowledge in the vitally important. I have healed my feelings about old wrongs, embarrassing moments, out and out rudeness and unkindness, out of sorts relationships, and even abuse.

One of my favorite books, as a 16-year-old, was by Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. It has multiple lessons on its pages, but one of the biggest is that you have a choice in every circumstance. It all comes down to your response. There are two quotes that I can still remember now, almost 50 years later.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Taking responsibility for our happiness is wonderfully empowering. When we know that we control our satisfaction, we can choose our response more consistently. We can act and not be acted upon!

I can fight with my husband over bed pillows and towels or not. I can feel resentment and disappointment every time I go into the bedroom/bathroom or not. It is up to me. And frankly, I choose to take responsibility for my response; I choose to let go of suffering. I choose peace!

I hope you will do the same. : )

How Does Reading as a Family Impact Adults?

I am a BIG proponent of family reading because of its many benefits. When our kids were living at home, we read together. I wasn’t consistent, but we did manage to do it often enough that one of my daughters would say years later, “Mom, it was so great how you always read to us.” However, I wasn’t prepared for the HUGE impact reading together has had on our household of three, all of us over seventy.

Some time back, I published an article called I’ve Got the Tone. For many years, I have had a tone in my voice of irritation, frustration, annoyance. Over the years, it became a habit. Since we have been reading together, about a year now, that tone has dissipated quite a bit. The truth is I feel less irritated, annoyed, and frustrated. The feeling in our home is one of more charity, less contention, and a greater desire to connect and be cooperative. I think reading together will directly impact our health.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Don bought me a bag of veggie chips. I love veggie chips, but we don’t buy them often. I made yummy sandwiches for lunch. I thought about getting the veggie chips, but I didn’t. After the blessing, Don went into the garage where all the chips are kept and got some of the veggie chips for himself. When he came back to the table, I smiled and said, “Hey, I thought those were mine. You should have brought some for all of us”—end of conversation. However, the comment kept coming to my mind as I was reading to Don and my mom. My tone of voice had not been irritated, just matter of fact. But I worried that I might have made him feel bad.

So, I told him that what I had said wasn’t kind, and I should have said, “Good idea,” instead. He looked sheepish and replied, “I was trying to be sneaky.” Don isn’t supposed to have chips. I laughed and said, “Honey, you got them and then came back to the table with them. You aren’t very sneaky.” He replied, “I know; that’s what my meds do to my thinking.” I smiled and said, “I knew that’s what was happening. That’s why I should have said ‘Great idea’ instead of what I said.” We both smiled. It was a totally different feeling from what would have happened a year ago. The feeling was conversational rather than confrontive, even when my first comments weren’t as well thought out as they could have been. There was a sense of connection.

One of my warmest memories is of my mother reading to us. She didn’t read to us often, but when she did, it was magical for me! As I think back on those reading moments with my mom, I know what made them so special. I knew my mom loved us. This same feeling of love and concern has come from the reading we have been doing in our family. I knew this was the case for kids, but I wasn’t prepared for how impactful it would be for a family of adults. Reading together has established an intimate experience filled with feelings of warmth and belonging.

Most of my readers still have kids at home. It doesn’t matter whether you have a bunch of littles or a group of teens. Both teens and littles like to read as a family. From Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report, we learn only 17 percent of parents of kids aged 9–11 read aloud to their children. Yet 83 percent of kids aged 6–17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot (Scholastic Inc. and YouGov 2014). There are excellent reasons to read together.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ AS A FAMILY

A. Physical closeness—Reading aloud allows you and your children to achieve physical closeness. Small children enjoy sitting on your lap or draping themselves across your body. You may snuggle less with older children, but this is not a given. If you’re open to having older children sit next to you or lay a head on your shoulder, the chances are it will happen often. That has been my experience.
B. A sense of security—Gathering together as a family and reading create a sense of security and safety—a feeling of ‘all is right’ with the world. When children feel secure and safe, they function better out in the world. Love is essential to a child, but feeling safe is crucial and often even more critical.
C. A sense of belonging—There’s a sense of belonging which comes from everyone being in the same room, snuggling and listening to the same story, having a shared experience. This sense of belonging can be beneficial as our children begin to mature. They’re trying to figure themselves out as well as figure out where they fit in the world. This process of personal growth can bring a sense of isolation. Reading as a family is one of the ways parents can create a sense of belonging.
D. A chance to tackle complex subjects—Reading as a family allows you to introduce difficult topics to your children and have safe discussions. I’ve read books to my children dealing with honesty, integrity, kindness, bullying, God, social issues, beliefs, and feelings. It made it possible to bring up ideas and thoughts I wanted my children to consider and ponder. It was a safe and comfortable way to experience essential life lessons.
E. A shared language and a sense of intimacy—When families read together, they often create a unique language. It can provide inside jokes. I read an article that described the experience of a family who loved the Mercy Watson books. In their family, they frequently heard the call at breakfast for “Mercy Watson toast, please!” (Johnson, “Why You Should Read Aloud to Older Kids”) It is fun and bonding when families share a phrase from a good book that means something to all of them. It creates a sense of intimacy.
F. It can strengthen struggling children and youth—When one of my daughters was fifteen, she made unwise choices. She knew it, but she was struggling to make changes. At the time, the youngest two children read with me. We read in the middle of my bed before lights out. Although my daughter wasn’t usually home, I noticed that when she was, she would come to my bedroom door, lean against it, and listen, no matter what the book was. This time together did not resolve her issues, and she had a tough road, but I’m confident it helped her stay connected to our family in a way that was vital to her eventual success. If you’re struggling with any of your children, for any reason, the closeness generated by reading together can go a long way to keeping you connected while issues are worked out.

If you are hesitant to read as a family, give it a try. Be patient. In my book Becoming a Present Parent, chapter Four covers touchpoints. Touchpoint 7 is reading together. You can read that chapter free. Touchpoint 7 shares a real-life experience of a troubled family, how they made family reading work, and their eventual success. There is a section called Making Family Reading Work. With the tips found there, you can read together, and it can be successful.

Share the reasons that you read with your family. If you don’t yet read as a family, why not?

Creating a Refuge for Your Family

My sister flew to Philadelphia to see her son and his family. Michael picked her up at the airport, and they drove to New Jersey. He is in the military, and she was very anxious to see them all.

Here is the catch – my sister has terrible claustrophobia and can’t fly. She has never been on a plane and has anxiety just thinking about it. But she wanted to see Michael and his wife and kids. Watching her prepare for the flight and all the effort she had to make to even get on the plane, let alone stay on it, was a miracle.

She managed to get to Michael’s in one piece. Everyone had a wonderful time, lots of good food, fun activities, and hugs and kisses. She loved it. But in the back of her mind was that trip home. Again, lots of worries and getting control of self-talk, using natural nerve remedies, etc. On the flight to her sons, she used an entire bottle of Ashwagandha.

When Rozanne got home, she said that it was such a comfort. She said, “Home is a refuge. It is a safe place to be. The place where you can rest and feel peace.”

That is so right! We all want to go home to be safe and at peace. It’s what our kids want too. For parents, that is part of our job – creating a refuge where it is safe and there is peace. That is a significant part of the job.

There is a skill we can learn and then practice that will help our homes feel more like a refuge. It helps kids feel valued and heard.

ACTIVE LISTENING

When we actively listen, it is to connect with the speaker and to understand how they feel about what they’re saying. It’s active and engaged and seeks to hear the words and, more importantly, to hear the heart.

Because this type of listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to develop steps to make it happen more often. They may be helpful to you also.

A. STOP what you’re doing. Turn away from any technology, book, or project. If you genuinely can’t stop, tell your child you can see this is important to them, and you want to hear what they have to say. Set a specific time when you’ll be free and keep it. Saying “we’ll talk about it later” is not specific and sends the message you’re not available to them, that whatever else you’re doing is more exciting or more important. If possible, stop and listen now!

B. Make eye contact with your child. I remember reading that an infant can tell the difference between a face in order and one with jumbled features.

From my experience, I know babies are interested in their parent’s faces. They look at their parent’s faces constantly and reach out to touch them. Infants want us to look back at them. As we grow older, the desire for eye contact with the people in our lives that matter to us remains.

Eye contact is looking directly into your child’s eyes and not looking away at other things or looking down. When we look at our children as we listen to them, it sends a powerful message that we care, we hear them, and they matter.

C. Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. When you’re actively listening, you’ll respond to feelings more quickly and more accurately. This type of response helps your child feel heard. You can say things like, “Boy—how maddening!” or “You didn’t like that, did you?” or “How did you feel?” This helps your child know that you view their feelings as valid and important.

D. Listen with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.

For example, you can think, “I sure love this kid. They’re so interesting, funny, kind, thoughtful,” whatever. Hold thoughts that allow you to embrace fully the moment you’re sharing with your
child.

Avoid interrupting. Ask only those questions that help clarify. Your job at this moment is not to teach, reprimand or fix. It’s to listen.

Listening to your child is an end in itself. It isn’t about a resolution, teaching, making progress, none of that. It’s about connection, pure and simple. You can always teach later. Right now, actively listen.

During a day, there are dozens of opportunities to stop and listen. We can’t actively listen in every situation. But if we can increase those times we do, it will significantly impact our relationships.

When you practice listening to really hear your child, even if they have made a mistake or you are angry at them for something, it creates a safe place. When kids feel safe, they will come to you more often, even when they know they are in hot water. And as our children grow older, this will be a gift to us.

Practice active listening as much as you can and make your home a refuge.

Share ‘how to’ with a friend.

Gratitude – Part 2, Ten Tools to Greater Gratitude

Gratitude begins with attitude.

Gratitude is a choice not based on what is happening to us, what we have or don’t have, but on how we choose to see what is happening to us. Regardless of our circumstances, we all have much to be grateful for if we pause and contemplate our blessings.

We can lift ourselves and others, as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude is one of the grave sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest virtues. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”

Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and one of the leading scholars in the scientific study of gratitude, said the following: “It is possible that psychology has ignored gratitude because it appears, on the surface, to be a very obvious emotion, lacking in interesting complications: we receive a gift—from friends, from family, from God—and then we feel pleasurably grateful. But while the emotion seemed simplistic even to me as I began my research, I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.”

The other day after a church meeting, someone said to me, “I am so inspired.” In my heart, I responded, “Inspired to what end.” It isn’t enough to be inspired. We must be moved to action. I want to help you decide to move to a more significant place of gratitude. I recognize that we are all in different places in our lives, and so I have created a varied list of ten possible action steps that you can use to cultivate more gratitude and, as a result, greater happiness.

Your job is to be open to the action step that will work best for you right now. Don’t pick the one that you think sounds the most righteous or what you think other people will decide. Listen to your inner voice, which one will make the most difference right now, for you.

Ten Gratitude Exercises

1. Come up with some Happiness commandments – After I read Gretchen Rubin’s, The Happiness Project – I asked myself what makes me the most unhappy, and then I came up with three commandments for myself. I post them where I can see them and am reminded of what kind of thinking leads me to happiness.
• Be a Pollyanna
• Clean the ditch (remove garbage thinking)
• Let go of suffering (yes, suffering is a choice)

2. A Gratitude Journal – Dr. Emmons and his colleagues found scientific proof that people who practice gratitude through activities such as keeping a gratitude journal are more loving, forgiving, and optimistic about the future.

They exercise more frequently, report fewer illnesses, and generally feel better about their lives. In subsequent studies, Dr. Emmons also noted that people who regularly kept a gratitude journal and were in the habit of recognizing and expressing gratitude for their blessings reported feeling closer and more connected to people, had better relationships, were more likely to help others, felt less lonely, felt less depressed, slept better, and were more pleasant to be around.

In her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote, “The practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed.”

3. Journaling – This is like the gratitude journal, but in this case, detail in writing, one positive experience each day. Journaling will help you find meaning in the activities of the day, rather than just noticing the task itself.

4. Dedicate a few prayers a week to only Gratitude – Ask for nothing; be grateful for what you already have.
• If you can’t walk – do you have a wheelchair
• If you can’t see – can you hear
• If you feel you are too old – you are yet alive and can serve
• If you don’t feel accepted – you have the opportunity to reach out to others
• If you are single and alone, thank God for the family and friends you have
• If you’re having trouble with your spouse, thank God for the opportunity to develop more Christ-like       traits through forgiveness and taking personal responsibility
• Thank God for His goodness to you
• Express thanks for Jesus’s example, for His teachings, for His outreaching hand to lift and help, for His
infinite Atonement.
• Thank God for leaders and teachers
• Thank God for your family and children

5. Control negative thinking – Ray L. Huntington, a professor at BYU, said, “Studies have shown that focusing on the negative in times of adversity—using derogatory or critical words as we talk to ourselves or others—can darken our mood and, much like a virus, infect the moods of those we interact with. Consciously choosing to fill our minds with thoughts of our blessings and feeling appreciation for those blessings can change the way we feel and brighten our spirits during difficult times.”

6. Add More Thank-Yous to Your Vocabulary – Saying “thank you” to someone brightens your day by affirming your positive feelings. It also lifts the spirits of those who are deserving of your thankfulness. Use people’s names who check you out at the grocery store, people who help you on the phone, and anywhere else you happen to be and see a name tag. Tell them, ‘thank you.’ Thank your spouse and children for what they do, no matter how small.

7. Take Time to Write Thank-You Notes and Letters of Appreciation – John Kralik, an attorney with a struggling law practice and personal family problems, determined to reverse the cycle of negative thinking through writing and sending one thank-you note each day of the year—365 thank-you notes in total. His note-writing endeavor taught him a valuable lesson: blessings can be easily overlooked unless we are consciously thinking about them each day. To that end, note writing helps us identify, remember, and express our blessings.

8. Live in the Present Moment and Give Thanks for Small Blessings – I call it Being Present – It is easy to get caught up in tomorrow: what needs to be cleaned, shopping to do, the upcoming holidays. And while it’s healthy to plan and prepare for future events, if you are too consumed with tomorrow, there is a chance that you will miss something small and wonderful that is happening to you in the present moment.

9. Random Acts of Kindness – Return the shopping cart to the stall, smile at people, pick up something someone has dropped, tell someone how nice they look, even perfect strangers, move over, and let someone sit down by you.

10. Philanthropy – Learn to give no matter how much you have. Give a dollar or two. If you have more, give more. Do it outside of your tithing and church contributions. The act of being able to give helps you feel well off and increases feelings of gratitude.

For a time, I felt that I should have cards with a small amount of money in my car. I was impressed to write, “No matter what has brought you to where you are, I care about you, and so does God.” When I saw someone on the street and felt that I should, I would give them a card. I put $50 in a savings account every month so that I could provide these cards. Remember that these were directions to me, and if you ask, you will receive your own guidance on how to serve financially, and it will probably be different from mine.

Take a few minutes right now and think about these ten tools to increase gratitude. Which one speaks to your heart? Choose one.

Now that you have chosen something that you will do this coming year to increase your gratitude, and ultimately your happiness, let me share two quotes.

First, from Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency, ” Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. . .Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

And from David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who penned these beautiful words: “The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

If these words have inspired you, I would ask, “To what end have you been inspired?” Commit to yourself that you will practice Gratitude and make it your way of being.

Gratitude – Part 1, Joy & Happiness Are Born of Gratitude

Some years ago, I decided to find out what I could do to improve my life the most.

I wasn’t happy with what I discovered – stop complaining. I am still working on this one thing! It has been a challenge.

Then, after a few years, I looked to see if I could find a way to make more progress. I wasn’t sure how I felt about what I found – gratitude. I began a gratitude journal. When I wrote a few things each day, I felt better, happier, more charitable to others. But I wasn’t consistent.

In the spring of 2019, I got serious. I bought a notebook and hastily wrote Gratitude Journal and the date I began on the front. I was consistent until the fall holiday season. Then it dropped off. Despite this lapse, I had that notebook with me in Seattle at the beginning of 2020, just before Covid closed the airports. It helped me remain optimistic, and I made it home.

I began writing my gratitude statements in earnest, and as the year progressed, I felt the need to express my gratitude increase. Focusing on what I was grateful for made a big difference in my ability to stay mentally on top of an extraordinarily negative and sometimes frightening year. For Christmas this year, a friend of mine sent me an actual Gratitude Journal. A pretty one. I have enjoyed writing in it. It is keeping my spirits up.

Did you know that joy and happiness are born of gratitude? This is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way, over time, because raising a home full of children can be challenging!! Over the years, I said, “How can I be so grateful and ungrateful at the same time?” I said it so often that I was afraid my children would have it carved on my headstone. I was grateful for my home but….it needed a new carpet. I was thankful for my kids, but…I wished they wouldn’t fight. I loved my husband dearly, but …. why couldn’t he pick up his socks.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you find yourself terribly grateful and ungrateful at the same time? This habit, and it is a habit, diminishes our joy and happiness. The truth is you cannot be grateful and ungrateful at the same time. If you are complaining, you are not grateful. I know, it hurts to hear!

Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, said, “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend . . . when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us —the wasteland of illusion falls away, and we experience heaven on earth.”

How are gratitude and happiness connected? Why does it matter whether we see the glass half-full or half-empty?

Let me refer to two stories found in the Christian Bible that are beautiful examples of a broader view of gratitude than just having a good feeling when things are going our way.

In the book of Luke, chapter 17, we read the story of Christ passing through Samaria and Galilee. In a village, he met ten lepers who cried out to him, “Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus sent them to the priest, and as they went, they were healed. One turned back and, with a loud voice, thanked Jesus. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

Jesus didn’t need their thanks, but he knew that gratitude is an uplifting and exulting attitude. We cannot be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited when we are grateful. We choose to serve when we are grateful. Being grateful would help those nine healed men to live more joyously and generously. He wanted them to have that experience, and they, through their lack of gratitude, missed out.

In the book of Matthew, we have another account of gratitude, this time as an expression from Jesus. Jesus had traveled in the wilderness for three days, and more than 4,000 people followed Him. He took compassion on them and wanted to feed them. His disciples, however, questioned, “Whence, should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” Like many of us, the disciples saw only what was lacking.

“And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And said, Seven, and a few little fishes.

“And commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.

“And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”

Notice that the Savior gave thanks for what they had—and a miracle followed: “And they did all eat and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.”

We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. These are the times when we find ourselves complaining either by word, action, inaction or in our hearts.

It isn’t always easy to be grateful. But if we commit to being grateful more often, seek the help we need to make it a practice, and then persevere for as long as it takes, it can become our way of being, not just a feeling. That path is what Jesus wanted for the nine healed men. He knew that if they practiced gratitude, they would be happier down the road when things got tough again. He also knew that the grateful energy we send out can create miracles in our lives.

Ten Gratitude Tools

If you feel overwhelmed, resentful of your spouse or children, blame others regularly, feel like a victim, or feel you are missing essential blessings, I encourage you to consider working seriously on your state of gratitude. Next week I will share ten GRATITUDE tools that can help anyone become more grateful. Choose just one and start.

If you feel that you are already grateful, I hope you will accept the challenge to practice one of the ten tools anyway. You may be as surprised as I was when I took the challenge to stop complaining and become more grateful. I wasn’t as appreciative as I thought, and I complained far more than I knew. See you next week.

Share your gratitude with someone this week.