The 20th of March is International Day of Happiness, which has been declared and celebrated by the United Nations since 2012. It’s the day that recognises that happiness is a fundamental human goal.
This is a day I can really get behind! 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, improves our immune system, combats stress, lowers pain, is 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, here are five ways we can promote happiness in our families:
Date your partner.
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, couples feel increased love for each other when they spend time exploring new and challenging activities together (such as rock climbing, Thai cooking, or competitive chess). After all, there is something wildly romantic about facing challenges together and seeing something new in one another.
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 leads to kids that have lower anxiety, better physical health, are less likely to engage in high-risk teenage behaviours and have lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. They also do better at school!
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 (like saying no to social events on Sundays) or by making it a habit to go to bed earlier each night instead of watching mindless reality TV or surfing the web. Small changes can greatly increase our family’s happiness.
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.
Pore over family photos. Tell your family stories 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.
Love is spelled 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.
A quick note on screens.
Screens degrade the quality of our relationships (it’s called technoference 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 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.