Science has a lot to say about how we live our lives. Being a part of a family, whatever that looks like, is one of life’s ultimate sources of happiness. Families provide a sense of meaning and belonging.
However, it's hard to put joy at the forefront of our family life when we’re surrounded by piles of washing, belligerent teenagers, or a toddler with a crayon and a penchant for wall-art. Luckily, science has some ideas on how you can focus on the positive experiences and make those the center of your family life. By putting one or all of these research findings into practice, you can enhance yours and your loved ones' happiness, even when you’ve discovered your toddler’s latest masterpiece. So go on, find yourself some joy.
Displaying family photos around the home used to be common. Now we’re more likely to take thousands of photos but not display them on our shelves and walls.
Children feel good about themselves when they see themselves in photos. A study found that when children took pictures of themselves and regularly viewed them, they experienced an increase in self-esteem. Seeing yourself represented as loved and important matters, especially in the safest place you have: your home. Children also need to see pictures of themselves with their family as it creates a sense of placement in the world. Children may feel more secure when they know where they belong and who their people are.
Seeing photos of happy times in prominent places around the house reminds children of those good feelings associated with their families. Nostalgic photos can make people feel calm, always a bonus in a household with children. It’s not enough to take thousands of photos of our kids and keep them tucked away on phones and laptops, we need to display them in our homes in order to truly benefit from them.
Plenty of research has been conducted into what makes a person happy. A lot of people assume that buying stuff rather than having experiences will assist with this, the reason being that stuff lasts longer and can hypothetically bring you joy long after the suntan or the overpriced cocktail has disappeared. However, science disagrees.
The joy of stuff is only temporary and we require a new kick (new stuff) fairly quickly. What does last is experiences. Holidays and experiences with our families form both part of our self-identity and part of our group identity ("We are no longer a family with a really good dishwasher – we're a family who rock-climbs!").
Experiences, good or bad (a terrible holiday can provide fodder for family discussions for years to come, trust me), can help us forge stronger relationships, build resilience, and learn new skills. Swap a shopping trip for a hike, or forgo take-away in favor of getting everyone into the kitchen to make a communal curry. Plus, you might get some really good photos.
The kids were right, chores suck! To explain it more fully, science has found that people are happier when they have more time. A group of researchers gave people $40 and told them to either spend it on a material purchase or a time-saving purchase. What they found was that people who used the money to buy themselves time were the most satisfied with their purchase. Outsourcing household tasks or using community groups such as Mamabake can help people expand or actually achieve some free time to indulge in the things that truly make them happy. So don’t feel guilty about hiring a cleaner or a babysitter. Think about swapping time with a friend so you each get to do those things that make your heart sing without stressing about Mount Foldmore gradually expanding in your study.
Okay, the use of the word 'ritual' may be a bit off-putting, but choosing how you spend some critical moments with your family has a big impact on how smoothly your life runs. Daily rituals such as checking in with your family about gratitude can be incredibly helpful. Asking children at the dinner table (or couch, no judgement here) what their favorite thing about their days were gives you insight into their world and helps them become aware of the bright spots in their days.
Another ritual is the six second hug. Science has found that quick hugs do not have the same serotonin-boosting effect as longer hugs (serotonin is the happy hormone). Six seconds is the magic number for hugging, and can set you and your kid up for a better day or send them off to a blissful sleep. Create a routine where you hug your children as soon as you see them in the morning (yes, I’m aware this may be 12:01 a.m. when they’re standing over your bed creepily watching you sleep, but this is an ideal example) and after any long separation can increase your (and their) feelings of belonging and happiness.
Money can make your family happy. This may seem obvious or unfair, but what’s interesting is that more money does not equal more happiness. A study conducted into how much money people required in order to feel that their day-to-day lives were pleasant found that the magic number was $75,000. That's all, which is a bummer given how devoted I am to daydreaming about winning lotto.
Making more money than $75,000 did not result in higher levels of happiness and can in fact lead to less leisure time and more stress. Another interesting aspect of this study was that no matter their income, households who participated had all experienced moments of happiness in the preceding week. All of them. Money may be nice, and presumably spending it on outsourcing chores, going on holidays, and photography sessions would be smart choices in ensuring your on-going happiness, but happiness is possible at any income level.
There you have it. Five different ways you can hopefully improve your life. Obviously, some are more achievable that others, but hopefully there’s at least one that you can set your mind to and use to build a happier home. Good luck!