In 2003, Elder L. Tom Perry related the importance of putting the family first in our times, “In a world of turmoil and uncertainty, it is more important than ever to make our families the center of our lives and the top of our priorities” (Perry, April, 2003). Family life should therefore be important to us all, and we should seek to do all we can to enhance the happiness and harmony in those relationships and experiences relating to the family. We become increasingly aware of the significance of this responsibility when reading the following statement from President Brigham Young, he explained “that our families are not yet ours. The Lord has committed them to us to see how we will treat them. Only if we are faithful will they be given to us forever. What we do on earth determines whether or not we will be worthy to become heavenly parents” (Gospel Principles, 1997).
In an effort to assist in a more widespread realization of family life becoming important and worthwhile, I have compiled 8 tips for increasing happiness and harmony in family life.
Tip #1 Go to church
- L. Moody has been attributed the words, “Church attendance is as vital to a disciple, as a transfusion of rich healthy blood to a sick man.” We know that going to church is something we should do, however, sometimes we underestimate the effect it can have. I know that going to church together as a couple, and as a family, can have a powerful impact on family life.
Marks, Dollahite, and Freeman observe that, “When men attend church with their wives there are fewer disputes, not only over faith, but also over housework, money, how time is spent, and sex” (Marks, Dollahite, & Freeman). Research conducted by Bartkowski, Xu, and Levin found that “parental, couple, and familial religious involvement were all linked with more positive behavioral outcomes in children” (Bartkowski, Xu, & Levin, 2008). One study addressing internet pornography, one of the intense spiritual plagues of our day, found that “greater church attendance was related to lower rates of pornography use” (Stack, Wasserman, & Kern, 2004).
Tip #2 Parents being equally yoked spiritually
It is extremely important for parents to be united in spiritual matters. This means being on the same page when it comes to doctrinal beliefs, and religious community involvement—including which church, if any at all, to be involved in.
Researchers have found that “religion often seems to undermine child development when it is a source of conflict in families” (Bartkowski, Xu, & Levin, 2008). Bahr concluded in his study Religious intermarriage and divorce in Utah and the mountain states that “same-faith marriages are much more stable than interfaith marriages” (Bahr, 1981). The ideas found in these studies are especially true in regard to Latter-day Saints. Using statistics over a five year period, sociologists Lehrer and Chiswick found, “that Latter-day Saint interfaith marriages were more than three times as likely to end in divorce as LDS-to-LDS marriages (40 percent dissolution rate).” On the other hand, they classified LDS-to-LDS marriages as “remarkably stable” (13 percent dissolution rate) (Lehrer & Chiswick, 1993).
Tip #3 Practice your religion consistently—go all in.
When comparing religiously devoted youth with the average American youth, it can be seen that consistent religious practice and involvement does make a difference in their lives for the better. Marks, Dollahite, and Freeman assert that, “In their family relationships, the devoted group of highly religious youth reported having the highest quality of parent–child relationships in every area studied, including levels of honesty, acceptance, and understanding; getting along; and feeling loved by and close to their parents. These findings seem to indicate a strong, two-way connection between religious practice and family relationships” (Marks, Dollahite, & Freeman).
Marks, Dollahite, and Freeman further observe, “that several studies on adolescent outcomes indicate that a central key to helping our children, youth, and young adults avoid dangerous “thou shalt nots” (like alcohol, drugs, and premarital sex) seems to be high levels of participation in the “thou shalts” of religious practice (Marks, Dollahite, & Freeman).
However, it must be more than small amounts of religion, the difference is ultimately observable in those teens whose families go all in. Smith and Denton found two predominant conclusions: (a) “highly religious teenagers appear to be doing much better in life than less religious teenagers” (p. 263); however, (b) “a modest amount of religion . . . does not appear to make a consistent difference in the lives of U.S. teenagers; . . . only the more serious religious teens” seem to benefit (p. 233). (Smith, 2005)
Tip #4 Spousal prayer
Nathan M. Lambert has stated, “Prayer is the means by which individuals may invite God to play an active role in their relationship. Including God in a relationship as one of the “threefold cords” through praying for one’s partner should imbue the relationship with perceived sacredness” (Lambert, 2012). This idea of the relationship becoming more sacred becomes significant when the evidence is seen for how viewing your association with your spouse as something sacred can make a substantial difference.
Citing Fincham, Lambert, and Beach, Lambert observes, “This idea has been empirically tested through an experiment in which religious individuals were randomly assigned to pray for their romantic partner every day for four weeks or to complete a control activity such as thinking positive thoughts about their partner every day. Those who prayed for their partner during the four weeks came to perceive their relationship as more holy and sacred than those in the control group. Also, perceiving the relationship as sacred had important implications, as this perception led to lower levels of sexual infidelity” (Lambert, 2012).
Research suggests that prayer has the power to de-escalate conflict. Butler, Gardner, and Bird interviewed several couples who reported that “including God in their marriage through prayer appeared to be a “softening” event that facilitated problem-solving and reconciliation.” (Butler, Gardner, & Bird, 1998). Another study found that religious practices such as prayer helped couples to manage their anger during marital conflict (Marsh & Dallos, 2001). In an additional study, couples reported that “prayer alleviated tension and facilitated open communication during conflict situations” (Lambert & Dollahite, 2006).
Tip #5 Be willing to forgive
Elaine Walton and Hilary M. Hendricks have observed:
“Repentance and forgiveness have historically been regarded by social scientists as religious issues only. However, since the 1990s, repentance and forgiveness have become increasingly prominent in professional literature. Mental health experts acknowledge that it is impossible to address emotional and physical well-being without considering the relevance of repentance and forgiveness. Likewise, the words of ancient and modern prophets affirm that repentance and forgiveness are central to the gospel plan” (Walton & Hendricks, 2012).
Many studies exhibit specific benefits in their findings to families and individuals who are willing to forgive.
- Individuals and families who are able to forgive important transgressions are likely to have better emotional and physical health (Battle & Miller, 2005)
- Forgiveness spawns positive emotions, which improve health in a variety of ways (Harris & Thoresen, 2005)
- There is a connection demonstrated between forgiveness and well-being. (Thoresen, Harris, & Luskin, 2000)
- “Unforgiveness” is considered a stress reaction in response to a perceived threat (Worthington, 2006)
- The emotions associated with unforgiveness, such as resentment, hostility, blame, and fear, have been linked to health risks (Harris & Thoresen, 2005)
Even with the observable benefits plainly displayed, many of us still struggle with forgiving others, especially those within our own family. Here is a five step process, entitled How to Forgive? by Worthington, that may help.
- Recall the hurt. It is human nature to try to protect ourselves from pain. Too often we try to deny or forget the pain of the offense and avoid the discomfort associated with addressing that offense in an interpersonal relationship. In order to forgive, we have to be clear about the wrongdoing and acknowledge the injury.
- Empathize. Empathy involves borrowing the lens of another person so we see something from their point of view. In order to forgive, it is important to understand the transgressor’s feelings. Was the offense committed knowingly or was it an honest mistake? What were the pressures that influenced the offender to commit the offense? Is there an understandable reason for the offender to disagree with the victim regarding the seriousness of the offense? In what ways may the offender have been victimized in the past? What pain might the offender be experiencing associated with guilt and remorse?
- Offer the altruistic gift of forgiveness. Forgiving with altruism is easier when the victim is humbled by an awareness of his or her own shortcomings and offenses, with special gratitude for those occasions when he or she was freely forgiven.
- Commit publicly to forgive. The victim has a better chance of successful forgiveness if he or she verbalizes the forgiveness commitment to another person (for example, telling a friend or counselor about the decision). Some victims have formalized their decision by writing a letter, making a journal entry, or creating a certificate of forgiveness.
- Hold on to forgiveness. After completing the forgiveness process, victims may still be haunted on occasion by the pain of the offense. During this stage it is important to move forward. When thoughts revert to the painful injury, the victim is reminded that the decision to forgive has already been made. He or she does not have to repeat that process. Also, it is important for the victim to remember that having forgiven, he or she has promised that there will be no paybacks or grudges. Although painful memories are not necessarily replaced by forgiveness, the pain should be a reminder to move forward with one’s life instead of revisiting the transgression committed against him or her. Deliberate efforts to stop unwanted thoughts are often unsuccessful. Instead, when victims have successfully reframed their thought processes, it is probably because they havereplaced the unwanted thoughts with something more meaningful or important (Worthington E. , 2001).
Tip #6 Choose recreation wisely
Mark A. Widmer and Stacy T. Taniguchi have remarked:
“Recreation can be easy. We all know how to find fun things to do. In our current world, we are immersed in a plethora of entertaining technology. We have access to a variety of television programming; we have myriad interactive video games. If we are on the go, we have smart phones that access the digital airways. Opportunities to recreate surround us. The choices are endless. But we must consider the implications of these different recreation choices for the quality of our lives and families.
In many developed countries around the world, people tend to make poor choices regarding the use of discretionary time. Our free time should be used wisely to create the best possible life, to promote individual growth and strengthen families. Meaningful recreation does not just happen; it must be prepared for, cultivated, and privately defended. In general, we spend an inordinate amount of time with electronic media and, as a result, become disconnected from one another. We have lost vital and nourishing connections to nature; many of us do not exercise, are overweight, and work too much. We suffer from depression, anxiety, and discontent. Wholesome family recreation can help us strengthen our relationships and reduce negative emotional and spiritual consequences. Wholesome recreation strengthens families” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).
To demonstrate the necessity of choosing wisely when it comes to family recreational activities, Widmer and Taniguchi give this example:
“Consider the contrast between a family going on a cruise for vacation and a family going to a developing country to work in an orphanage. The cruise (a consumptive activity) would certainly provide pleasure, comfort, and memories. The orphanage experience (an investment activity) may not be pleasurable or comfortable, but it is more likely to produce stronger family relationships, compassion, skills, knowledge, and more valuable memories than the cruise” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).
This is not to say that every family vacation should involve traveling to a third world country to work in an orphanage, but it is demonstrating the truth that recreational activities that develop family relationships, compassion, skills, and knowledge are more valuable in the eternal scheme of things. Take a look at the things you do as a family in your spare time, or the things you do for fun, which trip do they align more with, the cruise or the orphanage?
Tip #7 Distinguish between happiness and pleasure
Widmer and Taniguchi have also observed:
“Advertisers spend their time finding ways to convince us we need what they are selling in order to find happiness. The media portray happiness as wealth, status, and ostentatious possessions, such as a large beautiful home with a pool and a boat. These misleading expectations leave us feeling like we need more, bigger, better, and faster things. Parents often use their discretionary funds to buy recreation toys…. The quest for bigger and better things is like the quest for pleasure and can easily defeat the important reasons for participating in recreational activities as a family. The pursuit of toys can become like running on a treadmill going nowhere” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).
Research reveals that little or no meaningful relationship exists between wealth and happiness among people above the poverty level (Lyubomirsky, 2008). Studies have also found that individuals who set high importance on material goods over values like family relationships are more likely to be unhappy (Deci & Flaste, 1996)
Widmer and Taniguchi assert:
“Gratification results when we invest rather than consume. For example, when we spend our free time interacting with our families by reading to our children, teaching them to ride a bike, playing a board game, gardening together, or going backpacking, we build knowledge, relationships, memories, and skills. These forms of family recreation promote social and psychological growth. On the other hand, pleasure often involves consuming—like tasting chocolate, buying new clothes, or getting a massage. These experiences do not build higher levels of social knowledge, relationships, or skills, but simply satiate basic biological needs and desires” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).
Tip #8 Structured leisure time
How leisure time is used can make a huge difference in how children turn out, and in the level of happiness in family life. This principle is specifically relevant to teenagers. Widmer and Taniguchi state, “Leisure time provides an opportunity to promote positive development in adolescents. But the contrasting controlled environment of school and unstructured free time found after school leaves a void.” They continue to observe:
“The great majority of adolescents’ time is spent in two opposite experiential situations. In schoolwork, they experience concentration and challenge without being intrinsically motivated. In most leisure, including watching TV and interacting with friends, they experience intrinsic motivation but not in a context of concentration and challenge. Neither provides the combination of both of these elements necessary for the experience and development of initiative” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).
This void often leads to boredom, which can be spiritually dangerous. Widmer and Taniguchi suggest, “Wholesome recreation often should include service learning or volunteering opportunities, like tutoring peers, cleaning up the local environment, and helping the elderly. Church programs, Boy Scouts, and after-school programs provide opportunities to serve” (Widmer & Taniguchi, 2012).
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