As the festive season progresses, many of us will be spending more time than usual with our families and while this might sound like an inherently positive thing, if we’re being perfectly honest, spending time with family can be stressful!
For one thing, we’re coming together during a pretty intense period with a lot going on. Adult children may be meeting siblings who have their own family units and in the midst of this love and togetherness, in a lot of cases, you can also expect some tension.
For instance, in some families, one or more members may have drifted apart, perhaps to the point of not speaking to each other in years. While for much of the year they skilfully avoid being in the same room together, during this period, that can be difficult.
In a lot of other cases, there’ll also be someone in the family who’s living their life in a way that the majority don’t approve of. While others may not be openly hostile, they walk on egg shells around them when it comes to certain subjects, such as their lack of money or a career; or their useless partner. As soon as their back is turned, they then discuss the latest antics of the ‘black sheep of the family,’ until somebody tells them what ‘the others’ are saying; and it results in a bitter confrontation.
If you’ve come across similar scenarios in your family, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re better off spending this holiday alone. But the thing to remember is that, despite the inevitable politics in most families and the occasional turbulence at gatherings, connecting with family actually does contribute to our happiness.
Sure, there’ll be those moments when somebody makes you so angry it’s difficult to believe you are related. But truly speaking, nobody will ever love you as much as your own family, so do everything you can to protect and cherish that love.
Take time to cultivate meaningful relationships with each individual member ÔÇô it will do you good. According to scientist Barbara Fredrickson, “people who flourish spend more time each day with the people they’re close to, and less time alone.”
Moreover, studies of people who live long, such as the Sardinians in Italy, the Okinawans in Japan and Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California show that amongst the things they had in common were that, they ‘put family first.’
This doesn’t mean that you can never steal away for a quiet moment alone when things get really frantic, but do bear in mind that on the whole, you gain more positivity by being with others than by being alone.
In an essay entitled ‘The Need to Belong,’ Charles Darwin wrote that human beings are driven to seek out and maintain strong, stable and positive interpersonal relationships. The absence of this sense of belonging has a deleterious effect on our mental and physical health.
Even if you consider connecting with your family somewhat painful because of the complicated dynamics or a tortuous history, this year, try to reach out and strengthen those family ties, rather than simply shutting everyone out of your life.
Starting today, no matter what the current state of your family relationships, commit to improving them as a way to greater happiness in your life. The increased positive emotions you’ll feel will help you attract higher-quality relationships in your life; which, in turn, will make you even happier!
If you’re ready to start investing in building strong, healthy relationships, here’re three simple strategies you might like to try.
First, make time for your family. This season is not about the presents; it’s about your presence. Instead of lavishing expensive gifts on the people you love, try giving the gift of your attention. Don’t spend the entire time you’re together on your Blackberry; or watching football on television. Focus on creating quality moments and great memories together.
Second, even if you judge your family situation to be far from ideal, look for the things to celebrate and appreciate within it. Every family has its challenges.
Don’t expect people to change in order to make you happy. Find a way to be happy regardless of what other people may be doing. Work on overcoming your family problems by focusing on your similarities, rather than your differences. Everybody has qualities that we can appreciate if we bother to look for them.
If appreciation feels a little difficult at first, try simply being civil. If it helps improve the atmosphere, why not greet your brother who you haven’t spoken to in fifteen years; for reasons neither of you can even remember? Whatever your situation, it doesn’t take much to address the people you live with in a respectful tone.
Even better, don’t simply avoid being critical or negative around your family. Be actively positive and loving.
Third, be supportive. Realise that these family gatherings can be as awkward for some members of your family as they are for you. When interacting with people, put yourself in their position and treat them as you would like to be treated.
Don’t needle people with questions about whether they’re making any money yet; or whether the father of their three children ever intends to marry them. If your aim is to catch up with the people closest to you, do it with love. If you don’t quite approve of their plans, keep it to yourself; and suspend judgement. Remember, this is their life, not yours; and everyone is a work in progress, including you!
This year, make a conscious effort to focus on what’s going right in each other’s lives. Make a big deal out of each other’s successes. Remember, “Every family is like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.” ~Author Unknown
*Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) and the Founder of the Positive Peace Project, an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. For more information please contact: [email protected]