I remember leaving swimming lessons with a five-year-old one afternoon. (She was mine. I hadn’t taken a random child.) As we passed the garden I turned back to see why my daughter wasn’t beside me. We were late. I was frustrated. This was no time for dawdling. And then I noticed her bending over and smelling the flowers. My heart melted. She reminded me that there is joy in every moment if we look. We spent about 20 seconds looking at and smelling the flowers. Her curiosity was satisfied. And she gladly accompanied me to the car. Imagine the alternative! Slowing down creates opportunities for joy—and sometimes it only takes 20 seconds.
If you want to find ways to have more joy with your children, watch grandparents. Maturity (and, in some cases, retirement) allows them both more time and improved priorities. They celebrate joy with their grandchildren far better than parents. There may be something in that.
Perhaps we can both encourage our children to spend more time with their grandparents (or vice versa) and adopt their approach to priorities and relationships. When time is running out, we tend to focus more on what matters most.
There are significant and important things that we can do to increase our joy—and our children’s joy—in our families. We can do the following—and many more.
1. Spend time together
Relationships are at the center of our happiness and joy. When our relationships are strong and thriving, our joy fills up. Spending time with the people you love is a sure-fire way to increase joy for you and for them.
Hug lots. Touch, squeeze, be close. Hold those hugs for as long as the child wants to be hugged. Long hugs are way better than short hugs. Long hugs create a burst of the ‘love’ neurotransmitter oxytocin. They boost dopamine and serotonin. These are brain chemicals that promote bonding and positivity.
3. Spend time in nature
Nature is fuel for the soul. In nature, we are more inclined to talk and connect, to be grateful and to be active. Time in nature promotes gratitude and awe, respect and reverence and a sense that there is something that transcends us and our often trivial daily dramas.
As a family, find people to serve. Do ‘good deeds’ for fun. Offer surprises and secret treats to neighbors and friends. Cook a meal for someone who is struggling. Let your child participate in your efforts. These acts of service strengthen your family and make everyone feel better about life.
5. Be grateful
As we appreciate the good things we have in life, research confirms that our sense of wellbeing and joy is increased. Being miserly and ungrateful reduces happiness and joy. Finding something to appreciate about challenges is tougher but offers a sense of meaning and purpose.
6. Slow down
Can we stop being so busy? And can we also stop pretending that we’re so busy because we are always engaged by our screens? Slow down, sit quietly, be available and create ‘margin’ in your life. Margin is that space on the page where there is room for notes and corrections. Margin is that space in our lives where there is room for other people and the possibility of change.
When we play, we communicate, meet one another’s gaze, listen, learn, establish rules, build relationships and become open to possibilities and influence. Our emotions stabilize. We learn to regulate behaviors. And we laugh.
We can find joy—and fun—in all kinds of inconvenient times and places. Children are most likely to recognize and celebrate joy when they are: with the people they love; doing things they like; doing something that energizes them ; curious ; playing; and developing mastery.
Think about the breathtaking joy you feel in the following experiences:
- Watching your child sleep peacefully
- Experiencing one of those hugs where they snuggle right in
- Seeing your child engaged in some kind of activity, oblivious to the world
- Having a conversation with your three-year-old and realizing that they really are talking with you
- Singing out loud to your child’s favorite music as it plays full bore in the car
- Hearing your child tell you about something they’ve achieved
And so many more things. What are some of the experiences that bring you joy with your children?
These things, when we are fully in the moment, bring us joy. They bring our children joy. When we share them, our family joy is increased!
But how often do these simple things escape our attention? How easy is it to miss the joy of the moment because of our agenda, or our exhaustion, or our busy schedule? It’s too easy to tuck the kids into bed, walk out of the room, turn off the light and walk away without another thought when life gets pressured.
Savoring the small and mundane gives us access to, and awareness of, the joy that is all too easy to miss in the busyness of family life.
Editor’s Note: This essay is an excerpt from Justin Coulson’s new book, 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know (Harper Collins), which is available as an e-book from all major online retailers. It has been reprinted here with permission.