Friday, March 16, 2012

4 Steps to Creating Sustainable Happiness in Your Family Relationships!

Have you ever had a fight with a family member?  Were you happy when that fight occurred?  Probably not.  I mentioned briefly that I grew up in a loving supportive family environment. However, you know as well as I do that we all have our tiffs!  So what can you do to ensure that these tiffs remain tiffs and do not escalate to become explosions?
What are the happiness tools we can apply in these situations?  
• Forgiveness
• Letting Go
• Accepting Imperfection as Perfection
• Conscious Positivity
Forgiveness is a HUGE aspect of sustainable happiness.  Imagine living your life full of resentments and grudges.  Can you possibly be happy all of the time?  No way!  So we have to learn how to forgive others who have “wronged” us in one way or another.  
In 2001, research by Dr. LorenToussaint and her colleagues showed that self-forgiveness and other forms of forgiveness are inversely related to psychological distress and that forgiveness of others was related to higher overall life satisfaction.  Even earlier, though, in 1992, a research team including Dr. Paul Mauger, had found that forgiveness of self and others was inversely related to psychopathology.  This means that if you can forgive yourself and others, you are less likely to experience a psychological disorder and consequently will be happier! Another study by, done by Tangney, Fee, & Lee in 1999, showed that when we tend to forgive others, we are less likely to experience depressive symptoms and hostility.  A study by Dr. Freedman and Dr. Enright, in 1996, proved that symptoms of anxiety, depression, and anger have also been shown to decline for an individual after that individual forgives another. And yet another study, this one done by Dr. Fincham in 2000, shows a positive relationship between forgiveness and overall relationship satisfaction. So more and more we are seeing studies proving how forgiveness can enhance the quality of our relationships, not to mention our lives as a whole.
Now that you understand that forgiveness is vital to your sustainable happiness, what is forgiveness anyway? Forgiveness is the freely chosen motivational transformation in which a desire to see revenge and to avoid contact with a transgressor is lessened, a process sometimes described as an altruistic gift.  (Enright, Freedman, & Rique, 1998; Worthington, 2001)  Researchers have not been able to find agreement when it comes to determining whether forgiveness requires a positive action or a benevolent response (such as compassion, empathy, affection, approach behavior) in relation to the offender, or if the absence of a negative response (hostility, anger, avoidance) is sufficient. (Exline, Worthington, Hill, & McCullough, 2003; Fincham, 2000; Linley & Joseph, 2004)
The funny thing is that there actually is a scientifically proven disconnect between researchers and the rest of us in terms of how forgiveness is perceived.  This was found in research done by Dr. Kantz in 2000, which showed that lay people believe reconciliation to be a necessary part of forgiveness — an element that is explicitly rejected by many definitions of forgiveness used for research purposes.  
It is here that I ask you to choose the definition of forgiveness that is right for, and feels good to, you.  We can only look to our heart for our personal guidance on this one.
I learned the power of forgiveness on a family vacation.  This was my first family vacation as an adult for many years.  During the time that I was with my family many happiness challenges arose for me.  After the family vacation, I was reflecting on how I can make the most of my family relationships and the major lessons I gleaned was the value of forgiveness, letting go and conscious positivity.
Your family will be in your life forever, if you let them. Flesh and blood counts for something, and these relationships are built on a foundation of unconditional love. Given the main premise of your family relationship is unconditional love, understanding how you can manage your family in a positive way is very helpful in creating your sustainable happiness.
Letting go has only recently become a topic of research in psychology. According to Dr. Ainsworth-Smith & Dr. Speck (1982), “Letting go can imply being gently drawn into a new sort of existence; or being released or dragged into a void where nothing is safe or nothing consistent.” (p. 35) The Oxford Dictionary says that letting go is to “release, set at liberty, lose hold of, relinquish hold of, dismiss from thought, or cease to restrain.” The two main themes are a sense of liberation and a sense of loss.  It appears to imply that letting go is to change something by moving it from one position to another.  For the purpose of your sustainable happiness, think about letting go as liberation.  
Also, the more positive actions, behaviors, and language are incorporated into the family dynamic, the more positive that dynamic will be. Imagine if everyone in your family were to consistently give you compliments and encouragement, or simply tell you “Hey, you were right”? How good would that feel? Or if you were to consistently give compliments and encouragement to them?  It would feel good, right?  You do not have to wait for your family to come around and employ the principles of forgiveness, letting go, and being positive.  You can take action yourself, right now!
Here is an inspirational story from one of my friends about her experience of letting go with her mother.  
Something must be in the air, because I had the most incredible visit with my mom last week!
It was the best time we've ever had together. The week before she arrived, I made a conscious choice to lay down my role that I've played so often with her, that of teacher/parent/coach (what is it with us gals???). What a relief...for both of us!!! Whenever I noticed the inclination to take on that role, I simply contained myself and it passed. Without that dynamic, I was so much more available to love my mom as she is. The last morning of her visit, I gave her the most extraordinary foot bath with rose scented, flower petaled water, massage, a foot mask and lots of kissing. At one point she said to me that she doesn't know if she could've done this for her mother (who died last August). I responded by saying how happy I am to be able to do this for her.
It's SOOOOOOOOOOOOO AMAZING! We've shattered the pattern that's been passed on for who knows how many generations of withholding love between mother & daughter. I am SOOOOO grateful to be able to share my love with my mom and to really feel her receiving it. That's all I really wanted to do when I took on the role of teacher/parent/coach, but didn't know how to just love her. I'm so grateful for her willingness to receive my love and to feel her love for me. It was such a precious time we spent together.
Such a burden has been lifted from my heart and now I just feel love for her. It's like we get to be little girls together in a strange sort of way...just playing & loving...wwwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!.
Love to each one of you & to your mamas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Family plays such a huge part in our sustainable happiness.  We have to acknowledge and accept that everyone has their flaws and it is the beauty of our human experience. To accept the ‘im’perfection in ourselves, our parents and siblings is one of our lessons in life. We achieve this when we can fully give and receive unconditional love. And unconditional love is achieved through forgiveness and letting go; all of which are huge players in our sustainable happiness.

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Dr. Aymee Coget, a widely-known happiness expert, has more than 15 years of experience in positive psychology. Through the Happiness Makeover™, a program developed by Coget, she teaches people how to achieve happiness and handle life's challenges. She also serves as CEO and founder of the American Happiness Association, a science-backed nonprofit designed to educate individuals and organizations about how to be happier, and was nominated for CNN Hero of the Year in 2011. 

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