- Try to direct your attention towards meaningful and positive things around you.
- Try not to sweat the small stuff and focus on the bigger picture.
- Elevate connection above all things—this is what will create happiness and meaning.
- Taking the time to note what you're thankful for can change your lens to a more positive one.
It’s summer—often the time when family will come to stay, or family vacations are planned. Even those that have flown the nest can be persuaded to join a family holiday to relive those summer memories of their younger years.
There’s often a lot of anticipatory excitement, planning for the get-together, discussions of how much can be fit in, complicated travel, beds to be allocated, room to be found, etc. There’s also often some trepidation, maybe an all-too-quick resurgence of annoyance at the petty faults or thoughtlessness that even our most beloved family members can bring, or a rapid reversion to old competitiveness or teasing. And then there’s the chaos that comes with a lot of people in one space.
I recently bumped into a family friend who kindly asked after my children. While acknowledging they were home and I was glad to have them here, I was quick to mention something (not entirely complimentary) about family car use.
At this point, my friend, let’s call him Alex, said that he always remembered some advice I had given him several years ago and that, indeed, it had become something of a touchstone phrase for him and his wife in certain family situations.
This, of course, immediately made me nervous. Occasionally, people will attribute comments to me that I swear I could never have made, or the supposed "pearls" of wisdom that were remembered were not at all the ones I thought were the takeaway from our conversation. But Alex assured me that the advice was good and a keeper.
At the time, his kids had returned home for the holidays and when last seen were making a phenomenal mess of the kitchen as they prepared brunch. It was chaos, there were sesame seeds everywhere. And, despite always having been the most loving and engaged dad so presumably used to a degree of disarray, he was in shock at the sheer messiness of it all.
The shining beacon of that story, as I heard it, was that all his kids were home; were reveling in each other’s company; and were cooperatively making a meal. Score. Score. Score. An overall 10! Of course, it was not my kitchen being messed up; it was not the calm of my empty-nest house that was being disturbed. But, clearly, my subsequent suggestion resonated: that he "forget the sesame seeds," and focus on enjoying the return of their lively brood home.
Apparently, "forget the sesame seeds" became a mantra for them to remind themselves to see the big picture, not sweat the small stuff, and see the glass as half full. I thanked him, took it right back on board, and brought it home with me.
It’s easier said than done, of course, but we should most definitely be focusing on what we're thankful for and turning consciously to a more positive lens. I think we often assume we are who we are and cannot change our approaches. Not true. It’s key to remember that, in many cases, we are able to impact our outlook and choose to make it rosier.
There are, of course, those with a more serious mood disorder which takes out some of the agency the rest of us have but, even then, there are avenues to get help if we can choose to take them. But, for the normal run of a busy and tiring family life, here are three steps to help us slow down and turn to the positive.
First, be aware of and take control of what you're focusing on, your cognitive gaze. With time and practice, we can learn to take a step back and notice what we’re noticing. Keep in mind that we have a cognitive bias that reinforces what we’re doing. If you start to look at the negatives, the faults of a situation, you’ll naturally look for and see more of them.
Instead, be intentional about looking for the upsides. Search for the silver lining. Does it sound a little Pollyanna-ish? Well, maybe it is, but give it a chance, I think you’ll like the results.
Second, regularly take note of the things to be grateful for in your life. We’ve all heard a great deal about gratitude journals—some love them and others find them cheesy. Either way, they work. Research shows that if you consistently and over time note the positives in your life, you will begin to feel happier. So, think of, write down, or talk to others about the things you are grateful for—daily if you can, but weekly at the very least.
Third, elevate connection. The sesame seeds may get walked into the carpet, or the car may not always be available when wanted, but it’s the human connection that counts. Focus on the experience you’re having and the memories that are being made.
Elevate happy family time, group gaggles, quiet one-on-one time, team projects, and joint goals—these are the things that make our lives rich and our time together meaningful. This is what keeps us coming back. As a species, we’re wired to connect and our happiness is dictated in many ways by the qualities of these connections.
Get some perspective; accentuate the positive; connect; and, above all, forget the sesame seeds. Thanks for reminding me, Alex.