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Anna Karamazina

26.11.2022 15:00

Key habits for happier family relationships

Many of us spent the holiday season with our families, some of us for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak started. Family dynamics may be complicated and demanding, even while spending time with loved ones can be heartwarming.

Science of Happiness course, a free, eight-week online course provided by the University of California, Berkeley, examines the foundations of a happy, meaningful life, and provides insights on some of these relationship issues as well as techniques for fostering healthier relationships. When they asked students how the experience had changed them at the end of the course, they revealed anything from little habit adjustments to significant life shifts. However, one of the recurring themes was how the training strengthened their feeling of familial ties.

Family is essential to happiness

The University of California, Berkeley asked students from all over the world what makes them happy at the course's introductory session. Family is crucial for happiness, as seen by the overwhelmingly positive reaction.

The course's newest participant, Annette, summed it up as follows:  “The things that make me happy are spending time with my family and my dog, seeing my children grow and prosper in adulthood, and being able to be independent despite physical limitations.”

Family ties were cited by many students as their major area of attention for the course. They also detailed many challenges in these close relationships: It may be difficult to balance work and home life, and when we are anxious, we frequently take our bad feelings out on the people we care about.

For instance, Yainak, a student who just finished the course, reflected: “When I was terribly busy raising my children and I didn’t have the time to be considerate of others, it was difficult for me to be grateful to others, and I would only complain, wondering why I was the only one having a hard time. I couldn’t even be generous to my husband, who was the closest to me. At that time, when I got together with other housewives, the main topic of conversation was complaining about our husbands.”

According to research, having close family ties can improve our well-being by fostering better habits, reducing stress, and boosting self-esteem. How may we improve our family relationship?

Approaches for improving family connections

Forgiveness. Conflict will inevitably occur, particularly in intimate relationships. You should learn about forgiveness and concentrate on forming sincere apologies as well as developing compassion for others.

For instance, Berkeley students are taught about the forgiving process based on research by Fred Luskin. After you identify your feelings and commit to forgiving,  the following stages include  calming yourself when you're upset and concentrating on your good goals for the future rather on past wrongs.

Student Anna underlines that with family members you care about, it's OK to be the first one to apologize without blaming one or the other, recalling many family members' relationships broken due to refusal to forgive.  Many students agreed with this conclusion, recognizing how the straightforward act of saying sorry first might initially be awkward and challenging—but ultimately valuable.

Gratitude. The Gratitude Letter exercise was a particular favorite in the Berkeley class. In order to create the space for sincere discourse, students wrote letters of gratitude to those they hadn't adequately acknowledged. If appropriate, they presented the letters in person.

The course's newest participant, Jackie, shared: “I wrote the letter to my mom and called her. It was moving and powerful for her, even though I thank her all the time, this delivery was more meaningful as I wrote to her to thank her for the person that she is, for her happy spirit and resilience. She cried, I cried, and this exercise made us both very happy and brought us closer together.”

Student Katie developed the habit of performing the Three Good Things exercise, pausing to consider the day's highlights in order to bring her focus to the blessings in her life. Her boyfriend also participated in this evening ritual, which has boosted their relationship through a fleeting but significant moment of gratitude.  “I’ve noticed feeling more rested when we do this,” she observed. “We laugh more before we sleep and are spending less time looking at screens.”

Together with her spouse, Yainak also established a thankfulness practice. “We are now able to express our gratitude to each other, and I am amazed at how happy we feel when we do so,” she added.

Kindness and mindfulness. Students experiment with a range of mindfulness and compassion techniques that might enhance their interactions with their families throughout the semester.

Berkeley students practice delivering and observing body language cues such as eye contact, smiles, and nods to indicate attentiveness during discussions as part of the Active Listening exercise. These cues serve to enhance connection and enrich communication.

The three types of mindfulness exercises include loving-kindness meditation, body scan meditation, and mindful breathing. The serenity and clarity that come from practicing mindfulness are benefits that students are encouraged to incorporate into their everyday routines.

Yainak struggled to care for everyone as a mother, a daughter, and a wife; the time and effort it required had turned into work, so she didn't feel particularly compassionate. In the end, she discovered that engaging in mindfulness exercises was a way for her to take care of herself so that she could better take care of others. She realized this during a Mindful Breathing exercise by relaxing her thoughts and taking calm breaths. Following the training, she decided to concentrate on herself and envision a happy future in order to live a life that benefits everyone around her by gently addressing her own mind and body.

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