Ready for a good cry? This is one of the most touching demonstrations of selflessness and love I’ve seen in quite some time. How far would YOU go to support a friend?
The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.”
– Michel de Montaigne
I asked my daughter to help me make dinner the other night; soon after that, I got caught on the phone. When I finally emerged from my office 40 minutes later, I found that Fiona had already prepared our whole meal—the table was set, and dinner was waiting. I was beside myself with delight.
Few things are more satisfying than having someone exceed our expectations. But around the house, it seems like more often we’re annoyed or disappointed when someone fails to meet those expectations—when, once again, our spouse is late, or the kids didn’t take out the garbage, or someone failed to help clean up, or wasn’t really listening while we were baring our soul, or doesn’t really “get” us. Living with others is, in many ways, living in a constant state of unmet expectations.
Fortunately, we can develop constructive ways of responding when our needs aren’t being met by our spouses and our children—techniques that increase the odds that they will be met in the future. Here are three alternatives to nagging—or harboring resentment—when your expectations aren’t met.
1) Do nothing. Sometimes we just need to acknowledge a disappointment, then let it go without taking further action. When Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist with loads of first-hand experience and scientific knowledge about real-life ecstasy, feels upset or uncomfortable, she just looks at her watch and waits 90 seconds before letting herself think about whatever upset her. Loads of research on “rumination” suggests that people who dwell on some hurt or distress are way more likely to feel depressed or dissatisfied with their lives. Sometimes we make ourselves feel worse—we prolong pain and frustration—by thinking too much about our disappointments.
2) Inspire the person who disappointed you. Even though we sometimes really want to unleash on a spouse who left the house without so much as clearing his or her breakfast dishes, whining and criticizing (or yelling, as the case may be) is not going to make your partner (or teenager, or pre-schooler) really want to help the next time. Negativity rarely inspires others.
The “ERN” method, something I devised long ago from piles of academic journal articles to motivate my kids to do boring but necessary tasks, also works well with adults. The gist of it is to use Empathy, Rationale, and Non-controlling language to get what we want, as those are the things that research shows are most motivating to people. It might go something like this:
Empathy: “I know you are anxious about your upcoming review and need to get into work earlier these days.”
Rationale: “I need more help on school days because Max has been late to school three times this week. I won’t be able to shake this cough if I keep getting up so early. I’m doing my best, but I can’t do it all by myself.”
Non-controlling language (or “not-being-so-bossy”): “It would be great if you could help me tomorrow morning. Is that a possibility?”
Admittedly, this is much harder than nagging your spouse and kids. But think about it: Would you rather someone insist you do something (“You HAVE to help me with the lunches in the morning!! I have a cold and a full time job, and I can’t wake up any earlier or I’ll just get SICKER!!!!”) or gently enlist your help?
3) Pick a Fight… but in a constructive way. Again, this is about finding more constructive ways to express what you want. So even though you might want to punish that guy who didn’t get you so much as a card on your birthday, making him feel as bad as you do won’t make you feel better, and it won’t make your next birthday more promising.
Make your disappointment known by starting off on a positive note. Yes, you read that right. In fact, begin with a statement of appreciation.
“I really appreciate how much time you’ve been spending with me in the evenings. I love going for a walk with you at night.”
That gets your cardless-wonder’s attention, and makes him or her open to listening to what you have to say. Then, staying as calm and positive as possible, make your feelings known with a good ol’ “I” statement.
“I felt really lonely and disappointed and actually a little bit abandoned when you decided we didn’t need to celebrate my birthday. It hurt that you didn’t even get me a card.”
Finally, tell that disappointing partner what you need—really clearly and specifically, explain what he or she can do to make it up to you. What exactly are your expectations? I recommend making it an easy win; go for something more ambitious the next time around.
If we must ask for what we need—which clearly we do, since the people we live with tend to have very poor mind reading skills—it behooves us to ask in a way that will get results. Good luck, and report back with what works for you!
In this video from Kids in the House, I give you some tips for managing kids’ emotional outbursts.
Check out my Boosting Emotional Intelligence and Self-Motivation online class for much more on this subject.
Studies show that kids who are emotion coached experience fewer negative emotions and recover more quickly when they are upset.
Register for our Raise Kids’ Emotional Intelligence online class to learn what do do when children have emotional outbursts and how to tap into kids’ self-motivation to do boring but necessary tasks.
- Learn why bribes, threats and rewards tend to backfire in the long-run — and why they undermine kids’ creativity and problem solving skills.
- Learn strategies for tapping into kids’ self-motivation, even for boring household chores. Self-motivated kids are more successful, perceive themselves to be more competent, and are less anxiety prone.
This online class (theme Four from the Raising Happiness Homestudy) includes five video classes, online discussion groups, weekly practices, and the opportunity to receive online coaching with Dr. Christine Carter. Learn more here.
Now get continuing education credits!
Raising Happiness is a licensed CEU provider by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Our license number is PCE 5355. Learn more here.
Fascinating scientific presentation of how mind-wandering may be draining your happiness quotient. One of the more surprising findings is that even when people’s minds wander off to pleasant things, they’re less happy than when they are fully present in the moment.
Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Here’s the short answer: try to be more mindful. In the heat of the moment, I may feel like I’m losing my mind, but really I’ve lost my mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness, Really?
Like gratitude, altruism, and strong social ties, mindfulness is definitely a part of the happiness Holy Grail. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the scientist who first “translated” Buddhist practices of mindfulness into a secular program, defines mindfulness as the “awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment.”
You can try being mindful right here, right now. What are you feeling in your body right now? What themes do your thoughts keep returning to—can you notice and label them? Mindfulness is not necessarily a lack of emotion or a state of total calm. We can be feeling furious and pay mindful attention to that experience. Nor is mindfulness necessarily the suppression of thought, or an altered state of consciousness. Mindfulness is often a running conversation with ourselves, describing our experiences as they are happening: I am feeling really frustrated with Fiona…. And then stepping back to label: …frustrated, frustrated. I’m not dealing with her behavior. Denial, not dealing. I just want to get done with this grocery shopping and get out of here. I want her to stop taunting her sister. Wanting, wanting. Notice the lack of judgment that is a part of Kabat-Zinn’s definition: I’m reporting what is, not chastising myself for feeling angry at my daughter or for not dealing with her bad behavior.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t just lead to decreased stress and increased pleasure in parenting, but it also brings profound benefits to kids. Parents who practiced mindful parenting for a year were more satisfied with their parenting skills and their interactions with their children—though no new parenting practices beyond just being mindful had been taught to them. Amazingly, over the course of the year-long study, the behavior of these mindful parents’ kids also changed for the better: they got along better with their siblings, were less aggressive, and their social skills improved. All their parents did was practice mindfulness!
So how do we parent mindfully? It takes constant practice. I am well-trained in mindfulness practices, but I still struggle. An example of real-life unmindful parenting: the other morning everyone woke up late, and Molly was making us even later. Instead of getting dressed she was drawing. I called from the other room, “Did you feed the dog?” which prompted her to go get her pet rat out of the cage. Without actually taking note of the situation—without any mindfulness, that is—I became more and more irritated with her.
I started to bark orders. “Molly! Get dressed!” And then I let loose a doozy: “Molly! What is up with you!? It is like you are 3 years old, not 6! Do I need to come in there and dress you myself?” For the record, I’ve never found insulting my children to be particularly effective, and it didn’t work this time, either. She flew into a rage, screaming things like, “I’m not going to listen to you if you use mean words!”
If I could rewind the morning and begin more mindfully, things would have been entirely different. All I really needed to do was to take stock of the situation: notice my feelings of anxiety and exhaustion. Notice that Molly’s exhaustion was also making her distractible and emotional, and gently help her stay focused rather than boss her around.
Accepting the situation non-judgmentally—rather than futilely trying to force it to be something other than it was, or chastising myself for sleeping through the alarm—would have left me open to more productive and positive alternatives.
For me, the keys to mindful parenting are as follows: first, notice what is happening (and what you’re feeling and thinking) and second, accept what is going on without judgment.
If you want to become a more mindful parent—and reap the incredible benefits that come along with it—I highly recommend Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on this subject, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, pre-order Shauna Shapiro’s new book Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, or if you are a new mother, Cassi Vieten’s book Mindful Motherhood. For additional support, check out Mindful Parenting, my online class that teaches how mindfulness can not only make you happier but your kids less stressed.
How well parents manage their own stress is one of the top three most important factors for children’s success and happiness.
Registration is now open for our Mindful Parenting online class, which offers some of the best stress management techniques science has to offer.
- Studies show that mindfulness in parents can actually improve children’s behaviors.
- Mindfulness in children can reduce their stress, anxiety and depression. We’ll discuss simple strategies for beginning a mindfulness practice with kids of all ages.
- Over-scheduling kids can have unintended consequences. Learn how to prevent problems related to having too much scheduled time while raising emotional intelligence!
Now get continuing education credits!
Raising Happiness is a licensed CEU provider by the California Board of Behavorial Sciences. Our license number is PCE 5355. Learn more here.
Photo courtesy of Tord Sollie
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” –Plato
Loads of research shows that music can uplift and restore the spirit — so much so, in fact, that I have a “go-to” playlist of music that makes me feel happy. At the top of my list? “I Can See Clearly Now” by Ray Charles, “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors, “Girl on Fire,” by Alicia Keys, “Life is Beautiful” by Keb Mo’, “Love Don’t Wait” by Michael Franti, “Happy” by Martin Sexton, and “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney.
Take Action: With so many online services offering free music (I like Pandora and Spotify) it is easy to make a go-to happiness playlist. Make yours today. What’s on it? Music preference is highly individual, but knowing what’s on other people’s lists can help us get started.
Join the Discussion: Help others by listing the songs that uplift your spirit and bring you joy in the comment box below. (In addition, please contribute to the discussion on Facebook here.)
Image courtesy of thegirlone