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How not to improve your family life

By Pastor Tom Anderson

If you don’t want a better atmosphere in your home and marriage, don’t use this phrase: thank you. Show gratitude sparingly. Make sure you major in criticism, judgment and unsolicited advice. Do this and you’ll never see any improvement in your home life.

Here is an open secret of human relationships: expressing personal gratitude to others is one of the fastest ways to earn their trust and motivate cooperation, collaboration and a positive vibe in life. It’s not insignificant that Paul began almost all his letters to troubled churches with words of thanksgiving. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” (Philippians 1:3)

Are you a leader of gratitude in your home? Do you verbally demonstrate thankfulness with your family members? Are expressions of thankfulness a steady stream from your lips?

Dr. Sara Algoe is professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina. She writes, “I have studied gratitude for more than two decades, and one common theme emerges repeatedly: Even basic expressions of thanks have remarkably powerful effects. Knowing that others—whether managers, co-workers or clients—appreciate our actions makes us feel valued. And when you feel valued by someone, you think more highly of them and are more willing to go out of your way to help them.”

Such research proves the common sense we all know but don’t practice. Nagging and complaining do not motivate but gratitude does. Many people love to receive gratitude, but they do not wish to give it to others. Instead, they lead off family relationships with criticism, complaints and condemnation. Is it any wonder the vibe in the household is tense and distant? If you really want different results in your family life, why not change your strategy? Why not start majoring in thankfulness?

How can I be more thankful? Daily home life is busy. Many things happen in the course of a day. We are not mindful of these events and many small actions go completely unnoticed. Start noticing.

A brief word of thanks offered in the moment can be powerful. Or a brief text of thanks sent to a family member when you remember something they said or did earlier can be very meaningful. Any simple acknowledgement of others will almost instantly increase warmth and cooperation.

When people are thanked, they feel valued. When people feel valued, they give greater priority to the relationship you have with them. They are more likely to be less self-centered and more likely to make sacrifices for the sake of the relationship. This carries over to the other members of the family. They notice the gratitude you share and they themselves become more responsive to you.

Thankfulness must be sincere. It can’t be pretended, but it must come from the heart. Be specific about your expressions of thanks. Ground your gratitude in reality–real efforts of others that you are grateful for. Keep the “you” in “thank you” --don’t focus on yourself but the other person’s good deed. You can express thanks before you begin a task together with a family member. This lowers everyone’s blood pressure.

Publicly thanking family members at the dinner table or when the family gathers or in a group text sends a message of value to everyone. It motivates everyone to collaborate and give more to the common good of the family.

It’s not uncommon for family members to meet each other at the door with a list of demands and/or complaints. There is of course an important place for telling each other what we need. But what would happen if we flipped the communication strategy? What if we met people at the door with a list of thanks? Research confirms the answer: there would be an increase of warmth and mutual cooperation.


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