#3) Spend Time with your Family:
Perhaps one of the easiest and yet potentially the most neglected of these ‘happiness principles’.
We live with our family so surely it is only natural that we spend plenty of time with them?
The truth though is often that we may inhabit the some physical zone, yet not really connect spiritually and emotionally as much as we should.
Sitting and watching television together may be better than nothing but if what we watch is not engaging our intellects and emotions, and in particular not leading to conversation or deep discussions on issues that matter, then perhaps we may as well be watching the TV with the pet dog or cat.
Sometimes, perhaps even often for some, there needs to be a conscious decision to pause from every day life and really engage with our spouse or children or parents about things that matter.
Your family can be both the most mundane part of your existence and the most precious. It can be so easily taken for granted and so terribly missed when ‘it’ or some part of it is no longer present.
The family is the core of the community or tribe and the community or tribe is the core of the nation. The importance of family should not be understated, but how does ‘family’ make you happy?
I once related a story about looking after my youngest toddler to a group which included an unmarried Christian man with no children. He appreciated the challenge of the story I related, but then asked this very question.
First, the story:
I was home alone with our youngest boy (around 3-4 years old). He had fallen asleep at last on the couch. I picked him up and carried him to his bed. Just as I was about to put him down on the bed, this sleeping boy projectile vomited over himself and me, the floor, and the bed! I stood there like a stunned mullet for a moment in a state of self-pity!
I wanted to cry help; I wanted someone to come and help me deal with the situation, but I was the only one there. After a few seconds my self-pity party was over and I thought, what do I do now. I then took us both to the bath; cleaned him up; put him to bed in another bed and proceeded to clean up the bedroom, and all our clothes, etc.
So my unmarried 40+ year old friend asked, how does that make you happier! How can such challenges of parenthood bring greater happiness than being single and much more in control of your life.
Ans the answer? It needs to be experienced. It can’t be read in a book or blog. All of those difficult moments with your children mix together with the good and great moments so that somewhere, at some time, you realise that your life is so much more rewarding and meaningful, because you are a parent, and that your child’s smile or cuddle or kind and appreciative words can make you obscenely happy!
Another short family story:
My oldest children attended the same school where I taught for many years. Some 3 – 4 years after the third one had finished high school, the oldest three and I attended a school reunion down on the Gold Coast. We booked an apartment for the night and had a fantastic time together at the reunion. A week later a card arrived from one of my children thanking me for joining them at the reunion and also thanking me with the most beautiful words for being their Dad.
When I read that card, I was happy, very, very happy – to the point where the sentiments in that card of thanks made the 25 odd years of raising these children seem of so worth it.
As I said, such happiness is hard to quantify, it is hard to describe – it needs to be experienced.
I recently thanked my children and tried to offer a little advice. Here is some of what I wrote to them:
“… So I now wish to offer a birthday present of sorts to <the birthday boy> and all my children and grand-children:
While I wish in many ways I could have given you all lots of material things and lots of money, I turned down the opportunity to be rich when it was presented to me, as I guess I sensed that such material wealth was not that important.
“I instead believe that the best things any of us can give our children are values to live by, ideals to aspire to, an identity so that they know who they are, and a religious and moral heritage to guide them through the wilderness of time.
Children grow to fill the space we create for them, and if it’s big, they will walk tall.
Ideals are big; material possessions are small.
Ideals are what make life meaningful.
People may envy others for what they earn or own, but they admire others
for what they are and what principles they live by – and it’s better to be admired than to be envied.” (paraphrasing Rabbi Sacks)
I have tried to demonstrate these truths with my life and example.
I have tried to give you all plenty of space to grow; I have tried to give you values to live by and the knowledge of the Almighty to support you as that invisible anchor that both grounds you, but also gives you the confidence to soar as high and as far as your heart and desire can take you.
As imperfect as I am, and as unable to guarantee anything at all in your tomorrow, I have tried to be a living role-model of justice and compassion, of over-flowing love and charity.
I have tried to show you the importance of forgiveness, so that in learning to forgive, we too might receive forgiveness as there will always be times when we also need it.
I hope and pray that I have not failed you in my role as the Almighty’s representative in your lives toward adulthood, and for all of you who are now adults, I hope I can still be a little of a role-model for how you all raise your beautiful children so that they too might walk tall with courage and faith in our heavenly Father, the Creator of the Universe.
If I can give you a motto to live by it would be twofold: ‘Live, Give and Forgive’ and also ‘Deeds matter more than Creeds’. While neither of these are direct quotes from the Great Book, they are lessons derived from it.
Also add these few Bible verses: Micah 6:8; Matt 23:23b; Matt 12:50; Ecc 12:13 and Ps 37:4.
And I guess my greatest hearts desire is that we will all be present at the first Sukkot of the Coming Age, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as the Kingdom of God fully dawns.”
I believe my family has brought me much happiness – I hope this short letter somehow demonstrates that a little.
But you may ask, what are some other practical examples to help embrace family and find that inherent happiness?
Again, it seems to me that one of the best examples of how to do this is the Jewish Sabbath.
While Christianity may have tried to embrace the 4th Commandment, it seems they have mostly failed to see the great depth and connectedness that the Seventh Day brings to Jewish families, Jewish communities and of-course to their relationship with the Almighty.
The significance of the Sabbath to the very survival of the Jewish family and nation is summed up in the famous saying ‘More than Israel has keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel’.
I have written at some length on the value of the Sabbath in a number of places such as here.
The Sabbath makes families central; this in turn makes communities vital and alive. But most importantly, the Sabbath is not a duty but a joy!