Our home has felt devoid of joy at times over the past month or so. It's been rough going. There may be many reasons for the negative vibe that seems to be permeating the rooms of our house: the post-holidays letdown, the late-winter doldrums, cabin fever (though the unseasonably warm weather last week definitely helped with this), the ups and downs of a busy work and school life, tension in family relationships, or perhaps feeling the need to be in control of situations and circumstances that are uncontrollable. Regardless of the reasons, our family life hasn't been as enjoyable as it should be lately and something has to change. After all, I love these people!
I've set off on a journey of sorts to determine how to incorporate more joy into our family life. Here are some of the joy-inspired ideas that my family and I are giving a try, and many of these ideas have already helped us change the tone of our days together this past week. Some of the ideas have been part of our family life for years, but others are new to us and we are in the process of validating them. I'd love to add more to this list if anyone else has good ideas! Just share your ideas in the comments below.
1. Connect in the mornings. So many mornings, our daily routines get us into a pattern of crabby autopilot around here. However, the mornings I incorporate a family devotional or share an inspirational video with my sons, some kind of magic happens...Our eyes meet, the corners of our mouths crinkle up into smiles, our breathing evens out, and my irritable "traffic cop" routine changes to pleasant talk together about the plans of our upcoming day.
2. Let the sun shine in, or if needed - fake the light. Open the curtains in the morning; and when the weather is nice - crank open the windows to let in the fresh air. If your home does not have great natural light, paint the walls a lighter color and position lamps strategically around the house to provide ambiance and task lighting.
3. Decorate for and celebrate holidays. Kids don't need you to go crazy on holiday decor and spend hours doing so (window clings are even festive enough for most kids), but think back to your childhood and how you looked forward to holidays. Keep celebrations low-key and make the holidays about gathering with loved ones and enjoying a shared message of love and/or simple treat together.
4. Be kind or be quiet. Taking lyrics from the great, wise TobyMac (a favorite at our house): "Speak life." Practice kindness. Look for ways to brighten the days of those around you, including strangers. Model acts of kindness for your children while you are out together. Teach them ways to build people up with encouraging words instead of breaking them down with critical words.
5. Incorporate touch into your day. For some of your family members, touch may be their "love language" and they/you don't even realize it. Make time for snuggling while reading together, try back or shoulder massages, and tickle your kids if they enjoy that. I'm careful to add the caveat "if they enjoy that," as I personally hated being tickled as a child!
6. Add a bit of whimsy, inspiration, and pops of color to your home decor. I like to incorporate funny thoughts, meaningful bible verses, and motivational quotes into our home decor. I also have a certain strange affinity for hanging faux animal head mounts on our walls that we name and refer to for periodic humor. Smell something bad? "Sven the albino moose did it." I also think it helps to add color to your home, even if you prefer a mostly white palette. I love painting the inside of my doors a bright color while keeping surrounding walls neutral. Fun, bright art objects arranged on white shelves have the same effect. As I'm walking up the sidewalk to a house, I also love to see a happy-colored front door. Instant joy, even if it's the short term kind.
7. Tidy up. As much as possible, keep the clutter in your home to a minimum. Build storage options into your decor, so that everything has a place and looks great. It's hard to feel joyful when you are instantly overwhelmed by a messy room. Purge those things that suck your joy. Consider looking at your material possessions from the perspective of a minimalist. If you don't use it, lose it. If it doesn't bring you joy, consider getting rid of it. Surround yourself with useful, beautiful things.
8. Crank up the music. Personally, I am just fine going about my work mostly in quiet, but I've realized that my kids have a tendency to argue with each other when we are all in the same room and there is too much silence for too long. So, we have started playing upbeat music with a positive message in the background when we are all hanging out at home. It seems like it is helping to lighten the tone of our home. I'm also a big fan of the kitchen dance party on especially draining days. Nothing brings a smile to my face like watching my husband let loose and bust a rather awkward-looking move through the dining room!
9. Get moving, and preferably outdoors. Exercise is a natural mood booster, releasing endorphins that make you feel happier. Exercising outdoors is even better, as being in nature can increase brain function and reduce feelings of stress. I recently strongly advocated for adopting a family dog - despite the work I knew this would entail for me - because I knew our sweet little fur baby would get us outside and get us moving as a family. It's worked! Snow, rain, or sunshine, the dog and his people get a walk in!
10. Use the good china. Don't save the best of your things for special occasions only. Make Monday nights special, even if the menu is chicken nuggets again. Pretty things are still just things, but it's the shared moments they/you will remember fondly when your kids are all grown up. My sons enjoy it when we have meals by candlelight.
11. Make time to be grateful. My family and I have started each listing a few things we are grateful for that day when we sit down together for dinner, a la Thanksgiving style. I also plan to pick up my old gratitude journal and start writing again. It's easy to focus on the negative when you're not intentionally choosing the positive.
12. Try new things as a family and as individuals. Hold family meetings and ask your family members about any secret desires for fun activities. Take turns pursuing these new activities together, be it cross-country skiing, cave exploring, or slime making! Besides bringing the family together in new, exciting ways, one of the activities is bound to stick and become a new fam favorite.
13. Create peaceful, cozy spaces in your home. My family is into blankets. My kids love to cozy up with blanket(s) and pillows when they read books or watch TV, my youngest son is a champion fort builder, and our cat loves to crawl onto our fully-blanketed laps and settle in for a nice nap. Making spaces cozy brings family members into the same space and generally promotes good feelings.
14. Choose to live mindfully and joyfully. Teach your kids to live in the moment and focus on the good surrounding them - pausing at times during the day to practice being still, breathing deeply, and recognizing the sensations experienced by each of their five senses. Even these simple exercises can be impactful and decrease the stress level of the day.
15. Don't be afraid to seek help. There are times, when despite all of your efforts, joy doesn't flow naturally. During those phases of life, the whole family or specific members of the family may need some outside help in the form of counseling services and/or other therapies; or even something as simple as another family coming alongside your family to pray for you and support you in other helpful ways (for example, watching your kids for a few hours so that you and your spouse can have a needed, uninterrupted conversation). In my family, we've had to intentionally reach out for help and let others into our lives on several different occasions. In our experience, shared burdens most often result in shared joy.
Don't give up! Joy is waiting just around the corner!