One of the bedrock principles of my happiness project is that I can’t change anyone but myself. It’s so easy to imagine that I’d be happier if only other people would behave properly, but I can’t assign resolutions to anyone but myself.
I firmly believe this, yet I did decide to try something that runs completely contrary to this very sound Gretchen-only rule. I proposed a family resolution to give warm greetings and farewells.
When our two daughters were little, they’d greet me and my husband with wild enthusiasm whenever we walked in the door, and often cried miserably when we left. Nowadays, they sometimes barely looked up from their own games or homework or books when we walked in or out. It was a relief, in a way, but also a little sad. And too often, my husband and I didn’t give warm greetings or farewells, either.
I love my resolution to hug more, kiss more, touch more. It takes no extra time, energy, or money, and it makes a big difference in the atmosphere of my apartment. To build on that resolution, I wanted family members to feel acknowledged and welcomed, every time they walked through the door.
Over Sunday pancakes, I posed a question: “If you could make a resolution for everyone in the family, what would it be?”
My husband answered without hesitation. “I do whatever I want, while the rest of the family cleans up the apartment and runs errands.”
“That’s a thought,” I said drily. “Next?”
My older daughter said, “We’d have different things for breakfast during the week, like eggs, instead of just cereal or peanut butter on toast.”
“We could do that,” I said. “I didn’t know you wanted anything else.” Then I turned to my younger daughter. “Do you have a suggestion?”
“People would always give me a big hug and a big kiss every time they saw me. And I would go to State News to buy a toy whenever I want.”
“Well, I want to propose something,” I said. “It’s a lot like the first part of that suggestion. I want us to have the rule that when any one of us comes home, or is leaving, we all have to pay attention to that person for a minute. Let’s give warm greetings and farewells.”
“Why?” asked my daughter.
“Let’s show more affection and attention for each other. I know that I’m bad about this, myself. It’s hard to be interrupted when you’re in the middle of something, but this is important.”
Everyone agreed good-naturedly with the aim of the resolution to give warm greetings and farewells — but would we all remember to do it, without nagging? I didn’t want a resolution meant to boost our feelings of affection to turn into a source of conflict.
Somewhat to my surprise, we all quickly began to follow this resolution (most of the time). Giving warm greetings and farewell feels like a natural thing to do, and the more we do it, the more it becomes a habit. As a consequence, each day, several times, we have moments of real connection among all members of our family. For instance, instead of letting my older daughter yell, “I’m leaving” before she disappears out the door to go to school, I call, “Wait, wait,” and we all hurry to give her a real hug and a real good-bye.
A small thing, very small — nevertheless, it makes a real difference. As Benjamin Franklin pointed out, “Human Felicity is produc’d not so much by great Pieces of good Fortune that seldom happen, as by little Advantages that occur every Day.”
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Gretchen Rubin blogs at The Happiness Project.