Here’s how to adjust your attitude to gratitude—and why you won’t regret it.
Our families are often lugging heavy baggage.
“Holiday get-togethers evoke the full range of emotions for many people,” says Jeff Guenther, L.P.C., a therapist in Portland, Oregon. “Some feel happiness, joy, love, and appreciation when with family while others feel anxiety, worry, disappointment, and even dread,” he says. “It’s common to feel a mix of all these feelings during visits.”
Why? Because relationships with family members are some of the most complex, Guenther explains. That’s logical since they’re also usually the longest relationships you have. “They can make you feel safe and secure, and other times make you feel shame and guilt,” he says.
But Guenther says that checking the heavy baggage, lightening the mood, and making the most of your time with your family can have surprising benefits. Here are four things strong family bonds can do for you.
1. Strong Family Bonds Provide Stability
“Maintaining your relationship with your family can be very important,” Guenther says. “Your family acts as your bedrock. Often, they are our emotional safety net,” he explains. “Knowing that you have family who is there for you when times are tough allows you to focus on higher needs.”
At times, you’ll be the one in need of support. At others, your adult children may need some encouragement.
2. Strong Family Bonds Make Us Happier
A recent study from the Institute on Aging at Boston College found strong relationships between grandparents and their adult grandchildren reduced the risk of depression for both. The study also revealed that grandparents who both gave and received tangible support—money, help with chores, advice—experienced fewer depression symptoms compared to those who only received support. According to these results, it truly is “better to give than to receive.”
Other studies have associated families sitting down to dinner together regularly with better mental health in adolescents.
3. Strong Family Bonds Reduce Everyone’s Risk of Divorce
“Early on, we learn how to have close and intimate relationships with our family,” Guenther says. “Parent and sibling relationships set the tone for how we learn how to behave, feel, and think in relationships. Our close relationships in our family form our love maps and love language.”
In fact, one study from Ohio State University found the more siblings you have, the lower your risk of divorce. Did you get in fights with your brothers or sisters growing up? Turns out, they may have been great learning experiences for dealing with others.
Another study found the general climate of your family during your adolescence may influence your marriage quality. Other studies have also linked happy marriages with longer-lasting health in aging couples.
Luckily, there are ways you can strengthen your marriage today. Try these tips to rekindle the spark with your spouse.
4. Strong Family Bonds Keep You Slim
Researchers at Cornell University found that eating dinner together at a table instead of in front of the TV is associated with a lower body mass index (BMI) for both adults and kids. Encouraging children to talk meaningfully about their day is also a good practice, the researchers say.
Of course, staying active can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight too. And with SilverSneakers, you’ll get unlimited access to gyms and fitness classes nationwide. You can:
How to Make the Most of an Uncomfortable Situation
If none of the above makes your insufferable sister, brother, cousin, or in-law easier to talk to, Guenther has a few ideas. “Go into the get-together with an attitude of gratitude and appreciation,” he says. “You are going to remember these times. Keep things light if possible. If something comes up that bothers you, express it in a respectful and courteous way.”
You can also find a private spot for a few minutes and try this fun breathing exercise that will put a smile on your face. When you’re calmer, rejoin the group.
Guenther says you’ll feel better later if you have positive memories to look back on—rather than an argument. “You have a choice,” he says. “You can follow a narrative of depression and angst during the holidays, or you can attach yourself to a narrative that feels more loving and positive.
“Deliberately strive for the better feeling.”