Last Saturday night, a group of us all made word cloud collages of things we appreciate and admire about our family members. Photos are posted in the Gift of Happiness group on Facebook. If you want to try the exercise yourself, here's how:
- Make a list of the family members you want to include. They could be blood relatives or not, alive or not, people coming to Thanksgiving dinner or not -- any group of people you see (or are open to seeing) in a positive light.
- For each person, write down 2-3 characteristics or strengths they have that you think are admirable. (If you get stuck, try asking other people what they see.)
- Go back through your list and circle any words that you used for more than one person, or that are especially important to you.
- Write all the words on another sheet of paper, with the circled words larger and bolder than the rest. (Or google "word cloud generator" and have the computer do it for you.)
The result? A visual reminder of what your family is like at their best.
If you generally have a nice, easy, loving relationship with your family, this will be a fun exercise. But it's also a worthwhile exercise even if your family is NOT picture-perfect. Here are six reasons to try it:
- It will help you see your family more clearly and accurately. When you have strong judgments about people -- when you know "how they are" -- you tend to filter out all evidence to the contrary and can't see them for who they really are. In truth, they are not just their shortcomings, but a complex mixture of virtue and imperfection, just like you.
- It will help you release outdated stereotypes. It is easy to assume you know everything you need to know about your family members. The problem is, you're often working with very old information -- things you decided were true many years, even decades, ago. But people learn and grow, just like you have. Looking for evidence of their strengths helps you appreciate how they've changed and who they actually are now.
- lt will help you forgive yourself for the ways in which you are like them. Let's face it; the things that trigger us most about our family members are often things that we too struggle with in some form, or are afraid may become true for us. If you can see your family members' virtues despite their shortcomings, it's a reminder that your own shortcomings don't define you, either.
- It is empowering. There is no objective truth about how your family is. Completing this exercise is a reminder that you get to choose how you want to see them. And it gives you something to do that's under your control and doesn't require anyone else to change.
- It will make you happier. Simply put, gratitude and appreciation feel better than bitterness, resentment, and complaining. And they are better for your health.
- It may be the most meaningful gift you give this year. Imagine going into your holiday gatherings primed to notice and appreciate the good in your family, rather than guarding against the bad. Chances are you will see them differently, and treat them differently, and that they in turn will respond differently to you. What better gift could you give to a family than the ability to feel more love and connection?
Whether your family members "deserve" this loving treatment or not is not the point. The point is that you deserve it. I hope you'll give it a try and let me know how it goes.