The Intentional Family and Authentic Happiness

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The Intentional Family and Authentic HappinessTessa YatesBrigham Young University

The Intentional Family and Authentic HappinessOver the past few weeks, I have immersed myself in the study of the family and positive psychology by reading William Dohertys The Intentional Family and Martin Seligmans Authentic Happiness. These two books have broadened and expanded my knowledge and understanding of well-being, the family unit, and happiness within the family. I cannot help but ponder and reflect on the words I have read and think of ways in which I can strengthen my family ties and increase my own happiness by applying the knowledge I have gained. This paper is a means for me to share and further contemplate on the things I have learned and explain what I can take away from my study on happiness and the family. I will begin this paper by briefly summarizing The Intentional Family and then transition into my personal thoughts about family rituals and ties based on my own familys experiences. I will then write another brief summary for Authentic Happiness and explain how Seligmans positive psychology has changed my outlook on happiness. By the end of this paper I hope to adequately demonstrate the change that can be brought about in both family and personal life by applying the theories of Seligman and Doherty. Summary of The Intentional FamilyWilliam Dohertys The Intentional Family is a how-to book for creating intentional families through simple rituals that are meant to develop and strengthen the ties between husband and wife, parents and children, immediate and extended family, and community. Doherty lays the foundation to his book by explaining the evolution of the family unit. The family evolved from the Institutional Family to the Psychological Family and finally to the Pluralistic Family. Today, our society is inhabited by the Pluralistic Family. The Pluralistic family is not rigidly defined. Families are individually shaped and created by the family members and what they believe constitutes a good family. This freedom allows for what Doherty calls the Intentional Family. The Intentional Family is a ritualizing family. It creates patterns of connection through everyday family rituals, seasonal celebrations, special occasions, and community involvement (Doherty, 1997, p. 8). Rituals, the foundation of Intentional Families, are planned and repeated activities that have special significance and importance for the family. Rituals provide predictability, connection, identity, and a way to enact values. According to Doherty (1997), there are three types of rituals: connection rituals, love rituals, and community rituals (p. 12). These different rituals, if properly integrated and executed, will build, connect, and strengthen family ties. Rituals of connection. Connection rituals provide opportunities for family bonding through family meals, morning and evening routines, and family outings and vacations. Doherty (1997) recommends that family meals are the best place to begin the process of becoming more intentional as a family (p. 27). Family meals, specifically dinner, can be ritualized by setting a certain time when the meal will be served, determining who will prepare the meal and clean it up, creating an inviting environment, encouraging and discouraging specific topics to be discussed, and most importantly, by eliminating distractions, such as the television or technology (Doherty, 1997, p. 30). Family morning and evening routines can often be overlooked and lost in the busy and stressful lives of todays families. These rituals are important for both children and parents. Drifting away from this ritual can lead to entropy, or lack of cohesion, in intimate relationships (Doherty, 1997, p. 48). The last ritual of connection is family outings and vacations. In regards to family outings, Doherty (1997) explains that the easiest way to start or upgrade family rituals of connection is to determine what you already enjoy doing as a family, and then do it more intentionally (p. 55). Simple activities such as going out for ice cream, family movie trips, or eating out weekly can be ritualized in the family.Rituals of love. Love rituals can be divided into two categories: couple rituals and special person rituals. Couple rituals include talking time, weekly date nights, and celebrating anniversaries and Valentines Day. Most newlywed couples are successful at creating couple rituals, but they tend to get lost over time, especially when children come into the picture. Couple rituals are important because they keep marriages afloat and heading in a positive direction (Doherty, 1997, p. 79). Special person rituals, such as birthdays, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day, are recent in origin but they are staples of the ritual family year and provide important opportunities to celebrate connections to one another (Doherty, 1997, p. 83). An especially enriching ritual that can be done at birthday parties or special person events is the sharing of personal appreciations. Personal appreciations involve family members taking turns sharing with the celebrated person what they value and appreciate about him or her (Doherty, 1997, p. 90). Rituals of love build connections among family members by encouraging spending quality time with the people that are nearest and dearest to us. Rituals of community. Community rituals include events such as wedding and funerals, religious activities in churches, and neighborhood activities. Over the course of family evolution, community rituals have become less prevalent and important in families. Doherty attributes this to individualism. He states, American individualism, in the past balanced by a strong commitment to community involvement, began to dominate the culture as never before. And families became increasingly more isolated from their networks of support (Doherty, 1997, p. 135). In order to combat destructive individualism, families need community rituals that involve extended family, friends, neighbors, social organizations, and religious fellowships. The how. Doherty lays out specific steps families should take in order to become more intentional. The first step is to evaluate your familys already existing rituals. This involves assessing whether or not your familys current rituals are meeting the needs of connection, meaning, and community and realizing which areas of your familys life need ritual enhancement (Doherty, 1997, p. 189). The next step is creating or changing family rituals. There are two routes to creating family rituals. The first is the direct routeproposing changes, planning new rituals, and evaluating how it works. The second is the indirect routean individual creates an experience before proposing it became a ritual and evaluate whether or not it should become a permanent ritual in the family. The last step in becoming a more intentional family is monitoring and revising rituals. Overtime, some family rituals may need to be revised or even dropped if they have served their purpose and are no longer needed (Doherty, 1997, p. 198). Personal Insights on The Intentional FamilyThe evolution of my own family. I was born into what would be considered a traditional family. I grew up in a family with a stay at home mother, a successful father, and two older brothers. We lived in a secluded, friend filled neighborhood in Murray, Utah. We had what would be considered a good and normal family life. Life got flipped upside down when I was about five years old. My parents got a divorce, my dad moved away, and my mom had to pick up a full-time job in order to provide for my brothers and me. In The Intentional Family, Doherty (1997) explains that not all families become disabled or dysfunctional after divorce, but most experience significant disruption of their rituals of connection, celebration, and community (p. 169). Reading these words made me reflect upon my childhood and how my parents divorce influenced my family. Right after the divorce, my mom was stressed, my brothers fought more than usual, and our house seemed to never be clean. Our family rituals of going out to eat or taking walks in the park seemed to vanish for the first few weeks. Fortunately, these negative impacts that the divorce caused on our family rituals were only temporary. My mother, with the help of extended family and friends, made life normal and comfortable again for my brothers and me. We resumed traditional rituals that were a part of our family when my parents were still married and we created new rituals of our own. It took time, patience, and healing, but eventually my parents divorce became more of a positive than a negative life event. It brought my mother, my brothers, my extended family, and me closer than we had ever been before. In his book, Doherty explains that single-parent families can be some of the most highly intentional families or they can be the most entropic (Doherty, 1997, p. 175). In my familys case, divorce caused us to become one of the most highly intentional families that I know. Doherty (1997) says that the keys to having an intentional family after divorce is the ability of the single parent to focus on what is most important about family rituals of connection and celebration, and on the degree of support from the extended family and community (p. 175). These keys played a vital role in mending my family together after my parents divorce. Despite what my mom was going through, she never failed to celebrate our birthdays, rejoice in our successes, continue our holiday traditions, or kiss us goodnight. Approximately three years later, my mom remarried. Yet again, my family structure changed. In The Intentional Family it reads, As difficult as they can be, single-parent families dont hold a candle to remarried families when it comes to complications with rituals Remarried families require the highest levels of intentionality of any form of family life in our culture (Doherty, 1997, p. 175). This statement definitely rings true to me as I think about how difficult it was, and continues to be, to try to merge two families together that come from completely different backgrounds. These differences in family traditions and rituals became especially evident at Thanksgiving and Christmas time. We each had family parties with our separate extended families and my mom and step-dad argued about which parties to attend. In order to better involve my step-fathers side of the family with my family, we created our own rituals of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. These dinners consist of traditions that come from my side of the family and my stepdads side of the family. My family successfully did what Doherty recommends in his book, which is to take existing rituals from both sides of the family, merge them together, and also create new rituals that are specific and special (Doherty, 1997, p. 180). Stepparent-stepchild rituals. When my mom first started dating my stepfather I was stubborn and cold towards him. I was young and did not want to lose my moms love and attention that I felt should only be mine. Even now, I do not have the relationship with my stepfather that I should probably have after knowing him for 12 years. Doherty explains that when a stepparent enters the family, it is important for them to use rituals to forge bonds with their stepchildren. Rituals can slowly build a one-to-one relationship between a stepparent and stepchild (Doherty, 1997, p. 179). As I reflect on my relationship with my stepfather, I cannot think of any rituals that we had together when I was younger. Having rituals would have probably strengthened our relationship, but we never made that kind of connection with each other. Fortunately, it is never too late to work on relationships. I believe that if I make the effort to create a ritual with my stepfather our relationship will develop. Creating a better relationship with my stepfather will also help my whole family grow closer. Summary of Authentic HappinessAuthentic Happiness is Martin Seligmans attempt to understand and define the elements of a meaningful and happy life based on his idea of positive psychology. Seligman shares what he considers the three levels of lifethe pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful lifeand how happiness can be increased and maintained at each of these levels. Seligmans aim of Authentic Happiness is to propel the field of positive psychology forward by providing us with knowledge and research about positive emotion, personal strengths and virtues, and the hows of a happy life (Seligman, 2002, p. 6). But why is it so important to be happy? Seligman (2002) states that positive emotions have a grand purpose in evolution. They broaden our abiding intellectual, physical, and social resources, building up reserves we can draw upon when a threat or opportunity presents itself (p. 35). Seligman unfolds his theory of life satisfaction in Authentic Happiness and explains the numerous benefits that come from consciously creating and living a happy life. Happiness formula. Seligmans happiness formula, H = S + C + V, helps us to understand the components of happiness and which parts are uncontrollable and which are voluntary. H, the enduring level of happiness, is equal to our (s) set range, (c) circumstances, and (v) voluntary variables (Seligman, 2002, p. 45). Approximately half of our general happiness is dependent upon our set range, which can be compared to a steersman, treadmill, or thermostat that returns our happiness to a certain level after we experience positive or negative emotions. This set range represents the inherited aspect of overall happiness (Seligman, 2002, p. 48). Circumstances, such as the amount of money we have, marriage status, social life, health, education, gender, and religion, may seem to play a significant role in our level of happiness, but they account for no more than 15 percent of the variance in happiness (Seligman, 2002, p. 61). Seligman explains that the true key to happiness does not lie within our set range or circumstances; rather, lasting happiness is based on our thoughts, actions, and the positive emotion we have about the past, present, and future (Seligman, 2002, p. 62). Positive emotion about the past and future. Positive emotions about the past include satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, pride, and serenity. Although some psychologists think that past events, especially childhood, shape our future, Seligman firmly believes that the major traumas of childhood may have some influence on adult personality, but barely a detectable one. Bad childhood events, in short, do not mandate adult troubles (Seligman, 2002, p. 67). Along with letting go of the idea that our past determines our future, satisfaction with the past can be achieved by voluntarily increasing our gratit...


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