By eM Life Instructor Mike Engle
I hate to be rude, but families can really suck the life out of you.
From the weird uncle that makes everyone feel uncomfortable, to the grandma who can’t hear you and just keeps on talking, to the little kids who drain all of your life force, being with family can be challenging. Sometimes it feels like the more you’re with them the more challenging it is. Sure, seeing sweet little kids with cute chubby cheeks is nice for a couple of hours, but being with demanding toddlers from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed and then a couple more times during the night can make you feel like you’re about to lose it. But no matter how difficult family can be, they’re also beautiful, fun, and fill that place in your heart that others can’t. So how can we keep some appreciation in our hearts for our families even when we don’t feel like it?
- Take deep breaths when you want to strangle family members – For some of us this might happen more often than for others, but we all get fed up sometimes. When we get tense like that our breath shortens and our muscles contract. One of the first ways to relax is by taking some deep breaths, and if we can remember to do this when we’re about to start yelling it can make a big difference. When you feel you’re about to snap then stop, close your eyes, and breath slowly into your belly. As you exhale allow your body to relax as much as you can. Then repeat. Become aware of how your emotions are manifesting in your body at that moment and see if you can let the deep breaths release the tension you’re holding. Even if you’re not 100% OK afterwards, you’re probably better than you were, and you’ll be able to relate to loved ones with more clarity and compassion, which is something we all deserve.
- Savor the sweet moments – Life certainly has its bad parts, but it has its good parts too. Often, we are hyperaware of the bad experiences and overlook the sweet ones. We can improve our overall happiness by savoring those sweet moments simply by being aware of them. When we talk about mindfulness we’re not just talking about a practice, but we’re talking about a state of mind that is aware and present. This awareness shakes off the chains of our cyclic thoughts and vividly connects to our senses. It is present in the moment without needing to think about it or analyze it. When we are aware of a sweet moment, we can savor the experience and truly enjoy it. Even if it’s not a super thrilling amazing experience, it’s still worthy to be savored. And when we enjoy these little moments of smiles, laughter, hugs or cuddles, then we can fill up our hearts with appreciation and joy, drop by drop.
- Remember the kindness of others – This is actually the key to feeling gratitude and appreciation. At the minimum, we can appreciate the fact that our parents gave us life and kept us alive, but if we pay attention we can notice a ton of little acts of kindness that our families are doing for us. When we see all the small things that others are doing for us all the time we can start to feel some warmth towards them. We recognize that we’re part of a network, that we receive kindness and we pass it on in turn. It’s these very acts of kindness that make life sweet and enjoyable, and when we’re aware of how kind others are to us we feel full enough to pay that same kindness forward. Next time you’re with your family notice the small (or big) things they do for you and see if you can genuinely appreciate them in that moment. If you do, chances are you’ll start to appreciate your family a whole lot more.
- Keep a deathbed mentality – I know this sounds like it would actually make you more depressed, but if we use this awareness properly it can bring a vivid flavor into our lives. The deathbed mentality is essentially our awareness that we can disappear from this world much sooner than we think, or that our loved ones could as well. Keeping this in mind makes our seemingly important fights become trivial, and our moments with each other precious. If you knew this would be the last time you saw your mother, or your children, or weird Uncle Frank, you would appreciate and enjoy every moment. The unsettling truth is that we don’t really know when it will be the last time that we see each other, and we almost always regret not enjoying those final moments together. When we keep this in mind we can have a better perspective on what’s important and what’s not, and we can appreciate what we have in the moment because we’re not sure we’ll have it again.
Practicing More Appreciation and Gratitude in Your Family
These are just a few ways that we can feel more gratitude for our families, despite all their shortcomings. As always, our happiness is based on our minds, and cultivating and training our minds is one of the most important ways for us to be happier. It starts with being aware and connecting with what’s happening in the present moment. We aren’t trying to convince ourselves that poop smells good and that life is all roses, but instead we’re trying to be a bit more realistic and notice the good parts as well as the bad. And when we can be in the present moment to savor the good parts, use our breathing to stop ourselves from exploding, and notice how kind others are for us, we can really start to shift the flavor of being with loved ones. In the end, we don’t really know when or if we’ll see them again, so wouldn’t it be worthwhile to be present with them while you can?
Want to practice being more present in your daily life – even during uncomfortable family gatherings? Visit eM Life and Sign Up for a free trial, experience our Mindful Daily sessions and begin to practice various mindfulness techniques to help you become more aware and present during the fun, awkward, and crazy times that can arise when the entire family gets together.
About the Author
Mike has been passionate about training his mind since he was first exposed to mindfulness at the age of 16. Since then, his desire to understand and work with his mind has led him to earn degrees in Psychology and Philosophy, to research attention training in monastic education in Nepal, and to sit four and a half years in intensive solitary retreat. After finishing his retreat Mike began to teach mindfulness to others, and after starting his own family he became interested in bringing the benefits of mindfulness to parents, children, and families. He currently lives in Barcelona with his wife and sons where he spends his time teaching mindfulness, coaching, and working in the field of Tibetan translation. Mike has worked as an eM Life instructor since 2017.
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Also published on Medium.