Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house.
In seminars, we often have fun asking people if they would like to increase the happiness in their homes by as much as 70 to 80 percent with one single idea. The overwhelming response is “Absolutely! If there’s one thing I could do that would make that much of a difference, you bet I want to know about it!” Then we divide them into smaller groups and ask them to go through the following experiment.
We invite you to give it a try.
Part One: List six or seven ordinary, everyday behaviors at home—things family members tend to do—the results of which are generally not positive.
You may want to compare your responses to some typical responses from others who have attended the seminars:
Leaving stuff out (hair spray, clothing, etc.)
Finishing off someone else’s treat that was saved in the fridge
Leaving the toilet seat up (or down)
Not communicating feelings or concerns
Being sarcastic or complaining
Not really listening
Interrupting someone when they’re talking
Having to ask someone repeatedly to do something
Second guessing family members
Channel surfing when someone else is trying to watch TV
Turning on the light when someone is asleep
Leaving cracker crumbs in bed
Review your list and make sure you’ve identified the behaviors that “nail” what’s happening in your family. In the seminar, it’s fun to hear the laughter as the different groups share some of these all-too- familiar behaviors that seem to “tick family members off.”
Part Two: List six or seven ordinary, everyday behaviors at home, the results of which are generally positive—they usually tend to make people happy.
Some of our seminar responses include:
Doing something unexpected to surprise someone (such as bringing flowers or serving breakfast in bed)
Giving foot rubs or back rubs
Leaving the toilet seat down (or up)
Respecting each other’s space
Being interested in each other’s activities
Saying “Thank you!”
Doing household chores without being asked
Doing someone else’s jobs or chores for them
Having quality time with the family—with the television off
Unexpectedly coming home early from work
As we go through this exercise with a group, we encourage each individual to keep a personal list of the “happy” and “unhappy” things in their own family.
Then, when we’ve finished sharing, we tell them the one “biggie” that is guaranteed to dramatically change the quality of family life in just a few weeks and most likely solve 70 to 80 percent of problems at home. We ask them to look at their own personal list and commit to:
Stop doing the unhappy stuff!
Start doing the happy stuff!
In other words . . .
Stop doing things like:
Start doing things like:
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After an instant of surprised silence, people start to laugh. I can tell some of them are thinking, “You mean I paid to have you tell me this?” But then they start to realize, “Yeah, I did. And it’s just what I needed to hear.”
But it’s not simplistic.
In relationships, the little things are the big things. They show caring and commitment. They say, “I care more about you than I care about my own habits or convenience.” And, “These things are important to me because you are important to me.”
In reality, it’s not so much the little things themselves that matter, but the attitude, paradigms, and character you show in choosing to give priority to those things.
Take a look at your own personal list of “happy” things. Could you do those things? Is there anything on that list that’s really too hard or impossible to do?
In performance analysis, a consultant will sometimes ask a manager: “If I held a gun to this employee’s head, could he do the task?” If the answer is no, the problem is training. If the answer is yes, the problem is motivation. So, if someone held a gun to your head, could you do the things you listed in Part Two?
Our guess is you could.
So why don’t you do them? And what would happen if you did do them? What if you were really serious about doing those things for even 30 days? Would it make a difference?
We’re confident that it would. Experience itself teaches us that understanding and doing the happy stuff, consistently and over time, makes a huge difference in the quality of family life. And whether you’re a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a son or daughter, aunt, uncle, or cousin, there are “little things” you can do to improve your family life.
Before moving on, we want to assure you that while the focus in this chapter is on the nuclear family, the principles involved are just as important to those who may be single or do not have children. Applications, such as the one we’ve just discussed are vital in extended family relationships and in all relationships you might have, both now and in the future.
So don’t necessarily limit your thinking to your current nuclear family status. Consider all your close relationships. Think of the family you might want to have in the future. At the end of the “optimizer” section, we’ll suggest ways to apply these high leverage ideas in a variety of situations.