Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy had said. And for a family to be happy and attain wellbeing, it needs to achieve a fine balance of physical and mental health.
Lifestyle plays a major role in determining a family’s health. But every family has a unique lifestyle—shared interests, likes, dislikes, values and habits, which have been influencing the family’s way of life. More specifically, certain behaviour patterns or habits are the very backbone of a family. These include food, leisure and recreation habits, cleanliness, hygiene, sleeping and resting schedules, meal hours, interpersonal interaction patterns, financial planning, religious habits and such others.
These habits are a tradition of the family and are generally followed with great consistency. They give a sense of stability and predictability to the family’s interaction pattern. They become a part and parcel of every member’s life and his or her behaviours are automatically programmed to function in a particular way. Habits are thus consistent ways of behaviour, which every member of the family is used to and expected to follow. Functional habits can go a long way in maintaining physical and mental health, while non-functional ones can adversely affect it.
Good food habits
Children learn from observing adults in the family. Thus, the elders have a responsibility to practise what they preach. If you want to teach good habits to your children, then you have to follow them first. Often, there is a disconnect between theory and practice. For instance, children are taught the importance of a ‘balanced diet’ in their textbooks, but their meals often have foods low in nutrition.
In addition, the changing social scenario and way of life in general has influenced our eating habits widely. The media advertisements project attractive foodstuff [most of them being low in nutritive value], which fascinate children and youth. It is then the parents’ responsibility to explain to children the importance of nutrition and nourishment and good dietary habits. Parents should also prevent children from getting misguided by explaining to them the inconsistencies in claims of advertisers. The whole family needs to understand and acknowledge the importance of health and wellbeing and should mutually decide their eating preferences. Together they should take efforts to strike a balance between a healthy diet and occasional indulgences.
Good physical habits
Good eating habits need to be supplemented by exercise. Physical exercises keep the mind and body fit and active. Practising yoga and meditation not only keeps you in shape, but also improves concentration, attentiveness, steadiness—physical and mental wellness.
Elders in the family must show that they care for the health of family members by refraining from addictions like smoking, drinking and using drugs, which may pose problems related to health and relationships.
Today’s sedentary lifestyle has invited problems like obesity in children and adults. Many parents complain of children remaining glued to the television or computer screens and not venturing out. Parents should make the children understand the importance of physical activity and playing. Activities like running, swimming and cycling should be encouraged.
Not just the children, but the seniors in the family too must be encouraged to exercise. In addition, they should follow a proper routine, with fixed timings for medication, food and socialising.
Good money habits
Good practices spread to money matters too. Together, the family should decide on financial practices to follow and over the priorities and essentialities of the family. The homemaker too needs to be recognised for her contribution as she executes the plans. The art of saving and spending money wisely should be inculcated in children right from beginning by introducing concepts like piggy banks.
Good daily habits
On the whole, following a well-planned routine is essential. A good routine can take several weeks to establish, but everyone will feel better once it is in place. Each one, however, needs to remember that routines are for every one and hence have to suit needs of all the members and be adaptive and flexible.
Setting routines for meal times, bedtime, homework and study time, TV watching time, time for communication about daily events to each other, cooking, cleaning the house, gardening and venturing out help in promoting togetherness, maintain good health and inculcate discipline.
Good interaction habits
Ideal ways of behaviour are always stressed upon with a goal of maintaining favourable family climate, which refers to the way each one feels about every other member and the family as a whole. A pleasant family climate is where members speak politely, respect elders, feel a sense of togetherness and cooperation, have consistent ways of behaviour, values and habits.
Making humour [timely and in considerate amount] a habit also can help keep the family atmosphere at ease. It may reduce pervading tension and gloom and make the family feel better.
Good moral habits
Respecting and caring for elders is a good habit. They should be seen as wise and experienced members of the family, thus refraining from elderly abuse. Punctuality, cleanliness, hygiene, respecting the elderly and politeness are taught to us right from the childhood. They can be better practised than preached only when people feel the need and comprehend the indispensable nature of good habits.
Encourage a positive attitude towards life in family elders, which may help them focus on gains of old age rather than the losses. The family thus needs to plan its journey towards wellness properly.
Habits do not restrict themselves to mere commonplace home-bound behaviours, but are wider in scope to include practices of discipline, obedience, politeness, complacence, consideration for others’ wellbeing, patriotism, altruism, forgiveness and hope. When values and virtues like these become our habits, only then happiness become habitual for us!
This was first published in the July 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.