For Valentine’s Day, Two “New Traditions.” Also, the Weekly Video.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which gave me the opportunity to keep one of my favorite resolutions, to Keep a new family tradition. This resolution works alongside some of my other important family-related resolutions, like Be a treasure house of happy memories and Take time for projects.

Family traditions are an important way to build happy memories and to do fun family projects. Traditions make occasions feel special and exciting. They mark the passage of time in a happy way. They provide a sense of anticipation, security and continuity.

Studies show that family traditions support children’s social development and strengthen family cohesiveness. They provide the connection and predictability that people crave. I know that I enjoy a holiday more when I know exactly what we’re going to do, and when we’re going to do it.

I decided that I didn’t need to wait for traditions to emerge spontaneously. A “new tradition” may be a bit of an oxymoron, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from inventing a great tradition. For Valentine’s Day, I observe a new tradition that I invented ten years ago, and also one that I copied from a friend two years ago.

Every year, I send out Valentine’s cards with the girls’ photo, instead of trying to mail cards in December. People seem to like getting a card for Valentine’s Day, and it’s so much easier to deal with the task once the holiday craziness is over.

Also, inspired by a friend, I now decorate for holiday breakfasts for all major and minor holidays. For Valentine’s Day breakfast yesterday, I put out heart-shaped place-mats, heart-shaped paper plates, scattered some conversation-heart candies on the table and in a heart-shaped bowl, and put some heart-shaped window gels on the windows. My mother sent a little present to each girl, so they had something fun to unwrap. Usually I try to do something like dye the milk pink, but this morning, I forgot to do that (a reader gave me a wonderful recipe for the heart-shaped cakes in the Little House books – not within my organizational capacity to prepare, though I loved reading the recipe). Even so, I got a big, delighted reaction from my daughters.

This is festive, and also fun and easy. I re-use the same decorations every year, so I don’t have to spend money or do errands (except to pick up a little theme candy). I set the table the night before, so it’s not stressful. I have a very precise place in the kitchen where I store my holiday-breakfast decorations, so I don’t have to scramble to find anything. A big happiness boost, without much effort.

Have you started any new traditions for your family?

* 2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year, this month’s focus is Love. Last week’s resolution was to Fight right. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is Don’t expect praise or appreciation. Alas, of all my resolutions, this is one that I find particularly challenging!

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Feeling unappreciated? Taken for granted? Happiness and the desire for praise, appreciation, and gold stars.
Five tips for giving good praise.
Like me, do you crave praise and recognition for the slightest good deed?

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.

* A great place to read the latest and most interesting research on psychology, much of which touches on happiness, is Psyblog. For example, there was a fascinating post on Why We Love Narcissists–At First.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Debra

    Holiday breakfast decorations is a really sweet, simple and special idea. Thanks for the tip!

  • Angela

    I am starting the tradition of doing a little decorating for holidays with our kids. For Valentine’s day, I bought heart shaped plates (regular plates that can be used year after year), made them a little gift basket with a fun straw that had a heart shape twisted into it, a V-day themed pencil and a couple of small goodies. In addition to this, I made heart shaped french toast by using a cookie cutter. Unfortunately, the first comment I heard was from our son who said “I don’t like french toast with brown stuff on it.”

  • phoenix1920

    I love the idea of Valentine’s cards instead of Christmas cards. We started a new tradition of having a dinner game each night. The girls really enjoy the game and every night is a different game. I also put a set of index cards in the “Dinner Games” box and record a one-sentence journal about something fun that day. Yesterday, my daughter (6) composed her first “to-do” list. I never even realized she was watching me list mine out. Hers, however, was better than mine: (1) Read ; (2) Play game.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s the to-do list I want! What are all the dinner games??? I may need to
      copy you.

      • phoenix1920

        The name of the game we bought from Amazon was “Family Time Fun Beginner Dinner Games.” It has a lot of cute activities, like the Moo contest (everybody makes their best/funniest/slowest/etc moo and then drinks milk); What’s in the Oven Mitt; What’s missing from the table; etc. Last night’s game was Rainbow dinner. My husband and oldest daughter paired against me and my youngest daughter to see who could name the most foods that are blue/red/etc. The girls are so excited about which game we get to play each night

  • Sara

    Family Holiday Breakfasts and Brunches are great ideas. Our family started when my kids were young. Now that they are youg adults, it’s great to have this tradition. We might have to juggle our schedule to get together, but we can always find time for a brucnch together; even if it has to be scheuled on another day. We open cards that family members sent for the occasion and then we all feel like we have shared a holiday. There’s always time for breakfast, so keep up your new tradion, you’ll appricate it as your kids get busy with their own social life.

  • nsolis

    I have tried for years and years to send out Christmas cards, then I read Julia Child’s “My Life in France” and her stories about the Valentine’s cards she and her husband designed and sent every year. So I designed a Valentine’s card/letter and sent it to all the people I love–friends, family, close coworkers, etc. So many people told me how much they loved them. It made me so happy that I’m going to try to make that my new Valentine’s tradition.

    Also, since I am single and I, too, have trouble asking for help, I put “Yes, I am *still* single” in the card. At first I buried it toward the bottom, but then I put it right in the center of the page. I’ve already had a couple of friends offer to take me out to meet their single guy friends.

    • gretchenrubin

      I have been meaning to read MY LIFE IN FRANCE for so long, but still haven’t
      done so…but love the fact that I am following in the footsteps of Julia
      Child — a person who followed her own happiness project and with it, was
      able to convey her enthusiasms to the whole world. I MUST read that book.

      What a great message to add to your cards. Ask for help! People often just
      need a nudge, a reminder.

      • elemjay

        It is SUCH a great book! So much inspiration in there, even if you don’t like to cook and French food is not your thing. It is the most brilliant demonstration of the “playing to your strengths” point you mentioned before….

  • ellie

    A birthday tradition that we have had since my oldest were preschoolers is the Birthday Fairy comes during the night and decorates with birthday streamers and balloons. My kids have wondered why it never comes to other families, but even my teenagers still look forward to it and expect it. It’s sometimes a bummer to wake my husband to help after they’ve all gone to bed, but worth it! The leprechaun also comes during the night before St. Patrick’s Day and brings Lucky Charms and turns the milk green. Double bonus since we also have a St. Patrick’s Day birthday child!

    • gretchenrubin

      Birthday fairy! Wonderful. I remember from being a teenager myself that
      though they sometimes scoff at these kinds of gestures, they really look
      forward to them and find a tremendous amount of comfort in the fuss and in
      the reliability of the tradition.

      Got to get some Lucky Charms for St. Patrick’s Day, great idea! That will be
      a big hit in my house because sugared cereal is considered a BIG treat.

  • choco

    I’m also the sort who waits for praise or appreciation. One trick I learned is to tell my partner whatever I did I think I deserve praise for and actually ask for it. He now knows that I want it and does praise me with sincerity in his voice. What I learned from this was that it’s not that he doesn’t appreciate things I do but that he doesn’t think to express his appreciation. He’s just not that kind of person. Initially I thought asking for praise myself may reduce my satisfaction but it doesn’t, at all. I think it’s better because by asking for it I can make my craving for praise into something less serious. I don’t get grumpy and he knows what he’s expected to do so he’s happy 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, I tried that with my husband, and he STILL won’t give out the gold
      stars! And the thing is, he likes to get them himself, so it’s not as if he
      doesn’t see the satisfaction! So give your husband a gold star…for giving
      gold stars.

  • ruthpclark

    I’d love that Little House recipe! How fun!

  • Hi Gretchen. Thanks for this joy-filled post! I was thinking that the use of the word “ritual” gets around the semantic difficulties posed by a “new tradition”. You are creating new rituals in your family… and these will become traditions over time.

  • gr8 ideas:)

  • Gretchen – I love the idea of creating a new tradition by celebrating holiday breakfasts. Breakfast is a most overlooked meal in my world, yet one that needs more love. I will take inspiration from you – a way to bring happiness into every day.


  • Rose Ann

    Hi Gretchen, This was your sweetest post yet 🙂 Thank you for sharing your special Valentine’s Day traditions. When my husband & I were raising our (now grown, w/ babes of their own) 4 children, we used to hide their Valentines all around the house. In the morning, as soon as they woke up, they would go on their hunt ! We always did this every year for Easter too w/ their Easter baskets. Even to this day, they still remember it. Something so simple, but joyfull all the same.

  • uintadawn

    I’m reading your book. I love it and will recommend it.
    I live on a ranch in Wyoming. I’m a 50 year old mom and grandma. For my valentine tradition, I invite the grandkids over for a sleepover while the parents get away for some romance. I got my youngest son and a family friend to help and we took them swimming at the rec center. There were 6 kids, age 5 and under. What a fun time.

  • QuarterlifeEran

    I love these ideas! It’s a wonderful way to take some of the stress out of Christmas (sending cards later) and also adding an extra something special to Valentine’s Day without having to spend a ton of cash! I can’t wait to adopt the breakfast idea on my next holiday 🙂

  • dawn521

    Hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day filled with fun & love! I’m reading “The Happiness Project” now (am up to August)and am loving it! I’m not much of a writer, but I’m blogging about “50 things that I’m grateful for…before I turn 50” and my last post was about LOVE:

  • My sister and I were talking about the traditions (or habits?) that my mom had that didn’t revolve around holidays. Everymorning, while we ate our bowls of cereal, my mother would talk to us as she made our Toaster Strudels (as adults, we can’t believe we ate one every single day!!). While we were eating/chatting, she would use the Toaster Strudel frosting to write us a message or draw a design on our strudel. Every single morning! We loved it and were so excited to see our design or message (which was usually motivational). It was a sweet, albeit highly caloric, tradition!

    • gretchenrubin

      I love it! so sweet. I draw a picture on my daughter’s lunch bag, but am
      limited mostly to balloons, butterflies, and stick figures.

  • Betsy

    Hi Gretchen, I also “love my husband exactly the way he is.” After 21 years I went through a recent week of feeling sorry for myself (and a few hissy fits!) for my husband’s lack of appreciation at times for all I do. Sooooo your video came at the exact right time for me! Many thanks. I just signed up for your website newsletter and am anxious to get your book.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! I’m so pleased to hear that this resonated with you.

  • Maud Lovinfosse

    I’m French and we have a nice family tradition on the 2nd of February : la Chandeleur. On this day we cook crêpes (pancakes). My mother cooked them for dinner. Actually she made “crêpes-pizzas” : we could choose which ingredients we wanted on our crêpe. With the rest of the pancake dough, she made us sweet crêpes for the next breakfast or as a dessert. We always looked forward to it and loved that tradition !

    Now I’m living in Germany, where they don’t know that tradition, so I sort of imported it here. Even if we don’t have children, my husband loves that tradition too ! And I miss it if I don’t cook crêpes with my grandmother’s receipe on that day… It’s a way too to stay connected with my French family because everyone else is eating crêpes together on the 2nd of February.