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This simple game increases our family’s happiness

A fun and easy practice to help you reflect, anticipate and appreciate

Our oldest daughter came home from kindergarten several years ago with a new game she wanted to teach us: “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it… It’s been getting some buzz lately in the design-thinking space, but it’s been used as a classroom exercise for decades. For us, it’s a simple family tradition that has been playing out at our dinner table for years.

Our kids love it so much that they’re almost always the ones to suggest it. Sometimes our littlest will want to do it multiple times a week, even when it means there’s only one day to reflect back on. The act of doing it is much more important than the “how” and the “when.”

Here’s how it works: each of us takes a turn reflecting back on our week. We name our Rose – something that we’re happy about (there are usually many), then a Thorn – something that did not go well, or made us feel unhappy, and then a Bud – something that we’re looking forward to.

And here’s what happens…

First of all, there’s never just one Rose.

We each think of several, and then end up chiming in on each other’s Roses – “Oh yeah, I forgot! That was a rose for me too!” – until we are swimming in a sea of invisible roses. Talking about all the good moments we’ve experienced makes everyone noticeably happier.

I got to be line leader… That day we all went apple picking… This dinner is a rose… We had extra daddy-daughter time… I made it through my presentation… I signed a new client… I learned how to skip…

No matter how big or small, the simple the act of reflecting on – and then voicing – these roses, makes us all feel an abundance of happiness.

Though I also occasionally practice writing down the things I’m grateful for, there’s something even more effective about discussing it with loved ones. It’s incredible how, with the help of others’ memories and feedback, we can see that our cups runneth over.

But it doesn’t end there…

The Thorns increase our happiness too!

What often happens is that the kids will have a hard time thinking of any thorns. Even when the youngest was having an epic meltdown just three hours earlier, she may still feel thorn-free. The thorns no longer seem so, well, thorny.

There are three factors at play here…

First of all, we’re still awash in a sea of positivity. Though we might dwell on the negative things as they’re happening, those “bad” things are all but forgotten when we reflect back later. Accentuate the positive, diminish the negative.

Second, when we do have Thorns to bring to the table, the simple act of voicing them and placing them in the past helps us to close the cover on that box and move forward. We’re effectively saying, “yes, this happened, and it really bothered me, but it’s in the past.” Without fully realizing it, we’re helping to bring closure to those past annoyances.

Third, when it’s a “current” Thorn – something that’s troubling us in the moment, discussing it with family almost always helps to relieve some of the stress. Too often, we humans bottle up our worries as they silently eat away at us. When family members have the opportunity to air and acknowledge a Thorn, we’re better able to empathize, help them shoulder the burden, and maybe even ease their worry.

And finally, the delicious anticipation of the Bud…

The last thing we each focus on, is our “bud” – what we’re looking forward to. Though my husband and I tend to focus on the week ahead, the bud can be anywhere on the horizon for our kids (there was a good month-long stretch where our four-year-old’s weekly bud was always “Halloween!!”).

Whether it’s getting to watch a movie at school the next day, a visit from Grandpa in two weeks, or a family vacation still three months away, there’s always something to look forward to. It’s a great reminder for all of us.

And when it comes to happiness, anticipation is a key player. Over the past decade, scientists have conducted a number of studies on the relationship between anticipation and happiness. Their findings?

By and large, anticipation increases happiness.

Looking forward to an event can bring as much – if not more! – happiness than the actual occurrence of the event.

The end of the calendar year can be a great time for introspection. What were some of your roses and thorns of the past year? What are some buds for the coming year?

I encourage you to try this simple practice with your family, and let me know how it goes. Will you feel a tiny bit happier?

I can almost guarantee it.

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