Your house is a zoo – literally. It’s not just the dog, the cat, the three hamsters and the goldfish, heck, they’re downright neat compared to the human animals inhabiting your humble abode – three kids and a mate. You come home at night and all you see is mess, mess, mess. Everywhere clothes strewn, half-empty glasses, plates with sticky something stuck to them, books, papers, chewed pencils, DVDs, game-boys, nothing in its place, except your children and spouse who are everywhere in the place, making yet more – mess. You grrr, barely set down your things before gathering armloads of displaced belongings, and endeavor to restore some small measure of order to your chaotic universe.

By the time you sit down to dinner, you’re frazzled, even more worn out than when you came home from a strenuous day at work, and little in the mood for conversation or liveliness. You scarcely have the energy to mutter “Use your fork, not your fingers,” “Milk is for drinking, not for blowing bubbles,” or “Quit feeding your brussel sprouts to the dog.” Later that night, finally buried in the safety of your bedclothes, when your mate breathes sweet somethings into the crook of your neck it’s all you can do not to swat him/her away, like some errant fly.

Ah, the joys of family life. Well they would be – or could be, if you changed your focus. You see, anything you focus on grows. You focus all your attention on everything that is awry in your household the minute you get home, so that’s all you see. You don’t observe the glorious energy and vivacity of your children, you don’t notice your mate’s welcoming smile, you don’t give yourself even an instant to appreciate your home, whatever its condition. You see the mess, then more mess, and even more mess on top of that.

“But that’s a fool’s errand,” you say, “if I don’t see the mess, if I don’t take care of it, it will just grow exponentially until I need a snow-shovel to get from the front hall through the living room into the kitchen.” Indeed, if you don’t take care of it, it will get worse. But you don’t have to focus on the mess in order to take care of it. That’s the secret.

Take a moment to hug your mate, smile at your children and listen to their joys and woes of the day. Rest yourself for a few, you deserve it. And once you’ve taken in some of the love and enjoyment your family provides, ask for their help. With smiles and gratitude, ask your children to pick up their belongings, your mate to supervise or however he/she can best help, and make it fun. First one to get done gets an extra half hour of TV or whatever other reward is enticing. Focus more on what your family can and does accomplish, than on being the martyred sole survivor of the pick-up brigade.

Anything you focus on grows. The more you consistently, day by day, notice and appreciate openly all that your family does that contributes to a happy home life, the more they will want to do. The more smiles and praise you liberally distribute, the less heartache and toil you’ll create for yourself.

Family life can be such a joy--when you deliberately look for ways to enjoy it.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle Nelson, Ph.D. is a respected psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. Her most recent book is "The Power of Appreciation in Everyday Life (Insomniac Press, 2006). "Your Man is Wonderful" (working title) will be published in January 2009 by Free Press. For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives through appreciation--at work, at home and in relationships. E-mail:, website: