Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a best-selling book about her strategic search for happiness. Rubin looked at the specific aspects of her life that created more happiness and she consciously worked on ways to build them into her routine. The result? More happiness.
In a recent interview, Rubin said she was inspired by Benjamin Franklin because “he was this extraordinarily productive genius. He had this chart that he [created] with 13 virtues that he wanted to cultivate. They are very founding father-y virtues, like temperance and frugality. Every day, he would check off whether he had observed that virtue or not.”
The caregiver chime in my head rang out: How can caregivers benefit from this strategy? Would this be worth trying? I like the checklist idea. Simplicity would be key, so would knowing which virtues, activities, or intentions to check off that would most benefit a caregiver and his or her loved ones, so I played around with it. I found a website with an alphabetical list of virtues, and there are lot! I also noticed that “Caring” is on the list — a virtue in and of itself! How life-affirming. Click here to see that list of virtues with definitions.
So, what’s the benefit of creating our own virtues list? For one thing, there are many realities caregivers can’t control, but we do have control of the way we respond to situations. By taking an honest look at the virtues we value, and recognizing where we do well and where we could improve, we can work on ways to better respond to situations and, hopefully, create a more harmonious environment … even under stressful circumstances. Besides, when you check off these virtues at the end of the day, you’ve done something to improve yourself, your situation, and your loved one’s care. Here are a few checklists I created using the big list that I mentioned above. The first list might be for a caregiver of someone with a severe TBI, someone who needs a lot of hands-on care and attention. The virtues reflect the traits caregivers might need when providing constant care.
Here’s one Caregiver Virtue checklist:
Putting a check next to each one of these virtues in the evening makes you pause to consider what you have done that day along with how and why you behaved as you did. You may also wonder what you might have done differently with a bit more compassion, patience, or persistence. It’s reflective work. It’s character reinforcement.
Here’s another list. This might be for a caregiver of a person whose TBI has made him or her more disinhibited, defiant, and uncooperative. Holding onto these virtues may be extremely hard at times when caring for someone with behavioral problems, but reminding yourself to work on these virtues, may help you choose more helpful responses to situations as they arise, and at the same time you are modeling good behavior to your family members.
Strengthening any of these virtues may lead to strengthening another virtue. For instance, if you work very hard to understand someone, your effort to listen well and respond appropriately will increase your sincerity; or by consistently showing respect for your loved one, you will also build trust. So even if you choose to work on one virtue at a time, you might see a lovely cascading effect in your household.
But what about a day when none of the boxes get checked? What about an awful, grouchy, dysfunctional day when every virtue gets tossed out the window? We all have those days, right? Maybe that would be the time to ask your family to practice their virtues on you. “I really need some courage, gentleness, and consideration right now,” you might say to open the door, letting others know how they can help you.
Personally, I’m a fan of the virtue “understanding” because my husband models this virtue to me all the time. He’s particularly good at listening and responding to my concerns. Whenever he says, “I understand,” I feel instantly connected to him and more willing to share my deepest feelings. Caregiving for a loved one is hard work, but we can make it easier by using every tool at our disposal to make our own lives a little happier.
Thanks, Gretchen Rubin and Ben Franklin for this simple strategy that may help solve some complicated problems.