There's plenty that's not so cheerful about family caregiving. But that doesn't mean you have to succumb to the tension and sadness every day. With a minimum of effort, you can introduce levity and lightness into the atmosphere.
1. Introduce elements of play into your home.
Having fun and games on hand really does raise the odds that you and your loved ones will partake. Think about past pleasures: Thousand-piece jigsaws? Board games like chess or Chinese checkers? Magnetic blocks and other 3-D puzzles? Blowing bubbles? One family keeps a basket of soft balls of different types handy in the kitchen to toss or bounce as they chat. Another displays Mom's beloved doll collection where she can see it every day.
2. Create something instead of always watching TV.
Stock a few activities that use up the long hours of the day but that are more communal and active than TV -- and provide feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment. Doodle in sophisticated coloring books that feature mosaics and florals (available at arts and crafts stores). Many toy stores sell art kits with black velvet cutouts and colored markers. More easy-to-make ideas: stained glass suncatchers, Christmas ornaments, woven placemats. The finished object is less important than the fun had in doing it.
3. Hire the happiest aide you can find.
Obviously when bringing in outside support, you want to hire someone competent. But all things being equal, consider the candidate's countenance. A happy aide, nurse, personal care assistant, or elder companion will bring sunshine along every time he or she enters your home. A happy personality tends to be an infectious one.
4. Display fun messages.
Hang a chalkboard or paint a square of chalk paint in a prominent place. Write a joke of the day or jot a loving message.
5. Play the gratitude game.
Remember Pollyanna and her "Glad Game?" The optimistic young heroine found something to be glad about in every situation. (Only crutches, not a doll, in the charity gift barrel? At least she didn't need to use them!) The game works because fear, disappointment, and negativity can't exist in the same mental space as gratitude. So when life is difficult, try making a list of things you're grateful for -- and if possible, asking your loved one and other family members, "What are you grateful for today?" Sometimes you can find happiness by creating your own relative happiness.
6. Have cheerful friends on speed-dial.
Every caregiver needs a handful of go-to friends and relatives with bright personalities. When you or your loved one feel swamped by the blues, call one of your sunnier friends and -- this is key -- let him or her know you're low: "Can you stop by? We need cheering up." Sometimes the simple infusion of a happy person in a depressing situation can alter the mood of the whole house. Even a temporary lift is a worthwhile one.