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Seven Steps to a Happy Family

Reading about statistics probably isn’t your top choice for a relaxing afternoon. But if you’re looking for new insights and have a bit of time to spare, check out this year’s World Happiness Report (Helliwell, Layard & Sachs 2019).

A surprisingly gripping read, the report delves into the ways that current events impact people’s happiness and wellbeing all around the world. This year’s special theme is Community. Chapter 4 explains that we are happier when we have the chance to help our communities, and adds that “a growing body of experimental evidence suggests that using money to benefit others leads to happiness” (Aknin et al. 2019).

Humans are more likely than any other primates to act selflessly. The report shows that the more time and money we dedicate to a group we belong to, the happier we will become. Consistently being kind to our family is one of the best ways to achieve lasting happiness. It can act as a foundation for other community experiences, and it even makes it easier to be kind to strangers.

Where Do You Start?

Helping your family will help you in turn, but it can be hard to find time for this kind of generosity. While you may consider your family to be your highest priority in life, it sometimes feels impossible to strike a balance between your home life and other obligations.

Being short on time isn’t the only thing standing in the way of domestic harmony. Maintaining a good relationship with your partner and your children (if you have any) requires a unique set of social skills. Even if you grew up in a happy family, you can’t rely solely on the example set by your parents. The world is changing rapidly, and you may feel lost in many situations.

It’s not always easy to figure out how to improve things at home. So if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed right now, read on. This article covers some of the basics you need to keep in mind. If it feels like you’ve fallen behind on one or more of these steps, don’t worry. It’s never too late to turn things around.

Step One: Make Time for Each Other

You may think that this piece of advice is easier said than done. But here are two simple ways you can improve things:

Just Have Fun

Quality time with your family doesn’t need to be complicated. While the occasional family outing can be a great idea, staying at home is often just as fun. This can mean spending time outside together, playing a board game, or even watching a movie. Remember that your main goal is to strengthen the bonds between you and your loved ones – anything beyond that is optional.

Limit Your Kids’ After-School Activities

If you’re a parent, you are under immense pressure to provide your child with the best opportunities possible. You may be tempted to sign them up for numerous after-school activities. The rationale is simple enough: kids need the opportunity to learn new skills and interact with new people.

However, research shows that this often cuts into family time, which can cause more harm than good (Wheeler & Green 2018). Always keep in mind that your children benefit the most from spending time with you and engaging in free play.

Step Two: Communication Has to Be Consistent

Open communication is the only way you can make sure that every family member gets their needs met. However, it isn’t enough to tell your loved ones that you’re happy to listen to them. You have to put in the effort to demonstrate this every day.

A few ways to make sure your partner and children feel heard:

  • Ask about their day, even if you are tired and distracted, and pay attention when they talk.
  • Celebrate their victories – if something is making them happy, be happy along with them.
  • Don’t belittle their interests as a joke.
  • Be honest about your day, and don’t assume that they won’t care about your interests.
  • In-jokes are an excellent way to build rapport, even with young children.

Step Three: Create an Atmosphere of Kindness

Remember that you can also use your body language to show your family that you’re interested in what they have to say. Sitting next to each other also makes conversation easier than sitting across from each other. When buying furniture, prioritize comfort and coziness over style.

But that’s not the only way to create a homey, nurturing environment. Dim lighting can help decrease family tensions. Try to cut back on background noise, which includes whirring appliances as well as the TV being on without anyone watching it.

Most importantly, avoid yelling whenever possible. Never corner your loved ones when speaking to them. If your temper starts getting the better of you, the best thing to do is walk away and cool down.

Step Four: Your Family Rituals Should Fit Your Family

You have probably heard about the importance of family rituals in the development of young children (Spagnola & Fiese 2007).

Scientists found that teenagers and young adults also benefit from established family rituals (Yoon 2012). Marriages can be strengthened by them too (Bruess & Pearson 2002).

All in all, every happy family needs rituals to function well. However, these do not have to follow any expected pattern – for example, there’s no need to insist on a lavish Sunday lunch at all costs. Instead, rituals should be flexible, and they need to fit your family’s tastes and habits. They will likely develop naturally over time, so all you have to do is keep them alive.

Step Five: Build Bridges Toward Older Generations

If you have a strong, positive relationship with your parents, spending time with them will have a good effect on your partner and children. Learning about your family history can give you and your kids a sense of belonging. Even more importantly, spending time with your parents or in-laws can be a great way to relax.

Other older relatives can fulfill the same role if your parents aren’t available for whatever reason. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your extended family – you may discover new family ties that are worth nurturing.

Step Six: Don’t Let Chores Become a Problem

Unequal distribution of housework is a major cause of conflicts in the home. If one family member has to take care of everything, they will inevitably become stressed, exhausted, and it could negatively impact their health (Dembe & Yao 2016).

On the other hand, a messy home can be frustrating and even unsafe. Instead of letting the resentment (or the dirty dishes) build up, it’s important to make sure everyone does their part. Don’t leave young children out of the planning – the sooner kids start taking part in housework, the easier it will be for them to do it routinely.

To prevent conflicts, discuss chores in advance and maintain a flexible schedule. Doing chores together can even become a family ritual, and putting some music on is one of many ways to make it fun.

Step Seven: Always Be Ready to Change

Being too rigid can have a major negative impact on your family life. Your spouse or partner will go through changes, and so will you. Your children will mature and develop new interests and ways of seeing the world.

Let this happen, and try to stay as open to it as possible. Adapt to your family members, and allow yourself to change along with them.

Nothing Is Standing in Your Way

Remember that it doesn’t matter if the odds seem stacked against you. One-parent families and blended families can achieve as much happiness and success as the traditional nuclear family unit, though they may face some additional challenges. The same is true for families with gay parents (Perrin et al. 2013) or adopted children (Christoffersen 2012).

Building a happy family is a lifelong project, but you can start consciously working towards it at any time. With love and patience, you will grow the happiness shared between you and your loved ones.

Additional reading:

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