Family Works [May 5, 2019]
Family Works [May 5, 2019]
Speaking on Happiness
In the opening of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote: “All happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I have thought long and hard about this statement, asking myself what happy families tend to share in common.
All families stumble over the same familiar challenges of family life. It’s certainly not a secret as to what these challenges are – learning to live together, dealing with difficult relatives, understanding the changing needs of our children, coping with rebellious teenagers, balancing time between home and work, caring for elderly parents ... Of course, this list goes on and on.
What is interesting is not so much the list of challenges, but that basically facing the same challenges, some families are happy while other families are miserable.
Tolstoy was right. Unhappy families tend to be unhappy in their own way.
There are so many different ways that families are unhappy that several volumes of writing still couldn’t contain all the misery. Rather than look at all this unhappiness, maybe we should pay more attention to what makes families happy, especially since there are things all happy families tend to share in common.
Perhaps you can add to this list, but my list would certainly include the following common characteristics of happy families.
1.Happy families balance separateness and togetherness.
In other words, in happy families it’s OK to be yourself, with your own unique thoughts and feelings, but even with an enduring sense of separateness, there is a clear connection with the family. Individuality does not have to come at the expense of connection. Both can be mutually enjoyed.
2. Happy families understand and appreciate the worth of each family member.
Although we all have learned from a variety of life experiences and some of us have more experience (and hopefully more wisdom) than others, all of us are equals in worth. No one, regardless of money, prestige, or status has any more worth than a newborn child.
Happy families treat each and every family member with unconditional feelings of worth.
3. Happy families work together on solutions to minimize stressful situations and understand that even the most difficult of crises are opportunities for growth.
4. Happy families prioritize time together and share responsibilities.
Flexible roles tend to be the norm. There is recognition that we are all in this experience of life together. Collectively spending time together minimizes the load any one person carries and maximizes the meaning of sharing those experiences together.
5. Happy families listen attentively to one another.
Because all feelings are considered to have value and merit, there is no reason to act out, blame, or stuff one’s feelings. Open and honest communication builds deeper and deeper trust and intimacy while minimizing conflict.
6. Happy families laugh, not at each other, but rather at the many absurdities of life.
A good sense of humor allows us to not take life too seriously, a key ingredient in living longer and healthier.
7. Happy families allow each family member to live his or her own dreams.
Family members take personal responsibility for their own lives, seeking consistently to do their best whatever the task on hand might be.
Do you really want to be happy? It’s not easy, but thankfully happiness comes as a result of behavior you can choose.
Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.
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