By Sonya Fehér
Whether you’ve consciously set the goal for the new year, or it’s just swimming around somewhere, you probably want to have a happy family. What does happy family actually mean? What does a happy family include?
For those who grew up in happy families or had friends or other models of what a happy family looks like, defining a happy family might be easier. If you grew up in a family that wasn’t so happy, or if you’re currently experiencing happiness challenges as a family, the hope of having a happy family might be a vague one. To make it more tangible and achievable, it’s helpful to visualize what a happy family would mean to you.
Does having a happy family mean that each individual in the family is happy? Does it simply mean being happy together as a family? Can the family be happy if someone in it is not? Are there particular things that make you happy as a family?
Ask About Happiness
We can start by defining happiness. To help the family think about how they define happiness, have a conversation in which each person asks themselves how they know they’re happy. You might give them any or all of the following prompts.
- I am happy when…
- I am happy with…
- I am happy doing…
- I am happy being…
- Feeling happy includes…
It’s worth writing down or otherwise keeping track of what people say about their happiness. This can help you create a list of things to do, people to see, or time you want schedule. You can also ask these questions about the family as a whole: What do we do? Who are we with? When do we feel happy?
Another strategy for increasing happiness is to notice when we’re happy and to “bookmark” that feeling. Bookmarks help us save our place. Happiness bookmarks do the same thing. But instead of being able to find our page, bookmarking happiness means finding the feeling. To bookmark happiness, just stop and notice when you’re feeling happy. Take it in. You might even say to yourself, “I feel happy in this moment because…” Mentally bookmarking happiness is about taking an extra moment when you’re enjoying something to know that you’re enjoying it. You could bookmark your happiness on a ride home, during a certain time of day, or spend a week saying happiness bookmarks out loud.
To actively practice happiness, you can take the family’s happiness definitions and bookmarks and create conditions that support a happy family. You can schedule family time, outings, individual family member dates, or simply create an atmosphere that promotes being happy together.
I interviewed some folks to ask about what having a happy family means to them and what they do to be happy as a family.
“I think the biggest thing we do is accept each other. We check in and discuss our day but in a completely casual way. The world makes lots of demands, so my biggest thing is wanting home to be soft and comfortable,” says Estelle Laure.
Jessie Woodall finds that keeping the family close is what promotes happiness for them. Not having too big of a house or scheduling too many activities means that the family spends time together. The closer quarters keep them both physically and emotionally closer.
On a recent road trip, Ginger Brice chose not to bring the kids’ devices. The family played road games on the way there and back. Instead of competing, the family played the ABC game and teamed up to find letters on signs and other landmarks they passed as they drove.
Whether you’re setting the tone of your interactions with each other and the atmosphere you want in your home, or you’re choosing activities to do with one another, having a happy family can be something you develop.
Set up situations in which you can enjoy each other by doing things together that make you happy. This might include playing games, doing jigsaw puzzles, or having a dance party while you’re doing chores. It might mean creating traditions like going out for dinner at the end of the first week of the semester. You can talk about how classes are going so far and stay in touch with what’s happening in each other’s lives.
Being a happy family doesn’t have to include the whole family all at the same time. One parent and one child may have a special weekly outing or activity. This can include extended family as well— a phone call with a grandparent or baking with cousins over the holidays.
Just because something once made us happy as a family doesn’t guarantee that it will continue to. As kids age and change, it’s important to check in about what makes us happy now. Rather than forcing situations because they used to work, we can find new things to do together and new ways to promote conversation. This might include having your tween show you their latest skin in Fortnite or sending care packages to your college student to show that you know who they are now, not just who they once were.
Overall, we’re happier when we feel seen and accepted, loved and chosen. Creating ways that we can do that alone and with each other will help you and your family be happier.
Create a Happiness Bookmark
If you’re bookmarking your happiness—savoring those special moments in real time and referring back to them later— why not create a physical bookmark to carry with you as an ever-present reminder? Here’s a great happiness craft for the whole family.
1) Each person selects a favorite piece of paper or cards stock.
2) Cut it into a long rectangular piece— like a bookmark.
3) Every time you experience a moment of happiness, jot it down on your new bookmark and carry it with you, or put in a place that you’ll see every day— a wallet, backpack, favorite journal or book, or on your mirror.
4) Update it! Your moments of happiness will begin to add up.
5) At family meetings, share your bookmark with the group.
Sonya Fehér is an organizer and coach for families, and a happiness group facilitator for women. She is the creator of Space for Gratitude: The 6-Minute Journal for Increased Happiness, Gratitude, & Self-Understanding.