Book tells the secrets to being a happy family

By Samantha Critchell

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- There is no secret recipe for a happy family, but psychologist and social scientist David Niven says there are several -- OK, 100 -- ingredients that help create the framework for a harmonious household.

It's important for family members to listen to each other, avoid comparisons and to be punctual -- all logical and fairly easy things to do, he says.

The goal is to create an atmosphere of good will and encourage mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and even grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to genuinely enjoy each other's company, not merely tolerate one another.


"We tend to underestimate the importance of everyday activities. A family is built around the mundane, not the highlights like a vacation when the dynamics change," says Niven.

Each of the entries in "The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families" are based on research conclusions of scientists studying family life, not personal experience of Niven or those near and dear to him, he explains.

The tips that can be implemented as soon as tomorrow include:

No. 39 Show up on time.

Punctual parents are the foundation of the consistency in children's lives; kids won't think they are being left on their own without guidance and supervision, and they'll feel like they can depend upon their parents.

"Anyone could do this, but many don't," says Niven.

No. 12Tell your family story.

When parents talk about their upbringings and even their parents' upbringings, it gives the next generation a sense of the big family picture. They'll understand the relationships and not just see relatives as otherwise unrelated people who pose for a portrait on holidays.


Offering family context also helps humanize parents. "To a lot of children, their parents never had a childhood with childhood issues. They (children) think their parents were born in their 30s. But if they knew about the fights their parents had over clothes when they were young then the kids will understand that the decision of when they can pierce their ears isn't being decided by some old fuddy duddy."

No. 17Live your views.

Showing what you value by doing it encourages the next generation to respect and follow. This method of teaching also allows children to make decisions for themselves, which likely will lead to decisions and convictions that stick. However, ruling with an iron hand will only encourage rebellion.

"People who feel they were brought up in very restrictive households tend to feel like they are not in control of their own adult lives, mostly because they don't feel like they know how to make a decision."

Other "secrets" offered by Niven might take longer to accomplish because they require some thought and planning.

"One of the most important aspects of family life is for everyone to be a family member and an individual. It can be a difficult balance," says Niven, who is taking a sabbatical from his teaching job at Florida Atlantic University to do research at Ohio State University.

No. 88"Don't do everything together."

He compares families who love each other but spend too much time together to a vacation in an interesting, faraway land; it's great for a two-week visit but you probably don't want to move in permanently.


"Putting every moment available into your family is not a healthy thing. Just because it's important doesn't mean you should spend every moment possible on it. It'll eat away at your own identity."

He adds: "Spending all your efforts on your family will reduce family satisfaction because you'll begin to resent your family. Martyrs aren't happy people."

If it seems that your time is too heavily tilted toward other people's needs, Niven suggests writing down your thoughts (No. 61). Such reflection is healthy and it helps put life and your family's role in it in perspective -- plus, he adds, the time you take to write it likely will be "alone" time.

It's not a bad idea for children, and especially teenagers, to keep a journal as well, Niven says.

What To Read Next
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the Highland, Wisconsin, home of creator James Frank Kotera, who died last month at age 75, 44 years after starting the big ball.