DF Archive

Relative Happiness

 
Your family may not be storybook, but you can cheer up the house by breaking bread, finding fun, and following a few proven plotlines.

When I was a child, I loved the All-of-a-Kind Family books. Five sisters sharing a bedroom in a small New York apartment at the turn of the last century—what could be more fun? To me, growing up in the suburbs with an older brother with whom I was never very close, and with parents who were active in numerous clubs and organizations that often kept them out of the house, the idea of a large family doing things together was extremely appealing. I envied even a housecleaning scene in which the girls’ mother hid buttons for them to find as they dusted the living room. Everything was tackled with team spirit, and so everything—even the chores—seemed like play. The family possessed an infectious energy that you couldn’t help but absorb through the books’ pages. Simply put, they were happy.

 
Your family may not be storybook, but you can cheer up the house by breaking bread, finding fun, and following a few proven plotlines.
by
Created Jul 3 2010 – 6:11pm

When I was a child, I loved the All-of-a-Kind Family books. Five sisters sharing a bedroom in a small New York apartment at the turn of the last century—what could be more fun? To me, growing up in the suburbs with an older brother with whom I was never very close, and with parents who were active in numerous clubs and organizations that often kept them out of the house, the idea of a large family doing things together was extremely appealing. I envied even a housecleaning scene in which the girls’ mother hid buttons for them to find as they dusted the living room. Everything was tackled with team spirit, and so everything—even the chores—seemed like play. The family possessed an infectious energy that you couldn’t help but absorb through the books’ pages. Simply put, they were happy.

Of course, the current era demands a different kind of family life. You and your partner may both be working long hours while staying electronically tethered to the office afterward. Your kids, too, are probably deep into their devices. On the weekends, homework—your kids’ or your own—takes over, and errands swallow up whatever time is left. Then, when you finally manage to corral the whole clan for some quality time together, someone is too exhausted to enjoy it, someone else resents the forced fun, and no one really knows how to talk to anyone else.

It’s hard to feel in control when you’re busy managing the daily scramble. But you should at least be cognizant of the power you have to set the tone of your home, even if it’s most often set by default, by all those electronic interferences. For starters, you can impose limits on interruptions and distractions. And then, on top of that, you can consciously decide to do what came naturally to the All-of-a-Kind Family, one that constantly shared adventures, despite being poor. Because they were steeped in Jewish culture, they adhered to family rituals that further increased warmth and closeness. Happiness wasn’t their goal; it was a by-product of their lifestyle.

Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion. This may or may not be true, but happy families share certain behaviors and that unhappy ones can change. Examining what works for others might help you figure out ways to start increasing the levels of joy among your own clan.

A truly happy family supports and encourages the growth of each of its members. Reaching that ideal state requires the group to respect one another’s space while simultaneously fostering togetherness. Such a family paradoxically provides predictable comfort and dramatic highs and lows, both of which come from caring deeply for the people under your own roof.

 

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