For his new book, The Secrets of Happy Families, Bruce Feiler used his experience as an investigative reporter to discover new techniques and ideas to make contemporary family life more functional, more meaningful and more fun. Rather than turning to traditional experts, he interviewed creative thinkers from the fields of business, sports, technology, television and the military and much of what he found countered age old-wisdom about what it takes to have a fulfilling family life. Guest host Brett Mackay talks with Feiler in this Art of Manliness podcst about some of the ideas that are changing American family life, what happy families do right, and what the rest of us can learn from them.
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What works for families that are happy and successful has often been the subject of urban legends. People and families make things up. What may work for nuclear families – just the couple and kids, may not work for joint families which are common in India where Uncles, Aunts, cousins live in the same large house or mansion! There the dynamics is different. However, I have seen personally that some of the things contribute to the success and happiness of the family. Some of the factors are:
- Respect for viewpoints and for someone in authority
- Sense of Discipline and Tradition
- Have an overall family “brand” or identity that people live upto
- Elders – or even others – keep the direction of the collective actions in sync. Which means that whatever actions the diverse people are doing, are synced to help everyone in the family.
Maintaining this in a joint family is not easy. Actually, it is not even easy in a nuclear family as well. But we need to try and see what works. Some of the techniques discussed in the book by Bruce Feiler are:
- branding your family
- let your kids pick their punishments
- re-purpose the family dinners in a way that focus on “how” you eat as opposed to what you eat. If you cannot collect or connect for dinners, don’t sweat. Meet together for whatever you can – snacks together or dessert.
- create checklists for the morning routine,
- post chores on a white board
- hold at least one family discussion a week to go over what went well, what could have gone better and what everyone hopes to accomplish in the coming week – for those in software development or Project management, this is the equivalent of a “standup” in an Agile project environment.
For the dinners, the time can be used to create a bonding. And for that, the family can create different rituals. For example, create different kinds of discussion nights. Here are some examples –
- Autobiography nights: One night a week, ask your children (age five and up) to recall a memorable experience from either that day or the past. Then follow up with “elaborative questions” such as who, what, when, where and why? These will help build memory and identity.
- Painpoint Nights: Once a week, ask everyone in the family to bring up a “pain point.” Follow that up with dissecting and discussing the problem and the solutions. Kinda like the case study in the MBA class. That helps everyone learn to deal with problems.
- Good and Bad Nights: Once a week, ask everyone to share one good thing that happened today, and one bad thing that happened
You see at the root of it are three things – Respect, Communication and Identity. How you effect that is the most important thing.
If you want to see a video of Bruce discussing this book and the ideas that came out from it, watch this abc news special on the book.