The Science Behind a Happy Family

The Science Behind a Happy Family

Cover of Goodbye, Perfect by Homaira Kabir

Goodbye, Perfect – The Book

A science-backed and soulful journey to embrace your authentic expression and build the confidence to live an empowered and purpose-driven life.

12 Rules That Apply

When I was growing up, we used to visit a family who were distantly related to us. I loved going to their home. Not because they had a spectacular house or delectable goodies that they served us. In fact, they did not. They belonged to poorer means and lived in lesser circumstances. But what I loved about their home was the infectious sense of positivity and happiness that permeated through.

I got married and moved away. But their memories stayed with me. When my own family grew, I tried to instill in them that same euphoric energy that had expanded my heart and left me in awe and wonder. I tried to forbid moments of moping and disgruntlement, opposing every negative emotion with a vehemence that was often beyond what was required. My children learnt to abide by my zero tolerance policy for negativity. But it did not leave them any happier.

I learnt over time that the secret to happy families did not lie in mirth and glee. The laughter that was etched in my mind was only one aspect of a wider set of attitudes and behaviors that resulted in the strength and happiness of their family. By basing my criteria on screen shots of a wider play, I had been setting my family up for trouble.

I learnt too that the emotions that I aspired for were not enforced, but emerged naturally from a set of principles that were grounded on the commitment to make it through the thick and thin of life. Those principles were meant to build relationships by encouraging communication and harnessing cooperation to overcome the challenges along the way.

The list is long, but rest assured, most of it is what is what we do intuitively as part of our natural instincts. Sometimes though, in the stresses of life, or the complexities of the inner world, we begin to act in ways that defeat our larger purpose. Use it a reference check-list, especially handy in times of the natural lows of any family journey.

Love Before All Else

Love has been called the supreme emotion. We all have a real need to love and be loved. And yet, we can sometimes become stingy with this love, and assume that our loved ones should know how we feel. This attitude lessens a relationship, because it is in expressing our love that we not only nurture family bonds, but also find inner contentment.

Forgive Easily

The latest research shows that human beings are wired to forgive. Forgiving makes us inherently happy and releases us of the burdens that weigh us down. However, in family relationships where emotions run high, we can hang onto our hurts and refuse to let go, expecting the other to make the first move, even when the other is our own child. By reminding ourselves of the depth of our relationship and the non-vengeful intent of their actions, we can forgive our loved ones and set the example we would like to see emulated.

Exercise the Self-Control Muscle

“Reason is slave to passion” as philosopher David Hume said in the 18th century. When we act impulsively on emotional cues, we often regret our words and actions. I have myself often wished that if I had said less or kept quiet for longer, I would’ve realized myself that my emotions were misguided. By keeping the long-term goal of a happy family in mind, we can allow our emotional wave to pass, so that rational thought and positive action can follow. Sometimes, we simply need to do nothing – many things sort themselves out organically. But boy, can it be hard!

Accept All Emotions

However, self-control does not mean suppressing our emotions. Anything suppressed only builds up over time and erupts in self-defeating ways. Most of us would know what that means when we throw a fit over something quite small. Self-control is about acknowledging and accepting our emotions, but refraining from taking action on them. In our speedy world, this is a skill that we need to practice and teach our children repeatedly.

Listen Deeply

Listening is not a result of having two ears. We need to listen with our hearts and our minds. This is called Mindsight. We understand the other person’s point of view and perspective by listening not simply to their words, but to their worlds. In doing so, we make them feel understood and calm the emotional pathways that block their judgment. True listening is the basis for rational thought, for compromises and for a genuine desire to make things work.

Communicate Openly

Listening also allows real communication to take place. No one has ever convinced another by barking their views down their throats. When we listen, we kindle the other person’s desire to do the same. After all, human beings are wired for reciprocity – both towards vengeance and towards goodness. By having a ‘no blame’ principle, we can express ourselves openly and work together towards positive outcomes.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries especially important in a home with teenagers. Their neural development makes them want to push their limits, and unless we set clear boundaries, we are bound to face a lot of needless arguments and wasted energy. Marital relationships too can often benefit from boundaries. After all, we come from difference environments and upbringings – what is right for one may not be acceptable to another.

Appreciate Differentiation

Setting boundaries does not mean that we dismiss everything we do not like. After all, if we win 100% of our battles, we are up against a very unhappy opponent. We need dialogue and compromise. But we also need to appreciate our differences so that we are in a position to choose our battles wisely. After all, harmony is the integration of differentiated parts. Think of it like an orchestra, where everyone follows the same melody, yet each instrument is essential for the difference it brings.

Give Room to Grow

When we appreciate each member’s unique contribution, we have a natural desire to see them succeed in what they do. This means seeing them as individuals who each have a purpose and a direction in life. It means giving them the space and time to nurture what they do best. And it means recognizing the inherent joy and satisfaction they find from growing in what is meaningful to them.

Celebrate Success

How we express our appreciation is essential to building trusting relationships. Often we respond to our child’s good grades or our spouse’s positive feedback at work by muttering “Well Done!” and move onto something dismissive like “Come down for dinner”. Instead, we need to practice ACR – Active Constructive Responding – a manner of celebrating successes by allowing the other to relive the positive experience.

Create Rituals

Family rituals are a form of spiritual glue that binds. They can become traditions that go down families and bring a sense of unity and history. This is essential for the strength of a family. Human nature desires a sense of continuity, of belonging to a larger narrative, of being part of something larger than the self. In our hurried lives, rituals and traditions are a wonderful way of coming together through common practices.

Laugh and Play

Yes, the laughter that I recall from those childhood visits certainly has its place in the lives of happy families. Laughter is the spontaneous response to the unexpected and the unforeseen. It emerges from the courage to step out of our comfort zones and make ourselves vulnerable. However, we tend to shy away from that in the busyness of our lives and the constant pursuit of certainty and control. We tend to structure everything, from movie nights to play-dates, from dinners to activities, and somehow end up diminishing the joy we get out of them.

Last winter, two little kittens taught me the importance of spontaneity as they romped and played around our garden for hours. I had the urge to imitate this inherent desire by engaging in an instinctive game of tickles and laughter with my little ones. The joy that spread was priceless. So was the recognition that in the vast flow of life, we often tend to take ourselves far too seriously.

Here’s to your happy family!

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Homaira Kabir

Homaira Kabir

Written by mentor, author and founder of the Goodbye Perfect Project, Homaira Kabir. Homaira Kabir holds Master’s degrees in Coaching Psychology and in Positive Psychology – the science of human flourishing and wellbeing – from the University of East London. She has just published her latest book ‘Goodbye Perfect: How To Stop Pleasing, Proving and Pushing For Others… and Live For Yourself

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