Georgia Book Reviews: The Secrets of Happy Families


The Book: The Secrets Of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler

Summary: Hacks from everything from business to the military to reality TV on doing family life better.
Recommended By: This Cup of Jo blog post on keeping the spark alive in your marriage (it quotes from the book and is a good little read in and of itself.)
My Thoughts: I love this kind of book, which pulls together a wide range of research and experience to provide, not a step-by-step guide, but fresh inspiration and ideas on doing something better. (A similar title that I thoroughly enjoyed was How We Learn.)

Feiler writes in a light style and pulls together a couple of different sources for each of his chapters, some more scientific/academic, and some just people with good life experience or who have done something well and in an innovative way.

The broader scope of the book suggests that happy families are those who are adaptable, invested in each other, multigenerational, directional (or perhaps purposeful is a better word), and deal with conflict well. Some of the specific suggestions explored that I like and might want to incorporate into our family life(/am already incorporating but found affirmed) are:

  • Handing over routines to kids to be their own responsibility (via checklists) and gaining their feedback into ways they can do it better. My own kids are a bit on the young side for it, but only a bit, and I always think it’s better to start something a little early and have some growing pains…
  • The notion that people are more motivated by fear of losing a good thing than by the prospect of gaining a good thing, so a smarter way to motive your kids via reward is giving it up front but making keeping it conditional on their behaviour.
  • The value of building resilience and stability in children through telling them the ups and downs of your family’s history.
  • Taking time as a family to define your core goals and values, and talking about those to motivate your choices, i.e., “We are the kind of family who…”
  • The Harvard Negotiation Project’s five-step philosophy for handling the world’s toughest disagreements:
    • Isolate your emotions
    • Go to the balcony (i.e. move away from the situation until you can objectively look at the big picture.)
    • Step to their side (try to understand how they’re thinking, listen, ask questions.)
    • Don’t reject, reframe (work to find alternative solutions that meet everyone’s needs by asking open-ended questions, moving the spotlight from two rigid opposing positions to new options you’ve come up with together, ‘expand the pie before dividing it’.)
    • Build the golden bridge (settle on a resolution that leaves neither party embittered; write down together a list of possible solutions, star the most promising and eliminate the others.)
  • Take off the training wheels in teaching your kids personal finance. Talk to them honestly about your money, hand over responsibility for good and poor decisions to them while they’re still dealing in pocket change, give them meaningful earning opportunities, and finally, consider the goal: that they be responsible, self-reliant, and creative with their money.
  • Play better with your kids by creating games for them that have challenges/failures as well as easy parts, ‘levels’, and rules that force creativity and strategic thinking.
  • This quote about being a sports parent: “The purpose of youth sports… is to create better competitors and better people.” The first goal is the domain of the kids and their coaches. “Parents have a more important job… You focus on the second goal, helping your kids take what they learn from sports into the rest of their lives… Let’s say your kid strikes out, and his team loses the game… You can have a first-goal conversation about bailing out of the batter’s box, keeping your eye on the ball, etc. Or you can have a second-goal conversation about resilience, character, and perseverance.”

At the end of the book, my take-away isn’t that we need to make a lot of changes to be a happy family, since I feel like we’re a happy family already. (It might, however, be more useful to a family that’s struggling in that regard.) My takeaway was more small ideas and hacks that I’d like to take on board to care for and enjoy each other better as husband and wife, parents and kids, and even as an extended family. It was a one-day read for me, and, while not groundbreaking, certainly helpful.

Disclaimer: Books linked through my Amazon Affiliates account. If you like the sound of this book, buy it through my link and help feed my reading habit!

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