Catch Happiness

Posted: January 27, 2008 in family
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Happiness is hereditary.  Your kids can get it from you.

Families want to be happy families.  Sociologist, George Barna, reports that one of the greatest needs expressed by adults is the need for a happy family.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with my brother Lars and his family.  As we walked along the boardwalk of the St. Claire River in Port Huron, Michigan, our eyes were lured from the impressive 800-foot freighter passing by to something that seemed even more eye-catching – it was Lars’s two teenagers strolling along in front of us, arm-in-arm, chatting with each other and laughing.  Pointing to his kids, who were thoroughly enjoying each others company, Lars remarked, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

A few tips

Many of us want a happy family, but how do we get there?  To be honest, no family is happy all the time, nor need they try to be, but there are some simple things we can do to improve the odds.

Don’t compare your family to other families


Live comparison free.  Don’t compare your husband; don’t compare your kids; and don’t compare your in-laws.

My family is so different from my brother’s.  His daughter Rachel graduated as a valedictorian, a straight A student,  an accomplished flutist.  Awards for spelling bees, awards for academic excellence, and scholarships from the Young Educator’s Society decorated her journey toward becoming a teacher.  Rachel is a wonderfully successful  young woman.

My daughter Rosalind travels a different road.  Rosalind has accepted by the San Diego Regional Center, an agency providing services for the developmentally disabled.  Rosalind has epilepsy.  She is in special education classes in community college. Rosalind will never win a spelling bee.  She won’t be the valedictorian of her class.  Our family has clapped for her, but we’ve cried for her and with her too.  We are choosing, everyday, not to go through life comparing Rosalind with other girls.  That won’t help any of us. 

All of us are tempted to compare.  We might think our families are not as fun, not as healthy, not as spiritual, not as complete, not as wealthy, not as smart, not as you-name-it.  We often tend to compare ourselves with those who we think have it better.  But in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 10:12-13, it is wisely written, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. Good advice. So our family will stick to bragging about Rosalind’s success in Special Olympics. We couldn’t be more proud.


Have fun together 

Don’t underestimate fun.  Proverbs 10:1 says that “a wise son brings joy to his father.”  A primary goal in the family is to bring joy to each other.  The wise have fun – together.

I don’t have a perfect family, and I’m not a perfect dad or husband.  But I make ’em laugh at home.  I consider it my fatherly duty to be as wild, unpredictable, and outrageous as necessary to make lighten up the house. We should hold nothing fun back at home.  We should dance in the living room to loud music.  We should stay up late and eat all the ice cream. We should all travel together farther than we think we should. 

I once asked some high school students, “What is your best family memory?”  They said: “When my parents surprised us at Christmas and took us to a theme park.”  “When we went to Wyoming.”  Their answers almost all involved family vacations.  I asked my daughters about their favorite family memory.  For our family, our kids will say it was our trip to Hawaii, snorkeling in along the Kona coast with the sea turtles.

And families need to party together.  Someone told me recently:  “I don’t remember the gifts my parents gave me for my birthdays when I was young.  But I remember the parties.”

How much fun are you in your family?  Be crazy. Joke more.  You’ll feel better.  So will the people who live with you.

Set clear goals


Set goals, then get busy accomplishing them.   To be happy, human beings need something meaningful to do.  Goals stir us to rich living.  Isaiah 32:8 says, “The noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.” 

One of the goals in our family is that all of us will develop meaningful lifelong interests.  Rosalind plays basketball.  Laurel sings  Linda swims and sews.  I read.  These things make us happy.

Evidence suggests that few families make “noble plans.”  George Barna reports that only 4 percent of  families have goals.  Perhaps many of us don’t plan because we are naively hoping that the things we want for ourselves and our kids will just happen spontaneously or naturally, like growing wisdom teeth or getting pimples.  But good things don’t always come to those who wait.

Charles Shedd  has written some great books on parenting and marriage.  In his book You Can Be a Great Parent! Charlie explains how he and his wife set clear financial goals to guide their relationships with their teenage children.

“By your junior year in high school, we want you to manage yourself financially.”

 “By driver’s-license age, we want you in your own car.”

Setting goals promotes teen responsibility.  Such an approach could make for some very successful young people.

What about some spiritual goals?  Here’s a simple one:  I will talk to my kids about God.The church isn’t responsible for our children’s relationship with God.  We, as parents, are responsible for our kids’ spirituality.  I’ve had a great time with my daughter, Laurel, reading and discussing Old Testament stories about Ruth, Esther, David, and Elisha.

How about goals related to productivity?  Here is one:  I will teach my children how to work hard.  I will gift my children with chores.  Why?  Because if my children learn how to work hard, they will be wanted.  And being wanted is part of being happy.

Catch happiness, it’s hereditary. And then pass it on to your kids.

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