8 Habits of Happy Families

Christa Melnyk Hines

Happiness can vary depending on our personal circumstances. But why are some families more resilient and happier despite the obstacles life throws their way? 

Happy families often have certain traits in common, and you can adapt their habits to create a happier home of your own. Here are eight things they do:  

1. Eat together

Multiple studies show that eating dinner together can lower the incidence of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression. 

Kids who dine with their parents are more likely to have higher grade point averages, higher self-esteem, and even stronger vocabularies. Turn off the TV and put aside electronics to be in the moment around your dinner table with your family. 

“Sometimes we forget that life needs to be simple. It’s OK to sit around the table and have dinner together. In the quest for bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, we forget to simply be still,” says child/family therapist Jennifer Jackson-Rice. “We forget to simply connect, . . . to be with our kids.”

2. Connect throughout the day

Happy families feel a strong sense of connection with each other. According to Jackson-Rice, real connection takes as little as five minutes a day.

Sit next to each other during homework time, cook together, read books at bedtime, and chat with each other while driving to activities. 

Create calmer, more cheerful mornings by prepping the night before or getting yourself up a little earlier. 

“That connection in the first part of the day can carry kids throughout the day,” Jackson-Rice says. 

Michelle Hon, a mom of two boys, ages 4 and 2, agrees. She says that the first 30 minutes in the morning and the last 30 minutes before bedtime help her family feel grounded, calm, and loved. 

“We do a lot of snuggles and cuddles in the morning, and we try not to make that a rushed time in our home,” Hon says. 

In the evening, she and her husband Michael stick to a bedtime routine with their sons, which includes reading books together and quietly reflecting on the day. 

3. Seek fulfillment

While material items, like the latest electronics, designer jeans, or trendy toys, may bring fleeting joy, they won’t deliver lasting contentment. 

“I don’t think we can teach our kids to be happy if we’re looking to external sources to feed that emotion,” says Cati Winkel, owner of The Empowered Parent Coach.

And that includes looking to others for validation of self-worth, which can result in behaviors like people-pleasing or obsessing over “likes” on social media. 

“This is where we get a lot of shame. People become really unhappy because they have unrealistic expectations to live up to,” Winkel says.

Research suggests that children who are encouraged early on to engage in activities that they enjoy and that develop their strengths grow up to be happier adults.

Foster their innate sense of curiosity and explore a variety of activities with your kids, ranging from hobbies to volunteer work. The intrinsic rewards of participating in activities that deliver personal gratification contribute to confidence and a sense of purpose.

4. Show affection

Families today face plenty of stress. One simple antidote is to hug more. 

According to research, hugging for eight seconds can have amazing results, Winkel says. “An eight-second hug releases oxytocin and great feel-good, stress-relieving hormones. Hug your babies. Hug your kids. Hug your partner.” 

Hon’s youngsters also show affection for people who visit them by blowing kisses and waving goodbye when it’s time for their visitors to depart. 

“From an adult perspective, I know we’re expressing gratitude and making people feel loved and valued, and that makes me really happy,” Hon says. “There’s nothing like getting kisses blown to you from a two-year-old from the street!” 

5. Cheer for each other

Celebrate your kids’ interests and successes by acknowledging their efforts rather than zeroing in on what went wrong: 

• “I loved watching you play.” 

• “I like how you colored this so neatly!”

• “Great job on your test. I can tell you really concentrated.” 

“When we praise our children, self-esteem goes up. When self-esteem is high, connection is good, behaviors are good,” Jackson-Rice says.

6. Goof off

Play and laugh together. “Then, your kids get to experience you as human,” Winkel says.

Sing together in the car, make up zany songs when it’s time to brush teeth, exchange riddles or jokes, or make a funny face to defuse a tense situation.

Manage power struggles playfully. Is your preschooler refusing to get dressed? Respond by dramatically trying to put their clothes on. “It helps them lighten up a little bit. We don’t have to be all serious all of the time,” Winkel says. 

Also, follow your child’s lead. Play with dolls, build with LEGO bricks, or craft together. If your child likes to bike ride, explore new trails together. Schedule a family board game night. 

7. Create community

Not all parents can rely on their family of origin to provide positive emotional and practical support. If this is the case for you, focus on building friendships through your neighborhood, church, or your child’s school.

The Hons rely on a family of “adopted” aunts, uncles, grandmas, and grandpas to help them with their youngsters, which also helps them nurture their marriage.

“My kids go to the zoo all of the time with a little set of aunties that we have,” Hon says. “That’s their thing. That allows my husband and I to have quiet time in our house or quality time out.”

8. Acknowledge emotions

Empathize with your child when they’re upset, listen and validate their feelings, and verbally label their emotions. Avoid taking your child’s behavior personally or rushing to fix their problems. Given the opportunity, kids can often peacefully problem solve and negotiate with siblings and playmates without parental interference. 

According to relationship expert John Gottman, kids who learn to self-soothe move through negative emotions faster. These same kids also tend to form stronger friendships, which is another key to long-term happiness. 

Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two boys. Christa is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.

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