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10 Things Happy Families Do Differently

by Stacey

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”
?Maya Angelou

Last night, an old friend from high school – a hometown success story and entrepreneur who owns and operates a large publicly traded company – a man whom I have a great deal of respect for – came over to our home for dinner.  After a delicious meal, he and I chatted for a couple hours in the family room and caught up on old times.  And as we wrapped things up, he said, “I admire you.  I admire the love in this home – the obvious love between you and Angel.  I admire the close relationships you’ve built and nurtured.  When I’m here it feels like I’m part of the family.  Nurturing a happy family is one of the things I never got around to.  So it was great to see it, feel it, and be a part of it tonight.  Thank you.”

When I sat down to write this morning, my friend’s remarks immediately came to mind.  Which got me thinking…  What does nurturing a happy family really mean?  What are some things happy families do differently?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

1.  Every day, every member chooses to be part of the family.

First and foremost, family isn’t always blood.  They’re the people in your life who appreciate having you in theirs – the ones who encourage you to improve in healthy and exciting ways, and who not only embrace who you are now, but also embrace and embody who you want to be.  Family members can be your best friends.  And best friends, whether or not they’re related to you by blood, can be your family.

Family is built with love; it’s not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers, and formal adoption documents.  Families grow from the heart, through mutual love and respect.  The only time family becomes nullified is when the ties in the heart are cut.  If you cut the ties, these people are not your family.  If you build the ties, these people are your family.  So build and maintain ties with the right people and nurture them with love every day.

2.  Family members go out of their way for each other.

Family bonds are tied with true love, and true love involves attention, awareness, discipline, effort, and being able to care about someone and sacrifice for them, continuously, in countless petty little unsexy ways, every day.  You put your arms around them and love them regardless, even when they’re not very lovable.  And of course they do the same for you.

If you want to know what a healthy family is, it’s one where each family member wakes up every morning and says, “This is worth it.  You all are worth it.  I am happy you are in my life.”  It’s about sacrifice.  It’s about knowing that some days you will have to do things you dislike to make the people you love smile, and feeling perfectly delighted to do so.  That’s what it means to “be family.”  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

3.  Family sticks together through thick and thin.

“Being family” is also about supporting each other through life’s inevitable changes.  It’s knowing that your family will be there watching out for you through thick and thin.  Nothing and no one else will give you that.  Not your career.  Not your boss.  Not your clients.  Not money.  Not fame.

You can’t promise to be there for someone for the rest of their life, but you can sincerely be there for them for the rest of yours.  Stand by those you care about in their darkest moments, not because you want to stand in the dark, but because you don’t want them to either.  Brave the shadows alongside them until they’re able to find the light.  On the flip-side, stand by these same people on their sunniest days, not because you want to scorch your skin, but because you’re not afraid to let them shine bright.

And remember, timing is everything.  There is a time for silence, a time to let go and allow your loved ones to launch themselves into their own destiny, and a time to cheer for their victories, or help them pick up the pieces, when it’s all over.

4.  Everyone is permitted to be true to themselves.

The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated as is.  Sometimes we try to be sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image of what we want them to be – what we think we need, love, or desire.  But these actions and perceptions are against reality, against their benefit and ours, and always end in disappointment – because it does not fit them.

Remember, the foundation of love is to let those we care about be unapologetically themselves, and to not distort them to fit our own egotistical ideas of who they should be.  Otherwise we love only our own fantasies, and thus miss out entirely on their true beauty.

5.  Everyone takes responsibility for their own happiness.

Happiness is a choice that comes from within.  Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect, it means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.  There are choices you can make every day to feel the effects of happiness.  Choose to do something meaningful.  Choose to take care of your body.  Choose to be around the right people.  Choose a good attitude.  Choose to express gratitude.  Choose to forgive.  Choose to focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t.

Begin today by taking responsibility for your own happiness.  The choice is yours.  Your family can support you, but they can’t choose happiness for you.  (Read Hardwiring Happiness.)

6.  Caring words are used to communicate, always.

You can measure the happiness of any close relationship by the number of scars that each member carries on their tongues and inner cheeks, formed over many years of biting back angry and insensitive words.

Bottom line:  Be careful what you say.  You can say something unkind in less than one second, but more than a year later the wounds are still there.  Don’t do this to your family, or anyone for that matter.  Every time words are spoken, something is created.  Be honest, but also conscious of what you say and how you say it.  Use words that build up, appreciate, encourage and inspire.

7.  The truth is upheld and promises are kept.

Cheating and lying aren’t struggles, they’re reasons families break up.  Because great things fall apart quite easily when they’ve been held together with lies.

The truth is, relationships don’t hurt.  Lying, cheating and twisting reality until it toys with someone’s emotions is what hurts.  Promises mean everything, but after they’re broken, sorry means nothing (at least initially).  So never mess with someone’s feelings just because you’re unsure of your own.  If you are unsure in any way, be sure to say so.  Always be open and honest.  And remember that when the truth is replaced by silence, silence becomes a lie too.

8.  Everyone makes QUALITY time for each other.

Here’s a harsh reality of life:  Regardless of the quality of your relationships with your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, or close friends, you will miss them when they’re gone from your life.  And someday they will be.

You have to set aside quality time to share your love openly and honestly with those you love.  Realize that no matter how much time you spend with someone you care about, or how much you appreciate them, sometimes it will never seem like you had enough time together.  Don’t learn this lesson the hard way.  Express your love.  Tell your family what you need to tell them.  Don’t shy away from important conversations because you feel awkward or uncomfortable.  You never know when you might lose your opportunity.

So stay in close touch with what’s going on in your loved ones’ lives – communicate openly on a regular basis.  Not because it’s convenient, but because they are worth the extra effort.

9.  Presence is held sacred.

The greatest path to positive influence in any relationship is love.  And the greatest path to love is full acceptance within the present moment – allowing everything to be as it is, without hoping or trying to change things.

Presence is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in the “now.”  It’s about knowing that you must first attend to the reality of the moment before you can effectively contribute anything positive to it.  Practicing presence brings a sense of perspective and purpose to our lives, and opens the doorway to love others as they are.

Being completely present with someone is difficult, however, because it requires you to share yourself completely, vulnerabilities and all, and enter moments of unguarded honesty with this person.  And this person may hurt you, and you may hurt them too.  Yes, you will hurt each other sometimes.  But this is the very condition of full presence.  To become summer, means accepting the risk of winter.  To become present, means accepting the risk of absence.  (Read The Power of Now.)

10.  Patience and forgiveness are practiced daily.

No matter how honest and kind you try to be, you will occasionally step on the toes of the people closest to you.  And this is precisely why patience and forgiveness are so vital.  Patience is the ability to let your light shine on those you love, even after your fuse has blown.  And forgiveness is knowing deep down that they didn’t mean to blow your fuse in the first place.

Patience and forgiveness can be bitter at first, but the seeds you plant now will bear sweet fruit in the end.

The floor is yours…

In your experience, what helps create happy relationships and strong family ties?  Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts with the community.

Photo by: Milivoj Sherrington

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