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Bruce Feiler’s new book, The Secret of Happy Families, has a lot of useful advice for anyone who finds himself in one. A lot of it isn’t revolutionary — communication, simple checklists, that sort of thing — but one secret he stresses took me by surprise.
Happy families, Feiler writes, know their family history:
Marshall and Robyn asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and also taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests and reached some overwhelming conclusions. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
It also helps, I imagine, that these were families with “dinner table conversations” to be taped in the first place. We already know that families that eat a regular dinner together tend to be happier and more stable.
But I don’t think I would have guessed, without prompting, the value of knowing your family history — who came before you, who got married to whom, who arrived in this country when, how we got to where we live, who we look like — but when I wrote it all out just now, it seems elemental. How can you really be a happy and functioning member of a family if you don’t know who you are or who you’ve been?
I wonder, though, if it’s the act of telling the stories — passing down the legends and the half-true tales — that’s more important than the actual historical record.
Image Credit: Flickr user Lars Plougmann.