Founder and CEO Christopher Robbins shares the meaning behind Familius, why we have our 10 habits, and how you can have a happy family.
When I was 12 years old, my 92-year-old grandfather and I went on a two-week vacation to the five largest Hawaiian islands—just the two of us. As we boarded the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airplane, my mother turned to my step-father and said, “There’s the blind leading the blind.”
Of the many life lessons he taught me during that vacation, my grandfather encouraged me to memorize this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
I’ve shared this quote with my own family and have encouraged them to nurture healthy thoughts and habits so that they may reap a good character and claim a more abundant life.
When my wife, Michele, and I launched Familius, we wanted to do something that we felt was important and meaningful. We had seen the direct influence of both healthy and unhealthy habits within a family—and the positive and negative results of those habits. We are not naïve. Michele and I have nine children. I come from a loving but broken home. Our family experiences have included both happiness and joy, as well as moments of frustration, disappointment, and sadness. And we absolutely do not expect to have a life of bliss 24/7. That’s neither realistic nor aligned with the truth of mortality. We believe that there is opposition in all things and that happiness has its opposite—sadness.
We also believe that happy family life is primarily predicated on habits that lead to happiness. We believe that most of us already understand the principles espoused by that Emerson quote. The challenge is in sowing thoughts and habits so we can eventually reap the benefits of those actions.
No one has ever said to me, “You know, I don’t really want a happy family.” Throughout the world, we have the common denominator of wanting a happy family, whatever type of family that might be. And at Familius, we don’t define what a family should look like. Instead, we invite all people and all families to embrace the habits we believe will help build a happy family.
We believe that the family who eats together stays together. Food binds, and cultures throughout the world have identified the family meal as a gathering place for families to discuss, learn, and work through problems. Just a few of the benefits of eating as a family together include a lower risk of eating disorders, better self-esteem, lower rates of depression, and even healthier bodies. Carving out one meal a day for the family to be together will have a dramatic impact on your family’s well-being. If you struggle with this habit, consider our book Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook. It’s a fantastic book filled with easy-to-prepare recipes, conversation starters, and even fun games to play at the dinner table.
I believe that we have a responsibility to mourn with those who mourn. We all suffer tragedy, sickness, loss, and other challenges. As parents, we allow our own hearts to walk around outside our bodies, and we feel it when our children hurt. Taking time as a family to heal together through soft words, sacrifice, apologies, forgiveness, and other ways are balms to a troubled body, mind, and spirit.
The science is clear: those who laugh frequently live longer, on average. Mirthful people seem to be more resilient to infections and cardiovascular disease. A sense of humor can quickly neutralize a stressful situation and allow more positivity and creativity in the face of life’s challenges. When you are faced with a family issue, find the humor in it and you’ll find your family will add a dose of delight to the moment.
The world is much bigger than what you perceive. Expanding your family’s knowledge of the world and experiences is life-changing. Have you considered learning about a different culture by cooking a new recipe? Have you considered learning a second or third language with your family? Instilling a love of learning in your children starts with your own example. Be curious. Explore. Expand your knowledge base. Challenge your own ignorance. There never has been a better time to learn. An infinite amount of information is only a click away. You’ll find that a family who learns together has far more experiences to add happiness than a family who doesn’t.
This is easy, right? To love. We’ve learned that love is a verb. Love requires some action. How do we love our families and those around us? One of the easiest and most important measures of love is time. How you spend your time with your family says a lot about where your priorities and, hence, your love resides. We all have things to do, but loving our family and those around us by spending an evening together focusing on each other, writing letters of gratitude, or taking a moment to sincerely look at a family member and say, “I love you and I love that . . .” fills our family’s metaphorical love bucket. We work to fall in love, but without work, we can fall out of love. To love requires daily effort, and it’s perhaps the most important of all our Familius happy family habits.
How is it that children are so good at playing, but as we get older, some of us forget the joys of play? Did you know that play relieves stress, improves brain function, stimulates creativity, improves relationships, increases energy (until your grandchildren exhaust you), improves social skills, and even helps heal emotional wounds. There are countless ways to play with your family. If you need a few ideas, consider the Familius book The Big Book of Family Games which includes 101 games you and your family can play in person or even virtually with nothing but a pad and paper.
As book publishers, we’re a little partial to this habit. When is the last time you read a story together? My grown children still recall how we invested one year for me to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy out loud. And my seventeen-year-old daughter will ask me periodically to read Where the Wild Things Are and use my “voice” to read “Let the wild rumpus start” while trilling the R and drawing out the vowels. Reading together improves family bonding and connection. It expands vocabulary and provides opportunities to discuss life lessons and social skills. There is no end to the wonderful books that are great read-alouds. Start a habit of reading to your family and having them read to you for a happy family life.
We’ve often heard, “Can we just talk?” Or, “Will you just talk to me?” Sometimes we’ve even said, “Can you just please stop talking?!” Effective communication can be a little tricky. Effective communication takes a lot of practice and patience. It requires the habit of love as well because we sincerely need to love that person enough to be willing to do what is necessary to communicate effectively. Effective communication improves positive perceptions, builds relationships, increases trust, and improves problem solving. Communication takes skill and practice. Consider where you might be weak in your own family communication and do some research to help you communicate better. You’ll find your family will love you for it and might even listen!
Work is a four letter word, but as we’ve learned in school, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. My kids somewhat fondly refer to my having them work as “character-building experiences.” It’s true. The habit of work creates an environment where shared values can be put to work, where skills can be passed from one person to another, where families can learn how to plan, execute, and see the fruit of their labor. One of the most important attributes of success is gri, the ability to persevere. Work helps us learn to persevere even when things are hard. There are so many ways to work together, from having a family garden or building a treehouse to finding a charitable organization that helps build homes for those in need.
This habit, Give Together, joined our habits in December 2020, and we’re thrilled to announce it with this blog post. I was frustrated by the year-long COVID lockdown and challenges this pandemic created for my family, my community, and the world. I became somewhat despondent. But then, I had the opportunity through the holidays to help a few people who needed some help. I began considering how giving of our time, our talents, and our resources to help others changed my feeling of isolation and frustration. It was in those moments when I was serving and helping another that I felt the happiest.
I gathered the Familius team and told them that we needed to add Give Together as our tenth habit. If we want to make families happy, I’m confident that there is no better way than by serving those around us, including our own families. Losing ourselves in the service of others makes us happy, improves our outlook, promotes social connection, and honestly, is contagious. And when you are giving together, you are employing many of the other habits—you are working, talking, playing, loving, learning, laughing, healing, and often even eating together!
Welcome to the Family
Familius believes that the most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home. No success can compensate for failure in the home. So, is there a Familius habit that you think might add to your family’s success and happiness? Family life is challenging. But a family is not meant to be endured; a family is meant to be enjoyed. And it’s up to us individually to sow the habits that will bring about joy. We hope that you will find these habits and the content Familius publishes helpful as you work to help your family be a little bit happier. Good luck!