Once a month, Julie Kessel and her husband, Don, have a family Do Nothing Day at their home in Houston with their two boys, Chandler, 7, and Carter, 5. "We lounge around, have breakfast, play Yahtzee, read, watch movies and sitcoms," says Julie.
To do this, the family picks a day, usually a Sunday, so everyone can schedule around it. The day before, Julie stocks up on snacks and a few favorite family videos. She also likes to get errands and household chores done beforehand so work is off her mind. Visitors, play dates, fix-it projects, and housework are all on hold. The result? "We have one whole day to reconnect," says Julie. "The kids really like it because they have our full attention without any distractions. It's a great feeling."
Cultivating habits and activities like the Kessels do on a regular basis can boost your own family's happiness quotient. It's well worth the effort. Scientific studies show that a happy family has positive effects on health, improving blood pressure and increasing life expectancy. And the activities you share, no matter how frivolous they may seem, can actually be extremely meaningful in the long run. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 96 percent of Americans rank family as the most important thing in their lives. Building the bonds that make families strong starts with the simplest, and sometimes the silliest, of habits and rituals.
"Ultimately, the highest salary and the best car aren't fulfilling," says David Niven, author of 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004). "Loving relationships are. They are the foundation of who we are. Happiness isn't what happens to us, it's the love, connections, and support structure we have and giving of yourself unconditionally." Tap these secrets to make a happy home your top priority.
Find ways to inject humor into daily life, even if it seems like an effort at first.
"The average family spends too little time engaged in humor and too much time complaining," says Mimi Doe, founder of www.spiritualparenting.com and author of Busy but Balanced (St. Martin, 2001). Instead, she says, "Tell jokes at dinner, leave a book of jokes on the kitchen counter, or tuck a funny cartoon in your child's lunchbox."
You can also initiate a family movie night and make a point to watch classic comedies on a regular basis. Look at the lighter side of household tasks, too.
"Make it fun," says Doe. "Loosen up with your kids about chores. If your teenage son always forgets to clean up the bathroom sink, write a reminder in shaving cream on the mirror. Tape a dollar bill on the bottom of a waste paper basket to give kids an incentive to empty them."
Continued on page 2: Giving