Monday, November 4, 2013

What are the ingredients that make some families resilient and happy? Part 1

The Stories That Bind Us - Bruce Feiler

What are the ingredients that make some families resilient and happy?

It turns out to be a great time to ask that question. Researchers have recently revealed stunning insights into how to make families work more effectively, and I've spent the past few years exploring the subject by meeting familes, scholars ans experts ranging from peace negotiators to online game designers to Warren buffett's bankers.

A surprising theme has emerged: the single most important thing you can do for your family, it seems, is to develop a strong family narrative.

I first heard this idea in the mid-1990s from Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University. Duke was studying myth and ritual in families when his wife, a children's learning disabilities specialist, made an observation: "[The students] who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges," Sara said.

Intrigued, Duke set out to test her hypothesis. He and Emory colleague Robyn Fivush developed a measure called "Do You Know?" scale that asked children to answer 20 questions, such as Do you know where yor grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mum and dad went to high school? Do you know about an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?

Duke and Fivush asked those questions to members of four dozen families in 2001. They then compared the children's results with a battery of psychological tests the children had taken and reached an overwhelming conclusion that bolstered Sara's theory: the more children knew about their families' histories, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.

Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he calls "a strong intergenerational self". They know that they belong to something bigger than themselves.


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