17 Secrets of the Happiest Families

Happy families share some habits that make for fulfilling conversation, productive housework, and more subdued arguments.

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Sit beside your partner when making decisions

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Scientists have found that people sitting next to each other were more likely to collaborate than those sitting across or diagonally from each other. Here are some proven ways to make better decisions

Turn down the lights

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Dim lighting can make people feel relaxed and safe, so they may be more revealing in conversations. (Speaking of, the real reason airplanes dim the lights before takeoff might surprise you.)

Connect generations

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Research shows that kids who know more about the successes and failures of their kin are more resilient and better able to moderate the effects of stress. (Here are eight mini meditations to relieve stress.)

Cushion your blows

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A study from MIT, Harvard, and Yale shows that people are more flexible and accommodating when they sit on cushioned surfaces. My wife and I now have difficult conversations on the sofa, and we have family meetings at the breakfast table, which has padded seats.

Invite grandma over

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Grandparents are the “ace in the hole” of humanity, says Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an evolutionary anthropologist. A meta-analysis of 66 studies found that mothers who have child-care help from grandmothers have less stress, and their children are more well-adjusted than those who don’t. (Grandparents who babysit tend to live longer, too!)

Play the “bad & good” game

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Over dinner, each member of the family should report on a positive and a negative from the day. A growing body of research has found that by watching others (including Mom and Dad) navigate ups and downs in real time, children develop empathy and solidarity with those around them. (Here are some other fool-proof ways to get your kids to talk during dinnertime.)

Adopt a soldier’s mentality

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“In moments when the needs of the family conflict with your own needs, you have a choice to make,” says Jason McCarthy, a former Green Beret. “You can either turn toward or against one another.” Use conflict as a chance to show family loyalty.

Create a chore flowchart

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Make three columns and label them, respectively, “Stuff to Do,” “Things in Progress,” and “Things Done.” As family members begin working on an item, they move it from the first to the second column, and so on. “I guarantee you’ll get twice as much done,” says Jeff Sutherland, coauthor of the Agile Manifesto. (There are plenty of healthy benefits of chores, too.)

Reject rigidity

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Research shows you have to be flexible, whether with the strategy you use to get everyone out the door in the morning or with the techniques you use to discipline, entertain, or inspire your family.

Use sports for good

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Parents have the most important job when it comes to a child’s experience with sports, says Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance. After the game, avoid deconstructing your child’s mistakes. “Say, ‘You didn’t get a hit, but I think that you’re the kind of person who doesn’t give up easily,’”says Thompson. (Speaking of sports, did you know these weird ones used to be in the Olympics?)

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