Psychologist shares 'Simple Secrets' for making people happy

June 04, 2004|by LISA PREJEAN

A popular cruise line's commercial shows a child giving a multimedia presentation on what she did over the summer.Her classmates are oohing and ahhing over scenes showing her family laugh its way from one activity to the next.

The implication is that if you want your family to have an exciting summer, the cost of the cruise is worth it.

I'm sure it would be fun, but reality is that most of us won't be going on cruises this summer.

And that is perfectly fine.

"We think good experiences have to be professionally packaged and expensive," says David Niven, author of "The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families."

Only about 3 percent of our happiness comes from the stuff of life, says Niven, a psychologist and social scientist who teaches at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla.


Niven was working on an academic research project, surrounded by reports on what makes people happy and satisfied with life, when he realized that the people who could be most helped by the information didn't have access to it.

"I thought if I could translate that from science speak to everyday language, people could benefit from it," says Niven, whose 100 Simple Secrets series offers guidance on relationships, happiness and personal success.

Here are some of the principles covered in Niven's latest work:

-- Be a good friend

Some people view family relationships as something that is thrust on them, as opposed to friendships, which are chosen. A good relationship has the same foundation, whether it is with a relative or a friend. There needs to be a display of affection, respect and concern.

-- Saying nothing says something

The absence of communication is of great concern. When we don't communicate, we leave the door open for assumptions.

"Your family needs to hear from you, even if it's just to tell them what you think they should already know," Niven believes. "Some folks are laboring under the fear that they'll be unpopular with their children if they share too much of what they're thinking."

If you want to create closeness with your children that will last a lifetime, share your thoughts and beliefs with them.

-- Dedication matters more than occupation

A commitment to love your family and dedicate yourself to them is more important than your decision about whether or not to work.

"Your family functions best when you are both part of the team and a distinct individual," Niven says.

How can you show you are dedicated to your family? Start with honesty. It's better to tell a child that you may have to miss some of his Little League games rather than to make a promise you can't keep.

Failing to follow through will undercut your credibility in all topics, Niven says.

-- Expectations must fit the person

Don't make some kind of family baseline expectations. If you have four children and their average math grade is A-minus, don't expect all of them to get at least an A-minus in math.

Be open to each child's abilities, interests, strengths and weaknesses.

-- Satisfaction depends on where you look

Don't set unreachable standards. Each day, you have the ability to focus on those things about family life that bother or delight. Concentrate on the latter, and it will help you face life's challenges.

-- Calm questions get answers

It is counter-productive to respond to an unpleasant situation in an unpleasant manner. Make your approach to any problem calm but firm, not urgent and upset.

For more information about the 100 Simple Secrets series, go to on the Web.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page.

Send e-mail to her at

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