As we begin a new year, we often think about how to improve ourselves. Today’s guest post goes one step further: improving our family dynamic! How about if this is the year we form closer ties with family members and focus on our happy family? Following is an excerpt – one of 97 short Noticing essays – from The Noticer’s Guide to Living and Laughing by Margery Leveen Sher.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
This is how Anna Karenina begins. I have been reading Anna Karenina all year (have you ever taken a full year to read a book? I think I am absolutely disgraceful), and I am still not finished, so I have yet to judge how Tolstoy will prove this to be true.
However, this declaration strikes me as false since every family, and every person, is touched by happiness, sadness, worry, sickness, pride, satisfaction, anger and delight. In short – every human emotion. The extent of happiness is how we make peace with the negatives and are able to focus on the positives.
Some have more trouble making this peace than others, due to illnesses – both mental and physical – and extreme hardship, but nonetheless the extent that one can do that goes far to determine one’s level of happiness.
Happy families put up with the foibles of their relatives in a good-natured way. They don’t bear grudges, and are helpful to one another. Unhappy families are stuck in a negativity of the past. So now that I’m thinking out loud, I’m beginning to believe that perhaps Tolstoy is right. Happy families are all alike – they have short memories. Unhappy families dwell on their particular “slings and arrows” of the past.
Conversation Starter with Family
I put this in the Human Idiosyn-Crazies™ section rather than the Amazing First Lines of Books section for this reason: Since we all have our Human Idiosyn-Crazies, doesn’t family harmony depend upon tolerance? But at what point can’t we laugh these off or ignore them? At what point must we deal with them? Is there a point that we should just accept them, and move on?
This kind of discussion can be geared to any age. Ask the younger kids what should be done about the cousin who hoards all the toys at family gatherings? Ask the older kids about gossipy or mean teens in the family. There are surely lots of issues to discuss, but keep in mind the goal of family harmony. After all, family feuds do not lead us to happiness. But tolerance, forgiveness, and short memories surely lead to happier, more peaceful lives.
Thanks, Margery, for the food for thought. Does this mean I need to put up with the foibles of my 16-month-old who still won’t sleep through the night? —Erin
©2014 Margery Leveen Sher