Book Review: The Secrets of Happy Families


“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”Leo Tolstoy,  Anna Karenina

Tolstoy's observation of families has always struck me as a bit narrow.  Every family has unique individuals, so shouldn't EVERY family be unique, even happy ones?

But I never studied Russian Lit. Who am I to dissect Tolstoy? I let the thought fly out of my head as quickly as it appeared.

Fortunately, author and researcher Bruce Feiler considered the idea more thoroughly.

In fact, Feiler spent several years researching what happy families do right and turning those ideas into a list for the rest of us to mull over.  Feiler interviews people like Warren Buffett when he tackles the idea of a family allowance and borrows techniques from the Green Berets.  He pulls stories from his own life in implementing some of these ideas and he's not afraid to say when something didn't work.  The result is a fabulous, practical book, "The Secrets of Happy Families."

Feiler's goal "was to create The List to End All Lists, more than two hundred bold new ideas for improving your family."

200 ideas?

When I read that line I imagined an overwhelming experience; like being trapped in a book format of Pinterest.

However, as it turns out, this book overflows with so many ideas that you actually feel free to pick and choose which ones work for your family.

For instance, Feiler tackles the research about the importance of a family having dinner together, and while the data is valid about the importance of meal time, he offers practical alternatives for families whose schedules never seem to overlap at dinner.  One family, where the parents are chefs, will never have dinner together consistently, so they have reworked their schedules for breakfast.  Another family has "post sports" desserts.  The point he makes here, and throughout the book, is to be agile in how you approach home life.

In a similar way, he offers a fresh approach to getting the family together through family meetings, or storytelling.  I found Feiler's ideas to be fresh and varied enough that you won't feel guilty about picking a few things that work for you.

I could gush more, but I think you get the idea, - I thoroughly enjoyed this take on parenting!