The Secrets of Happy Families

By on August 1, 2013

By Rhonda Caudell –

In case you are unaware, all families have some skeletons in the closet. Most are eventually brought out in discussion. Thus…there are no perfect people in this world…which leads to imperfect families. In my work and passion, I am exposed to many families. Working with seniors…elderly and aging parents and spouses, and the adult children who care for them…I see the results of the good, the bad, and the ugly relationships, and how they affect the lives of generations.

This year, a book by Bruce Feiler was published…“The Secrets of Happy Families”. I read with great interest the articles and interviews about the book and the author. He had hit a breaking point after a week with his extended family during an annual gathering. The parents were aging, the adult children were struggling with raising kids or teenagers, and all were straining with these life issues and questions. Bruce began to ask himself: “What is the secret sauce that holds a family together? What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?”

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During his research and interviewing others in preparation for writing his book, he realized the last few years had shown “stunning breakthroughs in knowledge about how to make families, along with other groups, work more effectively.” All kinds of trendy programs had begun to develop from Silicon Valley and the military…each introducing and incorporating techniques for making teams function better, with better outcomes. Then after some years of continued digging and meeting families, scholars and other experts, a theme emerged. “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” Bruce first heard of this idea from Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta GA.

In the mid 1990’s, Dr. Duke conducted research with a colleague into how families could counteract the forces into the dissipation of the family. Dr. Duke found that the “children who knew more about their families, proved to be more resilient…they could moderate the effects of stress.”

Rhonda Caudell - photo2-graph the secret“It seems every family has a unifying narrative that can be one of three different shapes:

1) The Ascending Narrative: “Son, when we came to this country, we had nothing. Our family worked. We opened a store. Your grandfather went to high school. Your father went to college. And now you…”

2) The Descending Narrative: “Sweetheart, we used to have it all. Then we lost everything.”

3) The Oscillating Narrative…the most helpful one: “Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Our grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested…We had a house burn down…Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.” ‘

Dr. Duke and his colleague proved that children who had the most self-confidence, knew they belonged to something bigger than themselves. It was termed by Dr. Duke: “intergenerational self”. Bruce Feiler drew a conclusion that happier families, and ones that thrive for generations to come…create, refine, and retell the stories of their family’s positive events and of their ability to bounce back from the bad ones.

But wait, isn’t this what we have read from the Holy Bible?

Deuteronomy 4:9:  Only take heed, and guard your life diligently, lest you forget the things which our eyes have seen and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Teach them to your children and your children’s children. (Amp version)

Deuteronomy 11:18-19: Therefore you shall lay up these My words in your minds and hearts and in your entire being, and bind them for a sign upon your hands and as forehead bands between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you arise up. (Amp version)

If we follow God and His Word, know Him and his ways, this becomes our story to be told to our kids and their kids. The most exciting thing I have learned is, the stories of what God is doing are new and fresh year after year. When we walk with Him daily, and put to action what He says for us to do, we don’t have to just rely on the past stories.

Realistically there will be ups and downs, good and bad…throughout our lives and families, but knowing our Loving Father, who NEVER leaves us will keep us resilient, will empower us to Love like Him (which is truly effective in all our relationships), and will fill us with JOY, which is even better than happy!

For information about Bruce Feiler:

For article about Dr. Duke:


Rhonda Caudell – Elderly Parent Care Coaching:

About Rhonda Caudell

Rhonda Caudell founded Endless Legacy after years of family care giving and serving families as a nurse geriatric care manager. Her life journey brought her to her passion of improving family relationships and communication through elderly parent care coaching. Showing families how to create a long term care process and plan that their kids and the generations to come will want to repeat is her expertise. She works with families throughout the United States. You can reach her at or [email protected]

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The Secrets of Happy Families