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The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Tell Your Family History, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More Paperback – December 31, 2013
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A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy and The Know-It-All, interviews Bruce Feiler about The Secrets of Happy Families.
A.J.: Congratulations on this book -- it's amazing. I predict that my family's happiness level will rise approximately 63 percent after I incorporate these tips. You say you read tons of parenting books and most were eye-glazingly dull. Why?
Bruce: First, 63 percent. That’s better than our family! As for parenting books, the biggest problem is they’re out of fresh ideas. Meanwhile, in every other world – from Silicon Valley, to corporate America, to elite peace negotiators, to the U.S. military – there are cutting-edge ways to bring groups closer together. I asked what those folks were doing with their families, then tested their ideas out with mine.
A.J.:I absolutely love the idea of weekly family meetings. I’m going to start holding them this week. Any tips for keeping kids from zoning out?
Bruce: Holding weekly family meetings is the single best improvement we made to our family. My wife adores them. Tips: play a short game at the start; have your kids pick their punishments; stop after 20 minutes. Oh, and give allowance at the end; that keeps ‘em interested!
A.J.: You talked to a number of experts about how to fight smarter, including simple changes you could make around the home. Which of these improved your life?
Bruce: My wife and I changed where we have conversations at night after we discovered we fought more because my spot put me a power position. As a family, we implemented one of my three favorite tips from the entire book: when we discipline our kids, we sit in upright, cushioned chairs. (My other favorites are “The Law of Two Women” and the “What Do You Know?”)
A.J.: As you point out, the Tiger Mom approach has some downsides. Is there an animal you more identify with?
Bruce: Pillow pet.
A.J.: In the section on Warren Buffett’s guide to allowance, you talk about the importance of having kids work. But the lemonade stand market seems overcrowded. Any alternative?
Bruce: First, I was quite surprised by the advice that it’s better for kids to earn – and lose – their own money. Buffett’s banker told me, “It’s much better to make a mistake with a $6 allowance than a $60,000 salary or a $6 million inheritance.” And I’m a believer in lemonade stands, but remember that the lemonade’s a loss leader -- the money’s in the cookies.
A.J.: Are you worried you can never lose your temper at your kids in public, or people will say “Hey, aren’t you the Happy Family guy?”
Bruce: Oops, was that you behind me at the supermarket the other day? Seriously, I wrote about happy families not because we had one, but because we wanted one. Unlike most “experts,” I didn’t have an ideology to promote. I had a question: What do happy families do right and how can the rest of us make our families happier? We’ve definitely improved, but kids change, so we keep having to turn back to the book.
A.J.: You start off with Tolstoy’s famous maxim “All happy families are alike.” Do you agree?
Bruce: I didn’t at first, but now I do. Happy families have certain larger things in common: They adapt all the time. They talk. A lot. They go out and play. And they work at it. We try to improve at our jobs, our hobbies, even at being ourselves, yet somehow we forget to work on the one thing that most defines our well-being -- our family. That’s my biggest takeaway. Want to have a happier family? Try.
“This is the best book I’ve read about how to transform families. … Run, don’t walk, to get a copy” (NBC Latino)
“Makes even the most skeptical parent sit up and take note” (BONNIE ROCHMAN for Time.com)
“Refreshing. ... Feiler has an engaging stlye.” (Washington Post)
“I loved this book because it really is a new playbook for the modern-day family, something to counteract the chaos of the digital age.” (Lyss Stern, creator of Divalysscious Moms and author of If You Give a Mom a Martini)
“Not your run-of-the-mill parenting manual. … A practical, entertaining playbook that upends some of the most accepted wisdom in family-rearing today.” (Outside magazine)
“A self-help book with teeth, loaded with examples. ... The Secrets of Happy Families is comprehensive and clear, a how-to guide for dads who may not have realized they needed one. (Daddylibrium)
Top Customer Reviews
Early on, Feiler informs us that he has no interest in speaking with actual therapists or indeed with any professional who actually works with families and children. Instead, he decides in advance that he will consult only with experts in "technology, business, sports, and the military" (p. 6). He is confident that he doesn't need to talk with people who are experts on parenting or families; "we can speak to anyone who's expert in making groups run more smoothly" and then apply their advice to the family (p. 29). OK, but that assumption overlooks a significant difference between a group of businesspeople at work and a family: namely that a family contains CHILDREN. Children are not adults. Strategies which work well with adults may not work so well with 5-year-olds. Feiler never considers this possibility.
Feiler is determined not to learn anything from people who actually know something about child and adolescent development, and it shows. For example, Feiler asserts that teenage sexual behavior is "largely unchanged over the last sixty years" (p. 131). If he had bothered to consult with any of the actual experts, he would have learned how false that statement is.Read more ›
1) Family Meeting. First read about this in Steven Covey's book... and then in a bunch of different books by Linda and Richard Eyre. I've never heard of agility or an information radiator before, though. We had already instituted check lists for our kids in the morning and they had worked very well. I didn't know that having them check off the box would be more effective. I also, with regards to our family meeting, had never though about asking:
What went well in the family this past week?
What could we do better?
What things will we commit to working on in the coming week?
Those three questions have really changed the effectiveness of our meetings and family.
2) Family Meals. I loved the story about Chef John Besh, and how when they couldn't manage a traditional family dinner, changed to family breakfasts... and family post-sports desserts.
3) Letting your kids help pick the consequences. Right now, we're going through a period of backtalk among my three eldest kids. I finally asked them what they thought the punishment should be for back talking? We talked about how it was rude, disrespectful, and could even hurt my feelings. Their idea was that the person had to do one extra chore for me (or their Dad) plus say five nice things (because of potential hurt feelings). I've never been told how beautiful, smart, and fabulous I am so many times. LOL
Lots more in this book...Read more ›
One of my favorite chapters was "Agile Family Management". As a software project manager, I'm familiar with agile software development, so it made me laugh and I shared it with my co-workers. However, it's got a point - if it works for small software teams, why not families? The concepts include self-directed work (children choosing their chores from a list) and weekly checkpoints about what worked and what didn't. Overall, it's about engaging your children in the household by letting them take responsibility themselves, rather than dictating what they should do. In this way, they often end up taking on more, because they have a sense of ownership.
There was another chapter I enjoyed on family vacations, as my spouse and I love to travel, and have found it more challenging with a new person with his own tastes joining our family. I also enjoyed the chapter on grandmothers and their importance - I'll be sure to share that one with my mom! Fighting smart and having difficult conversations will prove useful in both family and business life (as some of the lessons here are drawn from business writers). One of the quirkiest chapters was actually on home decorating and how it can affect family happiness. This book was full of surprises - I really never knew where the next chapter was taking me.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families ahead of the birth of my first child (which is still a month away), and so, to be honest, I’m not in the target audience for the... Read morePublished 13 days ago by Oddsfish
Loved this book full of how to ideas and reasons why you might want to change things up a bit in your family. Good to know we're already doing a few things he suggested. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Marlisa Lund
Practical, well-rounded, highly applicable (from a parent of 6)Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Good ideas to incorporate in our families. Will be a great reference book.Published 4 months ago by Memory Maker
This is one of the best parenting books that I (L) have read. It has helped our family negotiate chores and positively impacted our teaching. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Gabe & Lora