Family is one of the building blocks of society, and so its structure and role reflect social changes. Over the past 30 years, the traditional family unit has evolved significantly. Right now there isn’t a single concept of family that applies universally. But although family structure may have changed, its importance has not. In fact, there are many reasons why family is important for happiness.
Sure, we can’t choose our “blood” family. In most cases, family interactions are a mix of great and not-so-great experiences. But we can make up for that by choosing our “adopted” family members, a tribe of people who aren’t related to us, but who show support and prove they’re there for us so we don’t feel lost in times of need.
Indeed, blood isn’t always thicker than water. As someone who spent most of her life away from relatives, I learned that actions speak louder than words (or rather, than blood ties). Over the years I’ve been able to count on the support of people who were unrelated to me, in different countries and through different life stages. My family wasn’t always there, but being close to “my tribe” helped me push through tough times.
This has been defining in my own quest for well-being, so in this article we’ll look at why family is essential for happiness and the benefits of having a close relationship with our loved ones.
Why is family important for happiness: what science says
One of the reasons why family is necssary for happiness is because it (usually) provides financial stability in our early years. Having our basic needs covered is crucial when it comes setting the basis for a happy life.
But studies show that the link between family and happiness extends beyond money or possessions. Researchers followed up hundreds of families for a decade and found that the quality of family bonds mattered more to overall happiness than income.
All over the world, researchers found that support is one of the reasons why family is important for happiness. And this support goes both ways: according to a study, nearly 70 per cent of parents depend on their children for emotional support. And research shows that knowing someone has your back can counter stress, depressive symptoms, and low self-esteem.
The sibling relationships is especially important to emotional well-being. In one survey, more than 60 per cent of participants said their sibling was their best friend. Evolutionary biologists say that this could be because we share half our genes, so we’re predisposed to closeness and we respond positively to it. But depending on our background, there could be some differences in how family contributes to happiness.
A cultural perspective
As I wrote in a previous article, the concept of happiness varies across cultures, and so does the “recipe” for it. Family is a central to happiness in every culture, but in some countries this is more profound. Family ties often have a stronger weight in collectivist cultures, those where the well-being of society is above the individual.
For example, in Mexico, a World Values Survey found that nearly 95 per cent of those interviewed considered family very important in life. Mexicans rank family as one of the most trust-inspiring institutions and a source of emotional, financial and practical support.
In India, also known for its collectivist culture, many important life decisions are taken in consultation with family members. The boundaries between self and relatives are somehow blurred, so the common view is that a happy and complete individual can only exist within the family unit.
When answering the question ‘why is family important for happiness?’, we can also look at Western societies. In the US, a survey showed that more than 70 per cent of participants said family was crucial to their identity. The link between healthy family ties and identity is also strong in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, where parent-child relationships are meant to facilitate independence, individual responsibility, and promote the development of healthy identities.
But, regardless of our cultural background, there are (at least) six reasons why family is important for happiness: