The Secret of a Happy Family

Author: Mary Ann Budnik

The Secret of a Happy Family

By Mary Ann Budnik

Have you ever stopped to consider that everything we do revolves around our "quest for happiness?" Mistakenly, we may dedicate our lives to the pursuit of power, wealth, and fame, believing this will bring us happiness. C.S. Lewis jerks us back to reality with this reminder: "God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." An anonymous writer further explains, "No one is born happy. Happiness is something that comes to you. It is brought about by inner productiveness and meaning found in a great life-task." The "great life-task" of parents is to raise our children to be saints. It is in the pursuit of this goal that we discover happiness.

Happy families live the 4 S's. They are:

1. Striving daily to live the will of God; 2. Struggling to grow in virtues; 3. Suffering with acceptance; and 4. Sacrificing for family and strangers alike.

To be happy, we have to know why we were created and how to fulfill the purpose of our existence. Despite media propaganda, we were created solely to become saints, not corporate giants or sports stars. Our purpose in life is to grow in holiness by knowing, loving, and serving God in this world so that we can be happy with Him forever in eternity (Catechism, n. 1721). Likewise, if our children are to be happy, they have to have the same purpose and goal.

We develop our potentialities by acquiring virtues. Virtues are simply good habits, whereas bad habits are vices. Virtues expand our human potential, perfect our personality, and help us to live more easily an upright Christian life. It's usually a lack of virtue, such as pride, selfishness, intemperance, bad temper, lack of self-control or jealousy on some family member's part that causes the arguments or problems in a family. There are four cardinal virtues: prudence (sound judgment). justice (giving each his or her due), fortitude (toughness), and temperance (self-control). On these hinge a total of 274 virtues. It takes a lifetime of struggle to cultivate all of these virtues!

We are all born with a mixture of good and bad tendencies. Virtues are developed by witnessing them in the lives of others, imitating people who live them, and practicing the good habits over and over in our own lives until they become a part of us. St. Thomas More wrote: "Children should have honorable people for parents, since in this way, to speak metaphorically, a seedbed of good nature and virtue is secretly fostered in these children [from the time] they are born." Our personal struggle to grow in the virtues goes hand-in-hand with cultivating these virtues in our children. They need to see us struggling to overcome our defects such as anger, impatience, gossiping, intemperance in food and drink, selfishness, laziness, irritability, envy, and so on. Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P., cautions that without daily mental prayer, we are not going to be aware of our vices and our need to develop virtues. Likewise, we should include our children and their character formation in our prayers. We need God's guidance.

Besides cheerfully carrying our own daily crosses, our children need to learn the value of suffering in their lives. There will be times when friends desert them, a job may be difficult to find, or the "perfect" spouse eludes them. If we do not teach our children how to handle the disappointments and sufferings of life, when suffering comes, as it comes to everyone, they will try to escape it through drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, divorce, and/or suicide.

To form competent young men and women, it's important to give our children the necessities, but few luxuries. This will involve suffering for them. The necessities do not include TVs, walkmans, computer games, stereo sets, personal phones, cars, fad clothing, and summers filled with sports camps, and independent travel (cf. Catechism, n. 1723). In addition, as painful for us as it is, we must allow our children to handle the consequences of their actions. If we jump in to solve all of their problems, we will cripple them emotionally and impede their growth in the virtue of responsibility.

The final ingredient for happiness in marriage and family life is a spirit of sacrifice and service in the family. Happiness increases to the same extent that selfishness decreases. Just as Christ came to serve, are we willing to serve those around us? Do we do thoughtful, considerate things for others such as sending a birthday card, or having a Mass offered when a friend's family member dies? Do we call to check on elderly friends? Do our children cut the lawn or shovel snow for elderly neighbors? When neighbors go on vacation, do they have to pay us to watch their house? Do we bring over a meal for those in mourning, a new mom, or someone who is sick? When was the last nice thing we did for someone other than a family member? Do we live the spiritual and corporal works of mercy? And, do we seek God first (cf. Mt. 6:33) through prayer and the sacraments, so that we can serve Him well?

Integrating the 4 S's into our families guarantees happiness. Why not give it a try?

Mary Ann Budnik is a weekly columnist for Our Sunday Visitor, and lives in Springfield, Illinois with her husband and three daughters.

[Excerpted from the article "Domestic Church: The Secret of a Happy Family" in the June 1996 issue of Lay Witness, with permission from Catholics United for the Faith]

(Taken from Catholic Family Perspectives Weekly, June 30 & July 7, 1996, Issue Nos. 5 & 6.)

Text copyright (c) 1996 by John F. Wagner Jr., unless otherwise indicated. Permission to print or copy the text in this file which is not republished from other sources is granted with respect to the noncommercial use of such text, provided that Catholic Family Perspectives Weekly, its URL (, and the issue date are cited by any secondary source which uses such text.