There are so many factors that going into being healthy, complete and whole in our lives that we often overlook them in favor of only seeking more traditional answers like diet and exercise.
But as the old saying goes, if you don’t know where you came from, it’s hard to know where you’re going, and that may be especially true when it comes to family history.
There’s a reason why schools across the country often instruct their young students to construct a family tree as part of a school project: people who better know their family history often feel a strong sense of pride upon completion of their work, finding unique ways to connect and learn through other family members in the process. They feel more connected to their family members, and gain a better understanding of their role and purpose in this lifetime.
The bad news, however, is that creating their first family tree is where this highly valuable type of learning usually stops for most kids.
But on the flipside, there’s another simple way that can help a child discover a sense of purpose and kinship with both family members and ancestors.
And while it may be a little tough on parents who won’t always have the easiest time recalling the answers, it’s something that can be done over the course of a single evening (with the help of a few glasses of wine, perhaps).
20 Family Questions That Could Hold the Key to Lifelong Health and Happiness
Recently I was reading the fantastic book ‘Willpower Doesn’t Work: The Hidden Keys of Success’ at the recommendation of a friend (it’s all about optimizing your work and other environments for success and happiness, and discusses how people become a product of their environment over time), and came across a surprisingly memorable segment in Chapter 14 titled ‘Never Forget Where You Came From.’
In it, the work of psychologists Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush is mentioned; specifically their quest to figure out why more families were falling apart at the seams, and what could be done about it.
What they found was that knowing your family history matters a tremendous amount, and family members who know the answers to 20 key questions about their family history stand a far better chance at weathering the storms life throws at them, living with a sense of purpose, and staying strong, healthy and content as the years go by.
The 20 questions, developed by doctors Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush as a framework for familial remembering, were published as part of a 2010 Emory University study titled “Do You Know? The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being.”
According to their research with children, those who knew the answers to these 20 questions were far more likely to be in control of their lives.
“Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world,” the researchers state in their paper, studied 66 middle-class, mixed-race, 14- to 16-year old adolescents from two-parent families.
Those who knew more about their family stories had “higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement, even when controlling for general level of family functioning,” the study found.
In a nutshell, this so-called “Do You Know?” scale was the single strongest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being and sense of happiness, although the researchers stressed that there is still much further research that needs to be done involving the DYK scale, family history and well-being, especially since a small sample size of only 66 kids was used.
20 Questions on Family History Used by the Researchers
How many of these 20 questions can you answer correctly? And even if you can’t answer them, what type of information, memories and connections do these questions spark within you?
The 20 questions used by Fivush and Marshall for their widely-cited study are as follows:
1. Do you know how your parents met?
2. Do you know where your mother grew up?
3. Do you know where your father grew up?
4. Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
5. Do you know where some of your grandparents met?
6. Do you know where your parents were married?
7. Do you know what went on when you were being born?
8. Do you know the source of your name?
9. Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?
10. Do you know which person in your family you look most like?
11. Do you know which person in your family you act most like?
12. Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries your parents suffered when they were younger?
13. Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?
14. Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?
15. Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc.)?
16. Do you know some of the jobs your parents had when they were young?
17. Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?
18. Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?
19. Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?
20. Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?
If you don’t know a whole lot of these (if any), now may be the perfect time to ask your parents while you still have the chance.
“There is something powerful about actually knowing these stories,” the study’s authors said.
Below, you can watch a TEDx video of one of those authors, Dr. Marshall Duke, speaking at Emory University on why this type of learning is so important and how it can open up entirely new ways of relating to each other in our daily lives.
Aside from simply being happier, learning more about our families and each other makes us more resilient during hard times when things don’t necessarily go our way, Dr. Duke explains (skip ahead to the 4:30 mark if you’re short on time):