CHICAGO -- What makes a family happy? No one characteristic determines this, say psychologists who examined characteristics of families that were rated happy by one of the children, but parents who work in creative professions seem to create the most happy home environments, according to a study presented at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 105th Annual Convention in Chicago.
"Young adults who reported that they were raised in a happy family were more likely to grow up in larger-than-average families (3.25 vs. 2.65 children), in homes in which both the mother and father spent more time at home than in most American families and had parents who had occupations that were considered more creative than the norm," said psychologist Barbara Kerr, Ph.D., of Arizona State University.
Dr. Kerr came to this conclusion by examining the family characteristics of 30 college students who scored the highest on a family functioning scale. The students were then asked to describe the general characteristics of their families. They were also asked how much they participated in creative activities and whether they were encouraged to pursue their own creative talents.
"Only 54 percent of American households are families with both mother and father present, and about 30 percent of American families only have one parent," said Dr. Kerr. "Twenty-eight of the 30 families in this study had a mother and father living in the home and two or more children, giving an average of over four persons in the home during the students' upbringing."
"These families were not exactly The Waltons either," said Dr. Kerr. Three of the families had been through a divorce, two others had an affair that caused a temporary separation and one family had an openly gay father. The families were widely different in religion and class too. They ranged from Mormon to New Age, from recent immigrants to established upper class, said Kerr.
About 70 percent (22) of the mothers were in the home during their children's upbringing, but many of them worked out of their homes as artists, interior designers, bakers and cake decorators, craftspersons and creative writers. Additionally, "a surprising number of fathers also worked out of their own homes in furniture, cabinetry and other skilled design work, in music, photography and art and in software design," said Dr. Kerr.
According to the students' responses, these families were openly affectionate, supportive people who were proud of their family's closeness. They lived in fairly large houses which were either neat or cluttered, but comfortable. The students also said that they were encouraged to take risks and were strongly supported in their challenges.
"Creativity may breed creativity," Dr. Kerr. "Most of these students (83%) reported that they had creative accomplishments, mostly in the spatial-visual area, like painting, textile art and quilting, photography, computer graphics, furniture construction and interior design. The other students reported creative accomplishments in writing, sports and music."
Presentation: "The Happy Family Study," by Barbara Kerr, Ph.D., Arizona State University. Session 1245, Friday, August 15, 1997, 3:00 - 4:50 pm, Palmer House Hilton, Private Dining Room 9.
(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)
The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.