How to Start a Family Tradition–and Why It Will Boost Your Happiness.

Starting a family tradition sounds like an oxymoron, right? But traditions have to start somewhere.

Studies show that traditions are quite important to family happiness. In fact, family rituals encourage children’s social development and boost feelings of family cohesiveness by 17%. They help provide connection and predictability, which people–especially children–crave. Without traditions, holidays don’t feel much different from ordinary life. And they’re a lot of fun.

So how do you start a family holiday tradition?

1. Don’t fight your natural inclinations. Although participating in the annual Thanksgiving cancer walk-a-thon sounds like a great yearly tradition, if you’re a family of couch potatoes, you probably won’t stick with it. Maybe the whole family could play Scrabble instead.

2. Traditions are more meaningful if everyone participates. But you can’t just dole out chores and expect people to help cheerfully. Think about what each person likes to do: cook a signature dish, put up decorations, pick the music, run errands, deal with the grill or fireplace.

3. It’s wonderful to carry traditions through generations, but don’t be too upset if you can’t keep up every element. For years, I insisted that we get a ceiling-high fresh Christmas tree, because “It’s not Christmas without a real tree!” When I was growing up, buying the tree was a key part of the holiday, and I couldn’t let go of that. Finally, I realized that it just doesn’t make sense for my family now. We always go for a long Christmas visit to Kansas City, where my mother puts up two or three amazingly gorgeous trees–one decorated with nothing but Santas Claus ornaments. We didn’t get to enjoy our New York tree much, and it was a huge hassle. So now we just put up a lot of easy-to-handle decorations, and the “real tree” is part of what makes it fun to go to Kansas City.

4. Consider under-celebrated holidays. Maybe you can come up with a fun tradition for Columbus Day — certainly Groundhog Day is ripe for a larger vision.

5. Don’t overload your new traditions. Our Halloween has exploded into: lots of Halloween decorations; a carved jack-o-lantern; the decoration of a gingerbread haunted-house; costumes, of course; an official Halloween photo in a Halloween frame, for us and the grandparents. Enough!

How about you? Have you started any great new family traditions? How do you celebrate them?

The days are long, but the years are short.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the forthcoming book, The Happiness Project, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

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