25 Things Every Family Can Do to Be Good at Life
The following was produced in partnership with our friends at New York Life, who are committed to helping families be happy, successful, and good at life.
When parents look back at their childhood, the era seems comically simple compared to the fast-paced world in which we live today. Back then, we wrote pen pals, spoke on landlines, and ate meals “fresh” from the microwave. These days, with social media, smartphones, and an explosion of meal delivery services, it can feel as if the world is getting away from us. Take a deep breath — there is plenty that can be done to keep your family above the fray. We talked to dozens of renowned experts on real estate, cooking, family finance, childhood psychology, adult psychology, career trends, smart home technologies, and imaginative play who gave us reams of advice on how to be good at life now and in the future.
Here’s how you can plan and prepare immediately to ensure you and your loved ones can live the good life for years to come.
1. Invest in time. Research that studied spending habits of citizen of the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands concluded that, in general, “Working adults report greater happiness after spending money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase.” What’s a time-saving purchase look like? Cleaning, laundry, and grocery delivery services are all good places to start. Take note of the time you save and what you did with it.
2. Spend more on food now to save in the long run. Prepared meal and grocery delivery services are not cheap, but if they keep you in the kitchen and away from unhealthy restaurants (the ones you go to for a desperate last-minute meal) and sneaky-expensive food delivery apps, they will save you money in the long term. First, take the time to figure out your food budget by taking a close look at your grocery and restaurant costs. Then, sign up for the service that’s best fits your income.
3. Meditate as a family. Starting a family meditation practice is one of the best things you can do for everyone’s well-being. According to a study of 99 fourth and fifth-graders, 12 weeks of mindfulness training was linked to improvements in children’s ability to pay attention, control their emotions, and reduce stress, depression, and aggression. For adults, the proven benefits include lower rates of heart disease, a stronger immune system, and slowed mental decline as we age. New to meditation? There are plenty of apps worth your time.
4. Start saving for your child’s education immediately. The costs of higher education aren’t going down and there’s plenty of reason to believe that college and post-graduate degrees will continue to have massive value for job-seeking young people. To set your child up for success, it’s best to start putting money aside as early as possible and to talk to them about that process so they better understand how invested their family is — both literally and figuratively — in their education.
5. Prioritize clubs, summer camp, and other extracurriculars. “The pace of innovation and automation requires all of us…to always resell ourselves,” says Google education evangelist Jaime Casap. So take that local graphic design class, send your kids to camp for would-be computer coders, or sign up for a weekend art class at a nearby museum. From Casap’s perspective, this is where the real cutting-edge learning is taking place these days.
6. Keep your friends close. People with close friends have lower blood pressure and live longer, on average, than those with fewer friends or only distant relationships. Set the example for your children by having friends — single and childless are more than welcome – come over often for meals or just to hang out with the family on a Saturday afternoon.
7. Buy really good food. Cheap food isn’t as cheap as you think. “The more we spend on food, the less we spend on healthcare; the less we spend on food, the more we spend on healthcare,” says food journalist and author Mark Bittman. This is exactly why healthy eating, and home cooking, can save you money for the rest of life.
8. Protect what you love. Planning ahead and making sure that there’s always a financial safety net allows for peace of mind that, in turn, facilitates more good decisions. Whether it’s researching alternative education option, setting aside a rainy day fund or buying life insurance, having a Plan B makes executing Plan A that much more joyful.
9. Spend as much time as you can with the kids. Roughly 1.75 million dads currently stay home to care for the kids, and that number is likely to grow. A survey from Fatherly and New York Life found that dads that made the decision to stay at home with the kids had healthy support from their spouses and felt empowered in their decision-making role around the home. Research shows that their children are likely to see outsized benefits from spending so many hours with a deeply engaged and caring parent.
10. Save money with apps. Your money management skills can only go so far — look to both experts and modern financial tools for help.. Some apps do the math and automatically transfer money you won’t miss from checking to savings without you even noticing. Others round out all your credit card purchases up to the nearest dollar and invests the change in mutual funds. Don’t be afraid to try out a few apps (making sure they’re well reviewed and have been around for at least a year) but make sure you meet face-to-face with money managers for big financial decisions.
11. Get your hands dirty (in dirt). A 600-square foot vegetable garden yields $600 worth of produce annually. Additionally, it allows kids to learn how to sustain themselves well. “If we don’t grow farmers,” says founder and CEO of the influential Milwaukee-based urban farming project Growing Power Will Allen, “we won’t be able to grow good food.” Live in the city? Participate in a community supported agriculture group in your neighborhood instead. It keeps produce local, sustainable, and reasonably cheaper than grocery-store fruits and veggies.
12. Eat dinner with the people you love. It’s often more difficult to make time for a family meal than it is to cook it. But the benefits or family dinners make the effort worth it. Kids who eat family dinners are less likely to exhibit symptoms of depression or to act out. They are also likely to have more words in their vocabularies because the table is an ideal learning space. Adults benefit as well. The more often couples eat together, the better they were at navigating tough conversations — especially conversations about money. Partners who eat together once a week or less are nearly four times as likely to argue over finance than those eating together nightly.
13. Prepare your kids for the jobs of the future. Many of the jobs of the future don’t exist yet, so the best way to prepare children to be a part of the future workforce is to emphasize critically thinking while encouraging and rewarding adaptability. Ask yourself these questions: What are the skills and abilities they will need to solve problems regardless of what those problems turn out to be? Where can they get those skills? What classes can they take? What books should they read?
14. Explore new technologies as a family. Whether it’s a virtual reality headset or a current smartphone, kids should know how new technologies work — and be allowed to figure the ins and outs of new products with light supervision.
15. Make your kid’s allowance work overtime. Allowance continues to be a great tool for teaching kids about the value of money and saving, laying a solid foundation for their future financial wellbeing. Suggest that they split their money into “spend”, “save,” and “gift” pots. When they want something big, talk to them about why they really want it. If they do, they have to save to get it.
16. Flip your to-do list. Extremely productive people tend to take a very specific approach to building and working through to-do lists, leading with the big, important goals at the top and working around to the smaller, more immediately actionable stuff. This allows them to focus on making significant progress and avoid getting mired in minutia. Want to take it a step further? For each goal on the list, list out secondary goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (commonly call the SMART criteria).
17. Talk to your partner about money. After surveying more than 1,000 adults, New York Life and Fatherly found that couples who have open communication and regular discussions about finances have fewer arguments and report greater satisfaction with their partners.
18. Put your family’s financial goals in writing. Parents should write out their financial goals and share them with adult members of their nuclear family. Whether it’s saving enough money for a new television or building up a 12-month emergency fund, financial goals help parents to obtain the lifestyle they want. Prioritizing these goals keeps everyone from wasting money on extraneous purchases.
19. Build a “self-driving” home. With so many new devices collecting data through cloud-based connectivity, there’s extraordinary potential to automate all aspects of your home — to save time, money, and peace of mind. Something as seemingly simple as a smart thermostat can do wonders for a home’s energy efficiency and even lead to less maintenance of the heating system over time.
20. Practice (extremely) secure Internet habits. You shop online, bank online, have just about every secure document you’ve ever had scanned in the cloud somewhere, but how often do you think about good Internet practices? Not enough. Cybersecurity starts at home — and it’s something the whole family will need to know for the entirety of their lives.
21. Work on your family’s emotional intelligence. While there are formal programs to help your kids foster this skill — yes, emotional intelligence camp is a thing — they may not be necessary if kids are learning about empathy and mindfulness at home. Ask questions like, “How does that make you feel?” and “Why?” Parents who ask questions and talk about their own emotions in clear terms help kids develop an emotional skillset that will ultimately make them attractive to both employers and other people.
22. Go make stuff. Legos, DIY crafts, and trade projects (such as learning to solder) may seem old-school, but the practical skills they teach have a place in the future. All disciplines encourage greater critical thinking skills because they encourage active learning. According to research, baking a cake can be more beneficial than sitting through a lecture because in the lecture hall, a student is placed in a passive rather than an active role since the teacher does the talking, the questioning, and, thus, most of the thinking.
23. Read the news. Reading about current events keeps us informed about the political, social, and economical context of our decisions while also facilitating civic engagement. Talking about what’s in the news as a family helps parents teach empathy and children better understand the concerns and interests of their caregivers.
24. Cut your loved ones a little slack.
The sad truth is that we tend to be hardest on the ones we care for the most. Train yourself to take a break when you feel yourself growing frustrated. Rather than snap, take a breath, try to see things from another point of view, and remember how much the person means to you.
25. Let kids get creative. When parents creating opportunities for kids to put their imaginations to work in different contexts (developing video games, painting watercolors, designing new toys) they also create opportunities for kids to take pride in their own work and their own development. Having creative outlets helps children develop leadership and design thinking skills while having fun — hopefully with their parents.
This article was produced in partnership with our friends at New York Life, who are committed to helping families be happy, successful, and good at life. Learn more at newyorklife.com.