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Are All Happy Families Alike? Conceptualizing a Dashboard of Family Flourishing

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By Joel Treisman

In the opening line of Tolstoy’s "Anna Karenina," we read that all happy families are alike, yet all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. The Anna Karenina Principle is derived from this and is understood to mean that success in any endeavor is so elusive that failure to achieve even one condition for success will lead to certain doom. Applying this principle to the family, one might say that a deficiency in any one element of family well-being will prevent family flourishing and doom a family to be unhappy. Thus, there are many more ways for a family to be unhappy than to flourish. Is this a helpful frame through which to view family well-being and happiness? What have scholars from the science of human flourishing learned about the conditions for family well-being? How does individual well-being relate to family flourishing? How do positive psychologists conceptualize, define, and measure family well-being? I present findings from a broad survey of the positive psychology literature related to defining and measuring individual and family flourishing. I conclude with a conceptual framework for a Family Flourishing Dashboard (FFD). The dashboard incorporates a curated subset of scales for measuring subjective individual and family well-being. Such a dashboard may help families and the practitioners who work with them by promoting informed and constructive discussion about individual family members’ hopes and goals for the family. Practitioners who work with families may find this dashboard of value in planning and developing positive interventions intended to boost family well-being.

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