Three Habits of Resilient Families

Having worked for decades with prosperous families, we’ve explored the key drivers of their success—cultivating life-affirming relationships, identifying values and purpose, and adapting to challenges. But in times of uncertainty, how do you maintain strong intergenerational connections and stay emotionally fit? 

We recently sat down with Nataly Kogan, CEO of Happier, Inc., to discuss the symbiotic relationship between emotional health and personal legacy. She defines emotional fitness as “the skill of developing a more supportive relationship with yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, and other people.” As the creator of the Happier MethodTM, Kogan teaches techniques rooted in psychology and neuroscience. You can use the three listed below to help facilitate conversations about what matters most to you, as well as what your wealth means to you and your family. 

1) Intentionally practice gratitude 

The human brain is wired to help us sense danger and avoid potential risks, but this protective feature often leads to a “negativity bias” that strands many of us in “fight or flight” mode. To combat this, intentional gratitude encourages us to take stock of the small but specific things we are grateful for each morning. This could take the form of a family conversation where each member shares a piece of the rich family history they appreciate most. Leading with gratitude fosters a sense of safety and belonging, while allowing us to bring our best self to meaningful, honest conversations.

Research shows that starting meetings with gratitude promotes more successful outcomes. So, when convening the family, put gratitude first to encourage collaboration and connection. While it might be easier to jump straight to the issues at hand, conversations become more impactful when you first share what’s most important to you: your family history, values you seek to preserve, education you want to provide, or the ways in which you want to align your financial legacy with your core beliefs.

2) Be open and vulnerable  

Purposeful conversations enhance happiness and prosperity, but they also play a role in achieving our financial goals. Emotional openness is the key in facilitating these meaningful discussions.

Being open is a gift, but it’s a challenge, too, because our brains fear the unknown. It’s also a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But research has shown that demonstrating openness makes us more resilient, helps teams outperform, and spurs families to achieve greater success—however a given family defines it. There’s no magic trick to developing this skill, though as Kogan points out, “You do have to go first.”

To prime yourself to be more vulnerable, start small. During important family conversations, share one thing that is difficult or express something that may be uncomfortable. This gives others permission, allowing the conversation to snowball. Or, as Kogan puts it, “Acknowledging that people have fears about trying new things and…validating each other’s feelings and actions, is really important. It doesn’t mean we agree, it means we say, ‘I understand’.”

For instance, Bernstein uses guided exercises to facilitate conversations and family meetings, ensuring voices are heard and expectations are managed. Similarities and differences emerge, allowing participants to move past assumptions and deliberately affirm each member’s core beliefs. It’s especially important when communicating with younger generations. Don’t shy away from talking about past difficulties or family failures. Embracing these challenges and key learnings strengthens family bonds and empowers younger generations to continue progressing towards individual or shared goals.

3) Connect to your bigger “why”

One key to building greater connection is finding your bigger “why” and linking it to your daily life. Kogan calls this a “To-Do List Makeover,” which can be done on your own or with your family. To start, take a task that needs to be accomplished and ask yourself, “How does this contribute to someone else, something bigger?” Or, “How does it help my family and me achieve a meaningful long-term goal?”

For example, a family with young children might realize they’d benefit from a college savings plan. Yet as time goes by, best intentions can be crowded out by other demands. By reorienting the to-do list around the value they place on education—and how it will shape their children’s future—a subtle shift in outlook can fuel a greater sense of motivation.

Put another way, adopting this kind of “pro-social” mindset makes us more aware of the impact we have on the world. It’s a simple but incredibly powerful practice because it gives cumbersome undertakings a broader context while helping you better manage stress. 

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Cultivate Emotional Fitness

Implementing these three practices will help you have open and honest conversations that honor your family’s history, setbacks you have overcome, and your individual and shared values. The more our values are understood and shared, the greater our prospects for happiness, strong relationships, and family unity. In turn, it also increases the likelihood of implementing financial strategies that support your legacy. Sharing these conversations with your trusted advisors is also vital. Doing so allows these professionals to truly understand your goals and concerns, appreciate who you are, and add the most value through tailored advice designed to help you reach your goals. 

Morgan Campbell
Associate Director—Wealth Strategies Group
Anne Bucciarelli
National Director—Family Engagement Strategy

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.

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