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Making Families Happy (ATOM Study Guide)

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What are the secrets to a happy family? Good communication? Strong parenting skills? Spending quality time together? Having good relations across the generations? As the pressures of modern life impact on Australian families, finding the answers is more urgent than ever.

The hit ABC TV series Making Australia Happy and Making Couples Happy proved that science can make individuals and couples happier in only eight weeks. Now, in an Australian and world–first, the Happiness team are turning their attention to their greatest challenge yet: families.

Over two months, three very different Australian families attempt to overcome longstanding barriers to happiness. They range from a large blended family to a single mother with a thirteen-year-old daughter. Their problems are ones that all Australians will relate to – poor communication, financial stress, lack of parenting skill, defiant teenagers, etc. For the three families, it's their best hope for change after years of conflict. Making Families Happy builds on and develops many of the happiness skills explored in the previous two seasons.

The families are guided by two experts – clinical psychologist John Aiken (who successfully guided the couples in Making Couples Happy) and leading child and family psychologist Clare Rowe. Together, John and Clare combine cutting-edge scientific research with compelling, no-nonsense counseling to get to the root of the families' problems. Every fortnight, they're evaluated and scored (using a scientifically validated system specifically developed for the series) to determine their happiness levels.

The stakes are high. Results from the initial scoring show that some individual family members have dangerously low levels of happiness. John and Clare need to devise interventions that target both their specific problems and the wider causes of unhappiness facing their families.

Through group sessions, interventions and powerful, scientifically proven techniques, the families face up to failed parenting techniques, broken patterns of communication and lost parental romance. As barriers that have emotionally held them back for years finally break down, profound resentments are confronted for the first time. What they learn over the course of the experiment will have an impact on every family in Australia.

Though research suggests that it's possible to boost the happiness of families in only eight weeks, this is the first time that the experiment has been attempted. Will the science deliver, or will the complications of working with entire families in the real world prove a step too far?

Over the course of this three-part series, the families are pushed to their emotional limits. As the behaviours are challenged, do they succeed in their goal of becoming happier and forming deeper bonds? Working with families is a more complicated dynamic than couples or individuals, and John and Clare's success is not a foregone conclusion.

As well as compelling on-screen drama, the series provides valuable take-away information for viewers, which can be used by every Australian, young and old, to improve the happiness of their families.

Curriculum Relevance

This study guide to accompany Making Families Happy, a three-part documentary series by Heiress Films, has been written for middle and senior secondary and tertiary students. It provides information and suggestions for learning activities across a number of curriculum areas, including:

  • Health and Human Development
  • Biology
  • Science
  • Values Education
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Exploring Early Childhood
  • Humanities
  • Child and Family Services
  • Child Development Studies
  • Community and Family Studies

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