Why being part of a happy family is essential to our health

Showing empathy and spending quality time together improves the likelihood all family members will stay healthy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 July, 2015, 6:13am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 July, 2015, 6:13am

Family health is such a wide-ranging topic that, to be blunt, it's impossible to define as a single entity. It's difficult to narrow down even to a simple list, as it covers a multitude of issues.

Put in its most basic form, it would probably be best described as the health status of the family as an overall unit, including the impact of any one family member on the unit as a whole.

Also, when considering family health, it's important to recognise the effect of family organisation and disorganisation on the health status of its members.

That said, we must understand family health is more than just a physical health issue, it's also about relationships between different members of the family - between the child and his or her parents, the child with each parent and between the parents themselves.

Hence family health is very complicated. When a doctor treats a person's health he needs to study the family background and history to deal with the root cause of any problem.

There are many dynamics in a family situation that critically affect the health of each individual in the family.

Many young couples have children, but don't know how to cope with child rearing. The problem is they have children too young and before they know how to live with each other in harmony as a family unit, they have to cope with dealing with a young child and they often don't know how to communicate with a youngster.

Sometimes children's health problems can be caused by family issues.

In a family situation, we must know how to express ourselves, learn to listen, communicate properly, discuss with and understand each other in order to avoid conflict.

It takes years of hard work and experience to acquire these vitally important skills.

Fundamentally, a happy family is all about learning to live with each other and being considerate. So having empathy is of the utmost importance. It's all about "complementarity" - learning to appreciate each other's qualities and co-exist.

To begin with we must have the right mindset. One must put family first. For example, when the father gets home from work, he should leave all work at the door and focus only on the family. Many people fall into the bad habit of bringing work home because it can be done through electronic devices such as mobile phones. You should kick that habit now. Another way of developing the right mindset is you must set aside some time for private communication with your partner. That means you genuinely "talk" about things that concern each of you and nothing else. Talking to each other openly helps to flush out underlying problems.

Be mindful that accumulated, unresolved problems are toxic to the long-term health of a relationship and family. This kind of toxin affects physical health.

And remember practice makes perfect; when you communicate regularly, it will come easily and naturally.

When there's a communication problem most of us tend to think we've been misunderstood, it's the receiver who's at fault. In reality, the responsibility for being understood falls firmly on the communicator. It's up to you to change and improve your skills.

To sum up, there are three basic tips: one must have empathy, which means putting your partner and family first. Second, one must allocate quality family time. Third, no matter what, the most important element is your marriage.

When you have a happy and strong marriage, it gives strength to the family and, as a result, it keeps everyone in it healthy, both physically and mentally.

Dr Lam Wing-wo is a Hong Kong-based family doctor