Several years ago I used to speak to groups of four hundred to two thousand people in fifty cities annually. I began to notice that certain families in the audiences experienced unusually happy interaction among themselves. I was intrigued by this and began to do a study. I would interview the wife, husband, and children separately. Each person was asked the same question: What do you believe is the main reason you are all so close and happy as a family?

What I found amazed me. Each family member gave basically the same answer: "We do a lot of things together."

I found that these families also had one particular activity in common—camping. A minister in South Dakota echoed this idea. He told me that when he has asked each of his children separately what was the best thing they had done as a family, each one answered "camping." I'm not necessarily advocating camping. We've camped as a family for over fifteen years and we've found that camping is not the secret! But I believe the secret to being a close-knit family almost always can be found in camping.

One reason our family is so close is that we maximize our togetherness and minimize our times apart. That's not to say that we can't be alone as individuals. I work every day. My wife operates our office. Our children pursue their school and career interests. My wife enjoys swimming and going to the gym alone. I enjoy reading a book or watching a television program by myself, and I love running alone. All of us go our separate ways almost every day.

But for the most part, we try to discipline ourselves as a family to organize times when we are all together. For example, every Friday night is family night when the kids are home. We also share our church life together and visit friends' homes together. We share the entire summer together; my family travels with me to various seminars where I speak, and we plan a special vacation. We spend two weeks together at Christmas, another at Easter, and take weekends for various special activities throughout the year. Because of my profession, I am able to take off with the family for extended periods of time, but all-day outings provide the same opportunities for closeness. It just takes a little creativity to find fun things that the whole family will enjoy. But it is very possible!

The principle is also true for husbands and wives without their children. Close-knit marriages result from partners sharing numerous experiences. One summer, Norma asked me if I would take her through a wild animal park. I accepted the suggestion with enthusiasm and borrowed a car at the camp where I was speaking. When we arrived at the park, we were given a brochure that told about the animals and explained that if anything happened to the car, we were to honk the horn and a friendly ranger would come to the rescue.

About halfway through the park, our little convertible overheated. We pulled off the road and I honked the horn. No friendly ranger came to our rescue, but several wild burros wandered over and tried nibbling the convertible top. I honked again and in the rearview mirror I saw a herd of buffalos approach us. Within moments, we were surrounded. Norma wanted me to honk the horn again, but I was afraid for fear the animals might stampede and crush the car. One of the buffaloes bent down on my side of the car and pushed his head against the window. His nostrils were steaming the window while his big, brown eyes looked to see if we had anything to eat. Norma and I held hands, trying to comfort each other. I couldn't stand to look, but kept asking, "Is he gone yet?" "No," said Norma. "Will you please honk the horn?"

"I can't. Just listen to him breathe."

"That's not him breathing. That's me!"

Gradually, the buffalo lost interest in us and moved on. Forty-five minutes after we had pulled off the road, we were able to start the car and drive through the rest of the park. It is experiences like that which we have shared as a couple or family that provide great memories. Common experiences draw people together.