Since most studies of family life focus on problems , Nick Stinnett decided to give the flip side equal time. The chairman of the Human Development and Family department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln -- and head of the fourth annual family conference there -- Stinnett conducted a national survey of "strong" families.

Here are the six common strengths he identified:

1. Appreciation . Family members gave one another compliments and sincere psychic strokes. They tried to make the others feel appreciated and good about themselves.

2. Ability to deal with crises in a positive manner . They had the ability to take a bad situation, see something positive in it and focus on that. They became a mutual support system, and often re-discovered what they meant, to each other.

3. Time together . In all areas of their lives -- meals, work, recreation -- they structured their schedules to spend time together. Many participated in outdoor activities -- camping, walking, birdwatching -- where there are fewer distractions and a greater chance to concentrate on each other.

4. High degree of commitment . Families promoted each person's happiness and welfare, invested time and energy in each other, and made family their No. 1 priority.

5. Good communication patterns . These families spent time talking with each other. They also listened well, which shows respect. They fought, but got conflict out in the open to talk it out.

6.High degree of religious orientation . Not all belonged to an organized church, but they considered themselves highly religious. The commitment to a spiritual lifestyle seemed to make them less petty, more forgiving, patient and positive.