Purpose: Despite the great importance attributed to values in the family business, few studies have focused on their importance and on how such values influence the way family businesses behave over time. Using Aristotelian virtues as our main framework, the purpose of this paper is to understand what motivates both family members and business families to perform virtuous acts, therefore, observing the underlying beliefs at both levels of analysis that make individuals and families repeatedly behave in a way that reflects the pursuit of excellence of character. Design/methodology/approach: The authors rely on a qualitative methodology, following an interpretive approach. Based on the narratives of family members from two Spanish family businesses, the authors abductively analyze how values and virtues in family businesses allow them to cope with changes that occur across generations. Findings: Findings suggest that family businesses that have survived heavy crises have been able to overcome these critical moments in part due to their strong virtues – both at the individual and at the family level – where the so-called four cardinal virtues have been evident, for example, through the achievement of collective goals and adherence to a stated mission, as well as through behaviors that have been aimed at improving and benefiting the community. Practical implications: Values are the basis for all businesses and their behaviors. Understanding the type of values, as well as the underlying virtues, that allow for prosperity across generations is important for business families to perpetuate those that allow the family business to thrive. Originality/value: This paper contributes to the family business field by exploring a key understudied dimension that determines family business prosperity over time and across generations. It brings to the forefront values and virtues that are rarely studied in this setting despite their great importance, using narratives as a key element for value transmission as well as a research method that allows for deeper insights about specific processes.