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Last Book Club Meeting for Raising Happiness

September 9, 2010 | Book Club | 0 comments

Katy Keim interviews Christine Carter.

Welcome to our last summer book club meeting, an interview of Christine Carter by Katy Keim of BookSnob. This interview first ran on Motherese, so you might want to check out the comments there, too.

Even if you haven’t been reading along, we hope you’ll join the conversation.

Katy Keim interviews Christine Carter.

By Katy Keim

This week I’m wrapping up our discussion of Raising Happiness with a Q&A session with the author.  Enjoy!

KK: What makes you happiest?

CC: As an individual, hanging out with my friends and my parents (seriously) brings me the most joy — especially if we are eating!  I also find particular bliss in waking up early (if I’ve also gone to bed early), getting a cup of coffee, and getting BACK INTO BED with a book.  If I can do this during the week it is pure heaven for me.

As a parent, my happiest moments come when I’m cuddling with my kids.  I love reading with them, even if just side by side, snuggled on the same couch.  And I love hearing about “3 good things” from their day.
I think I will remember my happiest moments in life as those that took place around my own dining room table: friends, family, kids eating and laughing and talking about what we are grateful for.

KK: Like your own daughters, kids these days have an avalanche of activities that they can pursue.  Given your thoughts about the growth mindset and the importance of free play, where would you draw the line between pushing kids too much and providing them with too little encouragement to try out new things?

CC: Great question.  I wish I could give parents a decision tree for how to know when they are over-scheduling their kids, but honestly, the line is different in every kid and every family.  I struggle with this a lot myself.  Here is how I decide with my kids:
▪ Does my child really want to do the activity, or is it mostly my idea?  Is the activity I’m considering more what I want (e.g. a kid who learns to be a great team-player through years of organized sports) than what my kids want (they are BEGGING for piano lessons, but would rather die than try out for soccer)?

▪ Am I being seduced by the idea that more skills and more achievements for my kids will somehow bring greater happiness and well-being?  Is there a chance that adding this activity might actually lower well-being by cutting into too much free-play, sleep, or dinnertime? In other words, do my kids have some free-play time every single day?  Are they getting enough sleep?  Are we managing to eat dinner together 5 nights a week or more?

▪ Will adding this activity make ME more stressed, more anxious, or busy?  Will it cut into MY happiness?  Is there a way that I could make it happen without adding more to my plate?
I’m finding that very few activities meet that criteria, but when they do, they are worth it!

KK: While trying to practice a growth mindset, is there a point at which we risk pushing our kids too hard (i.e. if there’s always another challenge waiting for them as soon as they’ve mastered a task)?

CC: YES: pushing kids too hard is risky!  We aren’t talking about perfectionism here, people, which is its own particular form of unhappiness.  We shouldn’t really be “pushing” our kids at all–putting pressure on them to achieve–but rather making sure that they are adequately challenged.

Think about flow: the task is neither too easy (making it too boring to find flow) nor too hard (which causes anxiety).  You can’t push your kids into finding flow (though we can influence their environments to make it more likely).  When kids do find flow, they will also gain mastery.  Mastery IS a form of happiness.

KK: What is your favorite parenting book – besides Raising Happiness, of course?

CC: I get so much science at work that the parenting books I gravitate towards are spiritual.  I love Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn’s book, Everyday Blessings. And my favorite right now is William Martin’s The Parent’s Tao Te Ching. Here is a little excerpt from that I stumbled on last night:

Happiness is Contagious
If you always compare your children’s abilities

to those of great athletes, entertainers, and celebrities,

they will lose their own power.

If you urge them to acquire and achieve,

they will learn to cheat and steal

to meet your expectations.

Encourage your children’s deepest joys,

not their superficial desires.
Praise their patience,

not their ambition.

Do not value the distractions and diversions

that masquerade as success.


They will learn to hear their own voice

instead of the noise of the crowd.
If you teach them to achieve

they will never be content.

If you teach them contentment,

they will naturally achieve everything.

We all want our children to be happy.

Somehow, some way today

show them something that makes you happy,

something you truly enjoy.

Your own happiness is contagious.

They learn the art from you.

KK: Much of your advice pertains to kids old enough to talk and to reason.  What would you say is the most important happiness habit for very young children?

CC: Mirroring: helping them label their emotions, feel understood.  Say things like “I see that you are frustrated!” so that they learn the difference between frustration and, say, anger. The more empathy we show our very young children, the more emotionally and socially intelligent they will be.

KK: In the comments section, there emerged some skepticism about the feasibility of teaching happiness.  One reader noted, “a good, full life isn’t about a destination with a bright billboard attached.”  How would you respond?

CC: We aren’t born knowing innately the skills that will lead us to happiness, and neither are our children.  We learn them from our parents and teachers.

A good, full life is one that is full of a lot of different types of positive emotions (like gratitude, hope, and awe, just to name three favorites).  Happiness takes self-discipline, a growth mindset, emotional intelligence, the ability to cope with failure and challenge and negative emotions: all things that can be taught and practiced with children.  None of those things is a destination, or a bright billboard; they are all skills, some more fun than others to practice.

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Book Club: Raising Happiness, Ch. 10

September 2, 2010 | Book Club | 0 comments

That’s One Big Important Dinner.


Welcome to our tenth summer book club meeting, a discussion of Raising Happiness prompted by Katy Keim of BookSnob.  We are posting Katy’s review of Raising Happiness chapter by chapter each Thursday. This book club first ran on Motherese, so you might want to check out the comments there, too, or Motherese blogger Kristen’s related posts.

Even if you aren’t reading along, we hope you’ll join the conversation.  What came to mind as you read the chapter being discussed, or Katy’s review?  You can subscribe to the comments thread for each posting and jump in.

Chapter 10: That’s One Big Important Dinner.


By Katy Keim

Christine points out how conclusive the research is about the benefits of family meals—kids that eat dinner with their families are “more emotionally stable and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They get better grades. They have fewer depressive symptoms…”

And here’s the kicker. By eating together, she means five nights per week. This isn’t a part-time effort.

In her mind, it is the perfect time to come together and practice some of the things you have learned in the book. For those of you following along, here’s the review:

1. Put on your own oxygen mask first. 

2. Build a village. 

3. Expect effort, not perfection.
4. Chose gratitude, forgiveness, and optimism.

5. Raise their emotional intelligence.

6. Form happiness habits.

7. Teach self-discipline. 

8. Enjoy the present moment.

9. Rig their environment for happiness.

10. Eat dinner together.

And my favorite line of the book is when Christine mentions you can try nine of these habits during a 20 minute meal; the thought of it makes her laugh out loud. She wraps up her book with a positive view on how to make it all work, but with the self-awareness of just how hard it is to accomplish. I liked that.

Chapter 10 A-ha Moment: 3 years ago I had my twins at their annual check up at their physician. He had been a very laid back guy on almost every issue I had dealt with over the years, but at this particular physical he asked: “How many nights a week do you eat dinner together as a family?”

I don’t mean to make excuses, but the kids were still very young (aka a nightmare to eat a meal with), my husband and I were both working demanding jobs and the thought of getting commutes on track to make it all happen at a reasonable hour frankly seemed undoable.

I replied sheepishly: “Two?” Maybe that was generous. My cheeks flushed. I felt ashamed.

His entire demeanor changed. He said: “Starting immediately, every night I want you to have dinner together. Have the babysitter give them a huge snack, but every night you sit down to dinner as a family once you get home.” When I may have laughed nervously, he punctuated it all with “I am serious.”

His admonishment set us in motion and we have made it an evening ritual ever since—besides the obvious date nights out or business trips or other of life’s scheduling conflicts.

It was painful to switch gears from work to dinner preparation and to juggle hungry kids with stressed parents, but it is one habit we have really made stick. I am hoping it is one of the many memories our kids will have when they think of us all making the meal, gathering around the table and sharing our day.

While I am thankful for my doctor creating urgency to making this a family habit, I am even more thankful to Christine for showing me why it was so important.


Discussion questions:

▪ What are your family’s dinnertime rituals? Do the kids help prepare the meal or clean up??
▪ Which of the nine learnings do you think you will incorporate most frequently and easily into your evening meal?
▪ If you had to share the one biggest takeaway you had from the book, what would it be?

Follow Christine Carter on Twitter

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Learn more about the online Raising Happiness Class.

 

 
 
 
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Book Club: Raising Happiness, Ch. 9

August 26, 2010 | Book Club | 0 comments

How to Control Your Kids’ Environment.

Welcome to our ninth summer book club meeting, a discussion of Raising Happiness prompted by Katy Keim of BookSnob.  We are posting Katy’s review of Raising Happiness chapter by chapter each Thursday. This book club first ran on Motherese, so you might want to check out the comments there, too, or Motherese blogger Kristen’s related posts.

Even if you aren’t reading along, we hope you’ll join the conversation.  What came to mind as you read the chapter being discussed, or Katy’s review?  You can subscribe to the comments thread for each posting and jump in.

Chapter 9: How to Control Your Kids’ Environment.

By Katy Keim

It’s a paradox.
 Carter explores different situations and whether or not environmental factors affect a child’s happiness. The bottom line is: yes, they do, to some degree.

But the more important point she makes in Chapter 9 is that, even if we can better control an environment for happiness, it is not necessarily a great idea to do so.

Beyond safety and a positive atmosphere (and whew, less TV people, because clearly the research is not showing any real benefits there!), our generation of parents is doing far too much to help our kids be in a “happy environment.” We talk to teachers, we ease them away from difficult friends, we lessen disappointments, and we prevent pain.

Christine reminds us that when we make everything okay for our kids, we deprive them of their chance to see what they are made of. They don’t get a chance “to develop their grit.” I liked that word and I thought that was a parenting philosophy I could get behind: I am raising kids with grit.

Grit is very closely related to resilience. Kids will learn how to cope with difficulties, understand they are capable of overcoming challenges and help them to realize that they are in control.

Chapter 9 A-ha Moment: No matter what I read about childcare, it used to cause a lot of stress. Nannies, preschools, how much is too much? What is the best approach? As a two-job family, these decisions have always seemed very loaded. I didn’t enjoy reading this piece as much, because you know what? There isn’t a perfect happiness answer on this front. I don’t want to hear the science on this.  I want my husband and I to make the best choice we can and then stop ruminating over it.

Discussion questions:

▪ What A-ha moments, if any, did you have while reading Chapter 9?
▪ How are you thinking about raising kids with grit?

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