Thursday, September 16, 2010

Being Happy & Raising Happy Kids

I recently read “Raising Happiness” by Christine Carter, Ph.D. and have highlighted some of my favorite quotes below. And, I also came across a video from University of Michigan professor Christopher Peterson, an expert in “positive psychology” that compliments this book nicely. If you want to watch the video it is about 5 minutes long.

Here are quotes from Raising Happiness:

"The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes. —HAROLD B. LEE

Anxiety & Stress:

Anxiety in mothers … is associated with increased anxiety in children.

According to … The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, only about half of parents rate their children’s overall emotional and behavioral health as excellent, and 67 percent worry that their teens are too stressed.

Research shows that living in high-stress environments corresponds with a poor ability to delay gratification.


Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically … on children than the unlived life of the parent. —CARL JUNG

Even if you prioritize your children’s success over their happiness, here is why you should read this book: happiness is a tremendous advantage in a world that emphasizes performance. On average, happy people are more successful than unhappy people at both work and love.

All we have to do is clearly send the message that effort is more important than achievement. When we define success as how hard kids try rather than what kind of grades they get or whether they win the game, we foster the growth mind-set.

Optimism & Gratitude:

Realize that true happiness lies within you. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside. Remember that there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving… —OG MANDINO

parents who tend to explain things optimistically tend to have kids who mimic their explanatory styles—as humans, we’re wired for mimicry.

create some alone time to begin a gratitude journal. Writing about things you feel grateful for is a simple way to bring more joy into your life.

ForGIVEness is an act of kindness and generosity—toward ourselves and others. Similarly, an expression of gratitude is a gift, a sometimes tiny but often powerful and generous expression of positive feeling.

Start traditions that celebrate people on their birthdays—not toys and cake and balloons—such as telling the story of a child’s birth, or having everyone at a party complete the sentence “I’m happy you were born because …”


The two main things we need to do, Gottman says, are (1) handle conflict in a positive manner and (2) become better friends.

the way you fight with your co-parent is how your teenager is most likely to fight with you. If you resolve conflicts by becoming angry, so too will your adolescent. On the other hand, if you engage in more constructive problem solving, your teen is likely to mimic that as well.

If you can’t resolve the argument in front of the kids, be sure to demonstrate later that the relationship has been repaired, show them that you’ve reconnected, and tell them how the conflict was resolved.

“Children are great perceivers but poor interpreters.” Kids feel it deeply when their parents fight or when they are unhappy themselves.

When kids see us resolve our differences, and when they see us take charge of our own well-being, they learn skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.


If I had to pick the one thing that matters most to human happiness, I would say that our relationships with other people matter more than anything else.

So there is a lot that we can do to ensure our children’s happiness—and our own at the same time. In fact, there is a perpetual “buy one, get one free” special: teach your kids the skills they need to be happy, and you’ll become happier yourself in the process.

psychologist David Myers concludes that “there are few stronger predictors of happiness than a close, nurturing, equitable, intimate, lifelong companionship with one’s best friend.”

How well children establish relationships with other people greatly affects their happiness in childhood and later in life. … But kids who develop strong relationships and are socially intelligent—as emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman calls it—tend to flourish.

Happy people have different decision-making processes than unhappy people; they tend to satisfice. Maximizing is tempting for perfectionists, and it is associated with unhappiness and discontent.

When we teach children the road signs that point to happiness, we tend to find ourselves taking those same roads as well.

Because to be really happy in life—to flourish, as Fredrickson calls it—we need to experience three or more positive feelings for every negative one.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama said, “You will need to get a job and find a partner. These are hard tasks. Even if you don’t want it to be, life is difficult. You will have problems and challenges. But even though life is difficult, it is possible to be happy.”

Communication/Conflict Resolution:

practice eye contact with our kids: studies show that eye contact opens our neural pathways for empathy.

if our faces and tone of voice say “I love you,” even when what we are literally saying might be hard to hear, our kids are likely to still feel okay about the interaction.

Effective conflict resolution requires empathy: kids have to be able to take their friends’ or siblings’ points of view into account, which presents a natural opportunity for children to learn to consider other people’s feelings.


Kinder people actually live longer, healthier lives. People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains.

Adolescents who identify their primary motive as helping others are three times happier than those who lack such altruistic motivation.

The key word here is empathetic; it works better to help kids imagine the emotions of those they are helping: “I think we should share with poor children, because they would be so happy and excited if they had the money to buy food and toys. After all, poor children have almost nothing. If everyone would help these children, maybe they wouldn’t look so sad.”

Added bonus: when we expose kids to others’ suffering, they often feel compassion and gratitude.

Rewards & Motivation:

Don’t reward helping behavior. Very young children who receive material rewards for helping others become less likely to engage in further helping compared with toddlers who receive only verbal praise or no reward at all. This research suggests that even the youngest children are intrinsically motivated, and extrinsic rewards can undermine this tendency.

The more we parents can stay in our role as coaches—holding back all of our terrific (bossy!) ideas and letting kids come up with their own—the better. The best ideas come from the kids themselves, when they explore the problem from their own perspective and knowledge.

I call it ERNing, or motivating kids through Empathy, Reason, and Noncontrolling language. Before, I was motivating them to earn a reward; now I motivate them with ERN encouragement.

Instead of trying to motivate kids with rewards and incentives, we parents sometimes need to back off so that kids can work on the creative activities that they’re intrinsically motivated to do.


The best predictor of a dad’s involvement is the quality of his relationship with his children’s mother (whether or not they are married). If a marriage or a co-parenting relationship is fraught with conflict, fathers tend to have a difficult time being involved with their children, which of course weakens the father-child relationship. Good fathering can also strengthen a marriage. Fathers who are positively involved in their children’s lives are significantly more likely to have successful marriages.

Praise & Effort:

When we send the message to our kids that their talents are inborn—as when we tell them that they are a “natural baseball player” or “good at math”—we create an urgency in them to prove their “gifts” over and over. It isn’t that kids don’t like this praise: they do. It puffs them up and even encourages them to keep doing whatever it is they are doing. Unfortunately, when kids want to keep their special label as talented, they also start to avoid learning new things, and they start choosing activities based on whether or not they think they will succeed or fail, look smart or dumb, be accepted or rejected.

But knowing that it is practice rather than innate talent that makes a person successful can help kids take risks to rise to the top of their field—or to try something new in order to find their true passion.

Besides making them insecure and crushing the fun of learning something new, telling kids how smart they are actually hinders performance. On the other hand, the effort-praised kids continued to have fun even when they weren’t doing as well.


As parents put more and more pressure on their children to achieve, more and more children become perfectionists. Sometimes parents’ well-intentioned perfectionism emerges more subtly, as when we try to help kids by pointing out their mistakes in ways that make our kids feel judged and criticized. Kids conclude that they’re never good enough or can’t do anything on their own without us helping them.

Ironically, focusing on kids’ short-term achievements can prevent them from achieving more in the long term.

When kids do something quickly and perfectly, Dweck recommends saying to them: “Whoops! I guess that was too easy. I apologize for wasting your time. Let’s do something you can really learn from!”

when parents show kids that they aren’t personally invested in whether they make the team or ace the test or get into an elite college—they free their children from the fixed mindset.


We need to protect our kids not from failure but from a life void of failure.

All we can do is help our kids with their approach and send the message that, while we expect their full commitment and solid effort, we’re also okay with their mistakes and their fumbles.

The gist of Schwartz’s research is that having a lot of choice is a curse on our happiness. Knowing this makes me feel better about restricting the choices my kids have. And I no longer think of myself as settling when I make a decision without exploring all the options. I’m modeling satisficing for my kids; and if they pick up on it, they’ll be happier in the long run.

Grit is also a core component of lifelong happiness. When kids learn that they can’t cope with life’s difficulties—because mom or dad always seems so eager to make sure that they never occur, and because mom and dad are always solving kids’ problems—the kids come to fear challenge. Mistakes become something to be avoided at all costs. This can create perfectionistic tendencies, which, …, are a particular form of unhappiness.


Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned. —BUDDHA

So a big part of forgiveness is the decision to stop thinking about the offense and start directing our energy toward finding a way to forgive.


unstructured and imaginative playtime builds executive function in kids, an important cognitive skill related to self-regulation.

Researchers concluded that the decline in the amount of time kids “practiced playing”…was responsible for this decline in their ability to self-regulate.

child-led, unstructured play (with or without adults) promotes intellectual, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Unstructured play helps children learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and behavior, and speak up for themselves.

Play is a catalyst that makes us more productive and happier in everything we do. And it is critical for children’s brain development. So we driven parents need to curb our impulses to sacrifice good old-fashioned play in favor of preschool academics and structured sports.

If you notice yourself frowning, sighing, or rolling your eyes when your children aren’t playing the way you want them to, take a step back and let them run the show.

Children who engage in more pretend play with peers tend to demonstrate a greater understanding of other kids’ emotions.

Increased emotional intelligence and social skills contribute dramatically to children’s school success. Play increases the odds that kids will be persistent and stay engaged in difficult classroom tasks, helping them become more involved learners.

Fantasy play expands kids’ cognitive and behavioral repertoires, leading to more highly developed creativity, divergent thinking, and cooperative problem-solving skills.


Like being psychologically controlling, punitive parenting wreaks havoc on children’s ability to discipline themselves.

deprivation of privileges and corporal punishment—social science has built a clear body of evidence that shows that these techniques are ultimately ineffective and certainly undesirable for those interested in raising happy children.

As Alfie Kohn says, “Don’t move a child roughly if you can move her gently; don’t move her gently if you can tell her to move; don’t tell her if you can ask her.”

Day Care:

High-quality care makes your child more likely to have higher standardized math, reading, and memory scores, but only through the third grade. By the time kids are about eleven, the only lasting academic benefit of high-quality care is relatively higher vocabulary scores.

We do know that the more time that kids spend in nonmaternal care relative to their peers, the more likely they will be rated by their teachers and caregivers as talking, bragging, and arguing too much, disobedient and defiant, talking out of turn and talking back to staff, and otherwise disruptive in school, aggressive: more likely to get into fights; be cruel, bullying, or mean; and be destructive to their own belongings

Child psychologists and education specialists have repeatedly found that kids who devote more time to complex pretend play before grade school age (versus kids who spend a lot of time in structured or caregiver-directed activities) are more likely to be cognitively and socially competent with peers and adults.

Kids in child-focused schools, rather than in didactic programs that spend more time teaching academic skills directly, show more motivation at school.

So while didactic preschool programs do improve kids’ scores on reading (but not math) achievement tests, they can kill kids’ love of learning.

Family Meals:

The benefits of family mealtimes for kids are remarkable. Studies show that kids who eat dinner with their families on a regular basis are more emotionally stable and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They get better grades. They have fewer depressive symptoms, particularly among adolescent girls. And they are less likely to become obese or have an eating disorder. Family dinners even trump reading to your kids in terms of preparing them for school."

The author of “Raising Happiness” was interviewed in Diablo magazine and you can check that out here.

Any thoughts on happiness or any other comments?

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