Christine Carter is the executive director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, an interdisciplinary research center that “translates” the study of happiness, compassion, and altruism for the public. Through examining the research, she shows that:
1) Fully 40 percent of our happiness come from intentional choices about what activities we pursue, and
2) Happiness is a skill that we can teach to our kids (and benefit ourselves in the process).
Most people I know don't think of happiness as a skill, but read Carter's book and you will be convinced, as I was convinced. Many of us think of happiness as something you just “have” or “don't have.” However, Carter points out that this is a false assumption on our parts. For example, studies have shown that one of the best predictors of peoples' well-being is how connected they feel to other people. Knowing that, we can increase our happiness by making a conscious effort to increase our connection with others. There are concrete steps we can take in this direction, and Carter gives them to us. She does it with humor and grace, and left me laughing and feeling inspired at the same time.
This book is so full of good, practical ideas of things to do with children of ALL ages, that after the initial reading I could easily see re-reading a section per week, and choosing one or two or three activities to do from that section. And then starting again the next year, till your kids move out to go to college.
Here's an example of the type of how she works: in one section of Chapter 2, she talks about kindness. First she looks at the benefits of doing acts of kindness, and adds, “It is important to note that experiments have demonstrated again and again that the effects of kindness on our health and happiness are causal” (p.31). She goes on to say,
My guess is that most parents hope their children are kind, but few deliberately teach kindness in conscious ways. In young children and adolescents, there is a lot of evidence that parenting practices are significantly associated with kindness in children, meaning that we can, in fact, stack the deck so that our children grow up to be kind and generous adults(p.32).She then goes on to list Seven Ways to Raise Kind Children, with each “way” containing between one and three things you could do. She intersperses her “research-y” style of writing with funny anecdotes of applying (or attempting to apply) these lessons with her own daughters, ages 5 and 8.
My only complaint is that I wish she had cited more of the the studies she talks about, instead of saying “studies have shown.” She does have a long list at the back of the book, but there are so many it's hard to tell where you could find a certain fact. Addtionally, in my opinion she doesn't talk much about the different stages of child development, and what might not be appropriate for children of certain ages. So as a parent you will have to decide for yourself which activities are age-appropriate. That being said, even those things that are not appropriate for the young children in our lives would still be beneficial for ourselves. This is a book I'll be keeping on the shelf for years to come.