Raising Happiness: Chapters 1-3

Welcome to our first book club meeting!  Katy Keim of BookSnob and I are thrilled that you have decided to join us for our discussion of Christine Carter’s Raising Happiness.

Here’s how things will work: Each Monday, Katy will post a review of our selection for the week, followed by a series of discussion questions.  In the comments section, please offer your thoughts in response to the discussion prompts – or chime in with another topic that came to mind while reading.  And please feel free to join our conversation even if you haven’t been reading along with us!

Each Thursday, I will post on an issue that I found particularly resonant in that week’s reading, hopefully sparking further discussion.

We encourage you to subscribe to the comments thread for each book club post by checking the box underneath the form when leaving a comment.  That way you can get other readers’ thoughts delivered right to your in-box and you can respond just as you would in an in-person book club.

As a reminder, we will be discussing:
Chapters 1-3 the week of April 12th
Chatper 4-6 the week of April 19th
Chapter 7-9 the week of April 26th and
Chapter 10 + Q&A with Christine the week of May 3rd

And now I’m pleased to bring you Katy’s thoughts on chapters 1-3 of Raising Happiness.

Chapters 1-3 of Raising Happiness is an easy 65 pages, right?

Well, yes and no.

It’s dense. If you are like me, your mind wanders constantly to less-than-ideal-parenting examples and great real-life situations of what Carter is talking about.

For those of you who haven’t yet joined us, or are hoping to catch up, here are some of the key themes netted out. I also have added my “A-ha Moments.” I’m sure you had some of those too and it will make good fodder for our conversation.

Chapter 1: You Want Your Kids to Be Happy? You Go First.

Carter, thank God, gives us permission to take care of ourselves. First. This isn’t just a selfish act. It’s critical to the success of raising happy kids.

“Do as I say, not as I do.” That was a favorite phrase of my own parents, but the research tells us humans are built for mimicry. If we act anxious or dissatisfied, our kids will sense that and imitate it, no matter what we tell them. So those of you who have been reading books like The Happiness Project or going to that well deserved yoga class or meeting friends for cocktails, good for you. You are modeling for your kids what makes you happy and showing them that you are committed to it.

Chapter 1 A-ha Moment: Fighting fair. Carter tells us that how we have conflict and eventually resolve it is critical behavior to model for our kids.

Now, I have a pretty darn good marriage, but all I could think of is the handful of times hubby and I have had a disagreement which created a chilly atmosphere, only to let it “blow over” in a day or so. There is rarely a public apology or making up. We often just wear it out rather than work it out.

Chapter 1 describes how kids often think they are responsible for the conflict and it causes them stress. Showing them how you make up relieves them of this anxiety AND shows them how to fight fair. Good stuff. Score that in the column of things to improve.

Chapter 2: You Can’t Do Happiness Alone.

This entire chapter was, for me, a no-brainer. If I start to feel blue, one of the first things I know I need to do (besides exercise!) is connect with someone that is important to me—make a phone call, have coffee, see a neighbor. It’s reflexive.

Carter tells us in Chapter 2 that the strength of our social relationships will make us happier people. We can encourage our kids to be happy by helping them build social rapport with others and teaching them how to resolve conflict. Plus, we need to cultivate a sense of kindness in our kids. This basically adds up to ensuring that we are raising socially intelligent little creatures.

I don’t know about you, but I did get a bit bugged in this section as she outlined ways for “Dad to be more involved.” In my house, Dad is very involved and I somehow felt protective of him—like it belittled him and/or was insulting. Did any of you feel that way?

Chapter 2 A-ha Moment: Don’t over-reward helping behavior.

In our house, we are sometimes caught in the infinite, annoying loop of rewarding desired behavior (clean your room and you can have dessert!). Carter reminds us that it’s simply okay to expect certain behaviors. I want to start setting an expectation that kindness is a default setting that our family operates by. No surprise, they need to see me acting on this myself.

Chapter 3: Perfectionism is Outdated.

Darn. This one was a bit painful. I got lost a little bit—are we talking about my kids or, whoops, do I need to fix some of the things about myself?

Well, both.

If you hear Carter speak, the discussion about fixed mind-set (talents are innate and God given) and growth mind-set (you can achieve great things through effort, practice and passion) is the key plank in her happiness platform. If you don’t get through a single other chapter in the entire book, read this one. (If you have read Nurture Shock by Po Bronson, this concept will be very familiar.) Carter shares research that those kids that are praised for being smart or talented—they become addicted to the praise, they refine this specific skill over and over and they fail to take risks in new areas. This is in big contrast to kids that are praised in their effort—how they approach their task—which motivates them to keep engaging in the process.

But praising our kids for the effort and not just the achievement, well, this takes practice. Our gut instinct is to tell them that they are smart, athletic, funny. It takes a momentary delay to say: “I really like the way you approached your homework. You put a lot of effort into your handwriting.”

My daughter is in season two of Little League, a girl in a sea of boys. This is her choice, not mine. But last week she cried briefly and said: “I stink at baseball!” It would be so easy to just let her quit. But instead, I explained to her that those boys (her own brother included) practiced a lot to get to where they are. We fielded about 200 grounders last week and you should have seen her beaming smile when she fielded 3 balls in a row at the game last night. She is proving to herself that success comes from hard work and practice.

Chapter 3 A-ha Moment: Carter describes that perfectionists are decision maximizers. They go through every potential option to ensure they are making perfect decisions. Satisficers are those that get to a reasonable outcome or option and take it.

Those of us who are perfectionists could potentially see that as bailing, or settling. But, in fact, the research shows that the satisficers are plain happier. And Carter tells us we can help our kids make good decisions by restricting the number of options they consider. Hmm, that’s new thinking for me.

  • What A-ha moments, if any, did you have while reading Chapters 1-3?
  • What new approaches may you try this week because of your reading?
  • Can you share any examples of how you’ve tried to use a growth mindset approach instead of a fixed mindset one?
  • How have you learned to keep your own perfectionism in check while raising your children?

42 responses to “Raising Happiness: Chapters 1-3

  1. Was very, very excited for this discussion. Straight up, I must confess, I didn’t get to Chapter 3. I’m in Canada and finding a copy of this book was, well impossible. No on has stocked it yet and I waited too long to order it online. So finally, I bit the bullet and ordered it for my e-reader. I suspect I will still buy, but alas, I didn’t get all three chapters read.

    Two chapters in, I had lots of moments, which I’ll mention in a moment. But what has struck me most is how often I felt myself feeling validated by what what she says. So far I can honestly say that this is how I live my life, well how we (my husband and I live our life). That felt good, because I’m not sure that some of this (particularly making ourselves important) are rewarded or valued in society. The expectation is usually that we “sacrifice” as mothers. I’ve never been good at “sacrifice.”

    I was also very thankful how she started out saying that it’s never too late to make a difference on these things. Sometimes when you read a parenting book you are left with the feeling like you missed the boat and that your efforts are “too late.” I appreciated this, it made me want to read more.

    One of my aha moments was “Teach your children to romanticize their relationships.” How very interesting. I do this, but would never have considered to instill that value in their own lives. The importance of it never occurred to me. This really resonated.

    Also “instead of guilt, choose joy.” How ironic that my own guilt is so often rooted in the very fact that I do regularly choose joy, personal joy in the form of things that do not always include my family.

    “Take care of your marriage”. Without question, this I need to work on. I think I need to be hit over the head with a brick about it. Why is it that my husband is the first I sacrifice? It is not lost on me that he is my greatest supporter, my closest friend and yet the person I spend the least amount of time nurturing. This is my major takeaway from the early parts of the book.

    In answer to the question of what new approaches have I or will learn to use because of the book? I think the most important for me will be reminding myself that it’s okay to expect a certain kind of behaviour from my children without providing a reward. The rewards system has worked for us, but I think it’s a weakness. This I hope to change.

    But I also want to talk briefly about her discussion about conflict. First of all I did find that the ten steps to peace in your household did hold several nuggets that can help, but whether it comes from the fact that my children are so very young, I didn’t as a whole find them that practical. Unfortunately the reality is, when dealing with conflict in our lives, that we and our children are drive by emotion, emotion that make it hard to step back and do these things in any meaningful way. Perhaps that’s the point. I have some more thinking to do about this approach. As she said, I was slightly overwhelmed by the list. However, the important of dealing my children how to manage conflict in their own lives was not lost on me, particularly since I’m not that good at managing it in my own. There was real value in the overall discussion. I’ll be referring back to this part of the book often.

    I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s comments and following through with future weeks. Thanks Kristen for hosting this discussion and Katy for leading it. I have so many thoughts around what I’ve read already, that I anticipate I’ll be doing more thinking about it over on my own blog in the coming weeks.

    • Christine, thank you for starting off our discussion with such a thoughtful reflection! I’m not at all surprised that we shared many of the same “take-aways” from the early chapters.

      Like you, I exhaled a huge sigh of relief when I realized that Carter’s tone would be validating rather than accusatory. The fact that she is a parent – and not just an academic – goes a long way with me toward making me buy what she is selling.

      I am going to go and reread her ten steps to create peace in your household. Your point intrigues me and I want to revisit that list.

      As an aside, one “problem” I had while reading the book is that I found so many helpful nuggets that I didn’t absorb them all as deeply as I might have. (I think this book will make a great reference to keep on the shelf, to dive into for refreshers and reminders here and there along the journey of parenthood.)

      Off I go…

      • To be honest I had a lot more to and tons of notes to go back to. I’d be curious to hear what you think of that list!

        Back now following up and reading everyone else’s comments.

      • Hi Christine – I reread the “Ten Steps to Peace in Your Household” (pg. 27 for anyone who’s curious) and I definitely agree that they’re pegged at older kids.

        The one that stood out for me as most relevant to my life with a baby and a toddler was #8: Change the focus. I do a version of this with some success already: trying to redirect my kids’ attention from the source of conflict to something else entirely. (I know that’s not exactly what Carter means in this case, but, until my kids are a lot older, I don’t think I’m going to get them to verbalize their way through a conflict resolution session, as nice as that sounds!)

  2. My copy of the book only just arrived this morning. I feel like the student showing up to class without her homework.

    I know that when I’m down-in-the-dumps I need to do something positive for myself. On the flip side, I always put my children’s needs and happiness before my own. I realize I do this because that’s how I remember my mother acting (well, she still does). I need to learn how to combine my happiness and the happiness of my children.

    In life, I want to be the thermostat not the thermometer. Make sense?

    • I literally just yelled out loud! I love your metaphor and am still working through it. The thermostat and not the thermometer. Ooh, that’s a good one!

      And please don’t feel like a delinquent student, Erica. You’ve already contributed a lot just in this comment: I wonder how many of us will find your remark about your mother to be quite resonant. I know my mom (who now reads Motherese, by the way – hi, Mom!) modeled and continues to model selflessness for me.

      • I hope the yelling out loud was a good thing and you didn’t wake the boys. 🙂
        A thermostat sets the environment in a room while thermometer only reads (records) the enviroment. One evening it was the only way I could explan my feelings to my husband who works with computerized building climate controls.

      • In coming up with an analogy for your husband, I think you created a really brilliant metaphor. Right now, I’m feeling very grateful for his choice of career. 🙂

  3. Confession: I just received my book yesterday and have only read Chapters 1 & 2 so far, but this book has resonated with me from page one. I admit, I am terrible about putting my needs above others’. I always feel guilty, no matter what decision I make. My partner and I have a great relationship and we don’t fight often, but when we do, it’s ugly, and I’m afraid even though we do that once every few months, it could adversely affect our little one.

    Now that there is clarity to how my behavior affects my daughter, I will have to change certain things as prescribed by Carter. Easier said than done, for sure, but I am up for this challenge. However, like going into starvation is futile to losing weight permanently, I think making tiny increments toward this goal is key to ensuring I make these changes for life, not just for the week.

    My first baby step: This week, I will go to my yoga class. I hate not being with my daughter when I can because I don’t get to enjoy her enough. As a combination of a demanding work schedule and her early bedtime, I get to see her for about 2 hours every week day and that just never seems enough. And so I can’t fathom spending precious moments away from her, let alone doing something for myself at that time, even on weekends. That’s when someone has to extricate me from her side because I feel like I need those two days to make up for lost time. It makes me feel guilty to choose myself above others, but I know now to re-train my thinking and be comfortable with the fact that a little time away is good for me, and especially for my family. It will also give my partner some time to foster a stronger bond with his little girl without mommy lurking in the shadows.

    The fighting thing, well, we do agree that we need to tone it down and find a more constructive way to argue. But since we don’t do it often, I think we forget what we said we would do in the meantime, and end up going down the unwanted path. Perhaps we should talk about it this week, when neither of us have anything at stake, and hope we will remember Carter’s words when it’s most applicable.

    I can’t wait to dive into Chapter 3. Sounds like it was written just for me.

    • Two things stuck out for me from your comment, Justine:

      The frivolous one: I wish we lived closer so we could go to yoga together! I read Chapter 1 with the refrain “Go back to yoga Go back to yoga Go back to yoga” running through my head.

      The not-so-frivolous one: Carter’s words about conflict were fascinating to me, especially her ideas about constructive conflict and measuring our words and our apologies in order to teach our kids. Husband and I also don’t fight much, but, as Katy said above, we also don’t always firmly resolve things in front of our boys when we do. I like your idea about talking with your partner about how you fight at a time when you’re not, well, fighting. Good advice for me to put into play myself.

      Thanks, Justine!

    • I have the same problem Justine, I get to see my boys only a couple of hours every day. It’s heartbreaking and tremendously difficult, but I do try to carve out a bit of alone time on the weekend and sometimes in the evening after they have gone to bed. I find if I spend too much time focusing on the needs of others (my family, my job etc.) that I get resentful.

    • Christine, I also thought the conflict resolution piece was dense. I am a lot better with the quick one hit “Try This” than the 9 point plan. I think you will really like Chapter 3 when you get to it.

  4. Now you make me want to run out and get the book and join the club! (But I know I’d be delinquent. But I’ll read the commentary with interest. Such a great thing to do!)

    Off into the wild, on mothering duty, teen style…

  5. The bad news: I’m sorry to report that I’m sitting this one out because I’m in the midst of finishing up a few other books that have been sitting neglected on my nightstand for several weeks.

    The good news: My non-participation in this round of the book club isn’t preventing me from gobbling up this post and the related comments. I’m already highly intruiged and will most likely read the book on my own when I finish my current reads.

    Thanks for the great recommendation and thoughtful discussion!

    • Glad to have you with us, Big Little Wolf & Gale!

      My hope is that those of us who haven’t read the book will still participate in and benefit from the discussion. I think that the concrete advice and specific examples Carter gives us in Raising Happiness will resonate with anyone interested in having happier kids and in being happier herself.

  6. I am so happy for this discussion. I have been eating up the words of the first few chapters and underlining like a madwoman.

    Right now I am at work and cannot post my thoughts/aha moments, but I will come back later, book in hand, and share some of those thoughts with you all.

    Love this Kristen and Katy. Job well done.

  7. I just had most of a comment typed out, went to look up a term from the book and Paige turned off my computer… there has to be a learning moment in there somewhere! Ha!
    Anyway. First – Kristen – I say we look into doing a yoga class in NYC one morning while we’re there for BlogHer! (saw one of your comments above!)
    So the book. I’m loving it – there’s more underlined than not, more stars in the margins than in other recent books. What I really love is that the author is honest, and recognizes that mistakes often make better parents, in turn making happier kids. This book is affirming how I want to raise my little ones.
    My ahha moment came in chapter three with a huge OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS WHY I AM WHO I AM 🙂 I think my mother really tried to use a growth mindset, but it was countered by my father’s fixed mindset, making me not really want to try much at all, as it could lead to failure, but in a lazy passive aggressive sort of way because if you don’t push a little and follow through even w/ a growth mindset (as she said, there’s different ways to go about it…) you will end up w/ a slacker political science major without any direction after college, leading to temp work and then administrative assistant jobs with a dream of writing, but being too scared to do anything with it. Until she marries a husband who is totally growth mindset oriented, in turn taking up the encouragement aspect that was missing all these years.
    😉 I think as parents we really have an opportunity to find out who we are, what we believe in, etc, and Carter is giving us some excellent tools.

    • Corinne, if it makes you feel any better, one of the early chapter I looked at when Christine was writing the book was Chapter 3. It was like, gulp, is this why I abandon things that are hard? When did I stop taking risks? Another funny observation was my own parents were really fixed mindset people when I was growing up and now they are so about the growth piece. I don’t know if they consciously learned it, but it’s like they aren’t worried any more about us, they exhale and everything from them is like: great job, good decision, I understand. I think it is hard to be growth mindset when we are so invested, so worried that are children will be okay. Don’t you?

    • Sorry to derail the train here, but I respectfully interrupt this thoughtful discussion to say a great big YES to the idea of a yoga class at BlogHer.

      Who’s with us?

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  9. I also will be out of this week’s chat as I just returned from vacation last night and instead of reading a book about parenting (which I was trying to escape from!) I instead read a novel I could lose myself in! BUT… my goal is to catch up for next week’s discussion. I’m loving reading everyone’s thoughts on the book and am CERTAIN the book will resonate with me.

    And I am definitely IN for a Yoga class at BlogHer!

    • Welcome back, Becca! I hope you had a great vacation with your family. I hope the discussion will last all week – and will continue with my post on Thursday – so jump on in whenever you’re ready.

  10. I’d love to join you for yoga! Is it too late to sign up for BlogHer?

  11. While I’m not reading the book, I’m thoroughly enjoying stalking these comments and experiencing it vicariously thru your discussion.

  12. My a-ha moment came with the comments about perfectionists/satisficers. I am a perfectionist – and I know this. Yet I struggle with being satisified with less. I justify my perfectionism. And my patterns are being learned by my son. Some of it he must come by naturally, but this section is forcing me to see how any encouragement (whether realized or not) is so detrimental to his healthy happiness quotient. I find my own perfectionism so ingrained breaking the cycle, although necessary, is going to be so hard.

    • Yes! I am with you entirely on this. My boys are still a little young for me to see the effects of my own perfectionism on them, but I can already sense that Big Boy’s sensitivity might be connected to the unrealistic expectations I hold myself to.

  13. Wow, Kristen, this is such a cool thing you’re doing. I’m usually prepared for class, but I’m going to be that person who shows up at book club mostly because they like the other people in it.

    I loved reading your summary, however, it was like getting the Spark Notes—and I felt resonant with most of the ideas mentioned (and even must admit that as a dad I’m sometimes not as involved as I would really like… that need to blog, check emails, voice mails, can make true presence challenging—at least for my brain).

    I completely endorse the notion that if Mama’s (and dad) not happy, nobody’s happy… and that yoga, social bonds, simple pleasures help support our happiness.

    Alfred Adler (one of the original greats, and a psychologist with a deep social ethic) felt that perfectionism dooms us to failure and that it is much better to strive for improvement, consistent with the emphasis on effort over innate talent.

    These are great ideas, the big challenge is living them day-to-day—and for that a forum like this book club is a great way to actualize intention—to be our best Selves as parents, and to be happy.

    Thanks for making this possible.

    • I was just chatting with a friend and new mom about the feasibility of parenting how-to books really changing our day-to-day approach. We concurred that we don’t usually get much from them, but taking the time to discuss and really process the ideas in this one (both online here and during our phone call) helped us internalize some of its messages.

      So thanks to you and to all for taking the time to share your ideas here. Whether or not you’ve read, your experience of parenting helps enrich the conversation.

  14. Well, I’m here, but bookless, though it’s on order from Amazon. I couldn’t find it for a deal from any of my regular places and then decided to buy it anyway when I read the glowing reviews about it really containing transformative advice. If it’s not too late for my nearly fifteen-year-old son (ack!), then I’m in!

    • As you know, Linda, I used to be a high school teacher. There are several sections in the book that made me stop and say, “I wish I knew that when I was teaching adolescents!” So I suspect that you will find material in the book that really resonates for you.

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  16. I was introduced to Raising Happiness when I heard Christine Carter speak a number of months ago. What she presented, which was kind of an overview of the book, really resonated with me. I come from a pretty competitive family where high value was placed on grades and stature. Being fairly introspective, I recognized the detrimental effects of this but didn’t really know how not to fall into the same trap as I believe we all ‘default’ to dealing with things the same way our parents did. I have been enjoying the book thoroughly as I feel like there are lots of ideas to try and later in the book (I’m on chapter 7) she talks about how to form happiness habits which sent me back to the beginning of the book to look at the ideas presented. I totally agree that this book will serve as reference material in years to come. In the meantime, I’ve been sharing my dog eared pages with my husband and he’s agreed to having notes around the house as reminders – i’m thinking on the mirror in our bedroom; cabinet doors in our kitchen . . .reminders. Step 1 – BREATHE . . . our kids can’t read yet so they’d serve solely to help us be the thermostat:)

    I didn’t dog ear everything but things that i did . . .
    the magic five hours per week – my husband and I own a business together so spend a lot of time together. So, how is it that we often feel a bit disconnecting? Seeing each other is not enough, appreciating and nurturing one another is where its at.

    Village is built on kindness – we both grew up in small towns where we knew our neighbors, played out in the street, etc. While that’s not totally realistic in the present day, it was a good reminder that a sense of community, having other adults to look to both for us and our kids is something we should continue to work on. Our kids have lots of “aunts” and “uncles”. In response to my four year old son’s recent question, “is so and so a part of our family?” I will answer that they are a part of the family we have chosen or they are a part of the family we were blessed with/given. Seems to resonate with him.

    Finally, the choice is a curse at the end of chapter 3. I struggle with wanting my kids to have a choice but then be frustrated when they lament their choice – makes me feel like they are acting spoiled. For instance, take my son to the toy store – he gets so overwhelmed with all the choices, he’s almost never satisfied with the thing he goes home with, even if it was the very thing he wanted when we went- ‘encourage your kids to choose the first option that meets their criteria . . .’ – my husband shoos our son to the check out the instant he’s found something he’s excited about and that’s the end of it. And now I know why.

    Looking forward to more discussion. Thanks for setting it up.

    • Thanks so much for weighing in, Tracey.

      All of the points you mentioned really resonated with me as well, especially the magic five hour solution. My husband and I have a baby and a toddler and, though we spend plenty of time together co-parenting, we are often so tired at the end of the day that we do little more than sit side-by-side watching TV. I really appreciated Christine’s concrete and relatively simple tactics for overcoming the distance that can exist even in the midst of closeness.

      As for the curse of choice – Amen! Sometimes I feel like I am making all of our lives more crazy by offering my 2-year old choices with every decision. In this section especially I felt like Christine was offering practical, experience-based advice that I can imagine implementing immediately.

      Now I need to borrow your notes-around-the-house solution so I don’t forget all the things I’m learning!

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