If you have children and are keen to discover their character strengths, you can find a free test adapted for children on Seligman´s website at the University of Pennsylvania. But how do you talk to your children about the results – or the value and use of character strengths in general?
One fantastic (but not completely free…) opportunity is offered by my fellow MAPP alum Renee Jain. Meet the Dynamos – via an amazing workbook! In the words of their creators:
Dynamos are tiny and powerful beings from the planet Dynamis. Each Dynamo comes into the universe possessing a unique Dynamic or character strength as well as a Supertool to amplify their strength. Children will enjoy learning about character strengths by getting to know the Dynamos and their Supertools.
Kids can read each story in this workbook and then decide which Dynamo (representing a character strength) could be used to effectively solve the problem presented. This workbook is ideal if you’re teaching character education at school or at home.
Find and out about and purchase the workbook via GoZen!
I recently stumbled upon this quote by Carl Gustav Jung, the founder of Analytic Psychology. Though I feel that people can change considerably over the course of a lifetime, Jung reminds us that we may possess an unchangeable core, e.g., a set of “drives” or “needs” that stay the same throughout our lives, to be manifested through different activities and vocations (please see the article on self-determination theory on the link to Positive Psychology).
I stumbled upon this quote yesterday and it struck me as very powerful. It beautifully conveys one of the central tenets of Positive Psychology (strengths-orientation and looking at “what´s right”) – and at the same time it could be a sort of “battle cry” for the Positive Education movement.
I have to admit: I weep easily. But then, I mostly cry for joy. Very frequently, my heart just overflows with love or gratitude – and my eyes seem to be the only outlet.
Today is a bank holiday in Germany, so unlike most workdays, I sat down to have an unhurried breakfast with my wife and the Little Guru. Towards the end, they played my wife´s favorite song on the radio, so she got up, went from the dining room into the living room and started to dance playfully. Of course, the Little Guru wanted to join in.
Ten seconds later, they were holding hands and jumping around in circles, laughing and shouting boisterously. All of that time, the bright morning sun entered the room through our large garden windows, lighting up their faces, giving them an almost angelic complexion.
I watched them for a minute or so – and that´s when I cried again. I am lucky.
I´m pretty sure that all the parents among my readers will join into a roaring “HAPPIER!” when answering the first question in this post´s headline. Yet, it turns out that an unanimous scientific answer to that question is rather hard to find – as there´s a lot conflicting data out there.
When there´s a lot conflicting research on a certain topic, it´s always a good thing to carry out a meta-analysis, which is a weighted integration of many studies on one area of inquiry. Such a meta-analysis has been done in 2004. Here´s the summary:
This meta-analysis finds that parents report lower marital satisfaction compared with nonparents (d=−.19, r=−.10). There is also a significant negative correlation between marital satisfaction and number of children (d=−.13, r=−.06). The difference in marital satisfaction is most pronounced among mothers of infants (38% of mothers of infants have high marital satisfaction, compared with 62% of childless women). For men, the effect remains similar across ages of children. The effect of parenthood on marital satisfaction is more negative among high socioeconomic groups, younger birth cohorts, and in more recent years. The data suggest that marital satisfaction decreases after the birth of a child due to role conflicts and restriction of freedom.
What they say is: On average, marital satisfaction drops slightly when a first child is born. The effect is stronger for women than for men, and the younger and richer the parents are. Parents struggle with stress due to role conflicts and a decrease in self-determination.
Are Children supposed to make us Happier?
But maybe, asking about satisfaction and happiness is not the right question after all. Is it really the “job” of our children to make us happier and more satisfied as a parent? I don´t think so. When a child comes into your life, you lose tons of money, you lose tons of sleep (and that´s due to dirty diapers, not dirty sex…), and you have to carry out planning and preparations on a regular basis that in their complexity can be likened to the Normandy landing – just for going to the movies on a Friday night.
Having children does not make us happy all the time. Period.
Being a parent is not a “fun” job at times – especially for the mothers (given a more traditional role-taking). Remember that viral video about the toughest job in the world?
But then: it definitely can be a blast. When researchers see a lot of conflicting data, they sometimes turn to what in science lingo is called “anecdotal evidence”. They tell a story. Here´s a story about my family having fun in the park (Photos taken by Tina Halfmann).
I was raised in a Catholic household but resigned from church at the age of 25 – mostly because of an unwillingness to pay the mandatory(!) church tax in Germany. But the truth is: mentally and especially emotionally, I resigned at the age of about 9, shortly after my First Communion. How did that happen?
It was the very first service I attended after the official ceremony of First Communion. Contrary to Protestant services, with the Catholic church, the receiving of the altar bread happens every time shortly before the end of the service. So, all the people queue up in front of the altar until they are up front to receive the host from the hands of the Priest. You´re supposed to hold your hands in certain kind of way, putting them together to form a “throne” for (the symbol of) Christ – which basically means you´re supposed to put your right hand in the left (or the other way around…frankly, I do not remember). But obviously, on that day, I did it the wrong way.
It´s been almost 27 years ago, but I can still remember vividly how the Priest looked at me as if I had just deliberately peed in the altar wine. He violently pulled my hands apart and squeezed them back together in the “right” fashion. All that obviously happened in front of the whole congregation – which left me deeply ashamed.
I guess in that moment, I decided (at least preconsciously) that church is a dangerous, cruel, or at best – strange place. I opted out (against the will of my mother…) of all the other rites of passage (e.g. the “Confirmation”) and have not attended a service any more (except for friends´ weddings, and Christmas once in a while). Of course it may have been an overreaction to banish the church from my life altogether because of that single incident. But that is what little kids do – if it hurts bad enough.
Most fortunately, three weeks ago, I had a completely different experience. It was the Christening of my wife´s godchild at a Protestant church. It´s really hard right now to have our son Mika (16 months old) sit still for more than 10 seconds a time – so we were a little worried he would disturb the service. When we all sat down I placed him on my lap and hugged him tight. But of course, after a couple of seconds, he was wrestling to get free. So I let him stand up and within a few seconds, he had walked up to the Pastor.
I fully expected to be reprimanded or at least to get a shaking of the head or something like that. Instead, something totally different happened. The Pastor exclaimed:
“Let the children run free. That is God´s greatest joy.”
And for the remainder of the service, Mika walked around mostly quietly, smiling at people, examining the church. What a difference that made. I was so relieved. And so happy…
Still, I´m not ready to join a congregation again – but that man (at least partly…) restored my faith in “the Church” as an institution.
If you read my blog regularly, you´ll know by now that I blog about my son once in a while. I just love to watch him while he explores this world – and he is very good teacher. In (Zen) Buddhism, they put a lot of emphasis on cultivation a “beginner´s mind”, meaning one should let go of all preconceptions, rigid thinking, and dualistic distinctions. The goal is to see things as they really are – nothing more, and nothing less. For grown-ups, this is an almost impossible thing to do. Once a concept has entered our mind, it is incredibly hard to shake off. You can experience this effect via looking at pictures like this. Once you know what you´re looking at, it´s practically impossible to not see it any more.
All the more, it is an incredible thing to watch a beautiful child experience something for the very first time – as in this video. Enjoy!
When you´re attending a seminar on coaching, training, positive psychology, or ‘self-help’ in general, there´s this 90% likelihood that at a certain point, the facilitator will talk about learning. In order to ‘open up’ the minds of the participants, most workshop hosts will use the (in-)famous ‘baby analogy’. They will give a talk on how babies learn to walk: by getting up, falling down, getting up again, falling down again, getting up again, …., you get the picture.
The message is: babies are not afraid to fail. The ‘just do it’. Thing is: I´ve had at least 2.500 hours of different courses in the abovementioned areas over the last years – so I tend to get a little tired of hearing the same story all over again. But:
Now I kind of received this live demonstration. Below you´ll find a video* of the Little Guru that my wife sent to me while I was at work. It (presumably) shows the first time ever that the Little Guru has managed to sit up all by himself. He tries once, falls down, tries again – and then he succeeds. Even more important: Little Guru not only shows persistence. He also takes his time to savor the victory…
This is a fast-paced life. We rush from task to task, meeting to meeting, job to job. Most of the time, there´s a lot of things that will go well along the way. Do we really take enough time to cherish what went well?
He is approximately 73 cm tall and weighs roughly 8 kg. His superhuman abilities: breathing, sleeping, crying, farting – and most of all: smiling…
I am talking about our son Mika of course. I´m sure I will have to teach him a lot over the next twenty years (or so). But in return, he has already taught me something which I had heard of a lot of times over the last ten years, during an estimated 2,500 hours of courses in coaching and therapy, from secular and spiritual teachers; and read about in innumerable books. But I have never felt it fully until now: Unconditional Love.
During the workweek, I typically only have half an hour with him in the evening to read a bedtime story and put him to bed. When he falls asleep in my arms eventually, his head halfway hidden under my chest, one hand on my side, the other one straight on my heart, with infinite trust, a feeling of profound peace and stillness comes over me.*
I always knew I wanted to have kids. Not wanting to have children somehow appears “unnatural” to me. In this spirit, to all the people out there who (willingly) do not want to have offspring: I´m positively sure you´ll be missing out on all the best…
*I hope that I will be able to preserve this attitude, even if he – just like his father – will flunk his first math test in 8th grade; or if he – in spite of my deep love for Heavy Metal – perhaps will dig ridiculous German Ghetto Rap (Yes, that does exist!) instead…