Sociologist Christine Carter is a happiness expert at University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. She's also a happily-remarried divorced mother of two with a great relationship with her first spouse. I began listening her parenting podcasts, “Raising Happiness” back when my son was five, and I spoke to her about parenting and self-care while writing my book. Her latest book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, looks at how to accomplish more by doing less, and bring more ease into your life—something all of us facing divorce could use.
Wendy Paris: What exactly is a “sweet spot?”
Christine Carter: For me, the sweet spot is operating from our strengths and greatest power, but where there’s also total ease, no stress. Your sweet spot is where you are your most intelligent, most joyful and most productive.
What we know is that a relaxed muscle is much stronger than a tensed one. Our culture assumes there’s only one speed at which we work or go about our days. You’re on or off, productive or not. We assume all quality of work will be the same as long as we’re trying really hard. But that’s absolutely not true. If we can get into a sense of flow, access the parts of our brain responsible for creative insight, we’re able to be much more productive. The quality of our work is much higher than when we’re just grinding through it with the sheer force of our will. You need to rest to be your most productive self and to be there as a parent.
WP: Okay, but can there a “sweet spot” in divorce? Most people have too much going on to think about ease. Often they feel in total crisis.
CC: That is exactly the time to do this. When you’re in the fever pitch of crisis, you need to access your best self to survive it. You don’t have time to take twice as long to do something, to make mistakes, or not be very good at your job. You have to find your best self to come through a transition like that well. It’s unrealistic to expect to live in that during divorce all the time. But it is really important to keep touching base with that highest self. Divorce is tough in that ease piece of things. But in order to find that groove, we need to find that ease piece.
WP: Can you give us three tips for creating ease in divorce?
1. Actively foster positive emotions
We know that when you have three positive emotions or experiences to every negative one, your internal systems change. The parts of your brain that get more blood, the way we operate in the world, changes from a more rigid system to one that is more open, more creative, more able to get more done. Whether it’s watching puppy videos on YouTube, or doing loving kindness mediation, or reading a poem you find inspiring. It could be gratitude. It could be straight up laughter watching Louis C.K. clips. Or things that give you a sense of awe. Where it is easy for you to access positive emotions?
2. Actively seek to reduce overwhelm in your life
Self-care is a great place to start. Remember to rest, get enough sleep. Find ways to dial back the overwhelm, the sense that we’re so busy and have so much going on and there’s no stillness. In periods of stress, your ability to resist temptation is lower, so we can really get into bad habits, like checking our ex-spouse’s social media feed, or checking our email at work. That technology interference increases stress. The research shows more checking tends to equal more stress and tension. One of the most important ways to cultivate more ease is to reign in our device use. Only check your email five times a day. Turn your phone off in the car. Make sure you turn your computer off half an hour before you go to bed. The less frequently you check your phone, email, social media feed, the less tense you’ll be.
3. Cultivate Compassion
This is a hard time. If you’re hard on yourself and everyone around you, the harder it will be to function well. We think if we’re hard on ourselves during a difficult time, we’ll get better faster. But that is absolutely not true. When we’re more critical of ourselves, the more we get stuck in anger and depression and less likely we are to grow. When you’ve failed to reign in your technology use, forgive yourself. Lying in bed instead of exercising, eating a platter of brownies, those behaviors are really common. Feeling compassion for yourself will make you higher functioning.
WP: That’s great. Thank you. That totally makes sense. I have go watch a funny movie right this minute.