Dr. Christine Carter: “Acceptance ”

Acceptance — We waste a lot of energy resisting the things we don’t like. There’s real truth to the saying that goes “what we resist persists” in the sense that we amplify stressful situations by resisting them. In bringing acceptance to difficulty, we free ourselves up to look at the situation as it is, which enables us […]

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Acceptance — We waste a lot of energy resisting the things we don’t like. There’s real truth to the saying that goes “what we resist persists” in the sense that we amplify stressful situations by resisting them. In bringing acceptance to difficulty, we free ourselves up to look at the situation as it is, which enables us to move forward.


It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Carter.

Christine Carter, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and coach. Combining scientific research and practical application, she offers her clients, readers, and audiences not only a way to cope with modern pressures, but tactics to truly thrive. She has appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” the “Dr. Oz Show”, the “TODAY” show, the “Rachael Ray Show,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer”, PBS, as well as NPR and BBC Radio. She has been quoted or featured in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, the Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, as well as Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Parenting, Men’s Health, Martha Stewart’s Whole Living, Fitness, Redbook, and dozens of other publications.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was fortunate in the sense that I had a relatively magical childhood. I had a strong support system with my family, but I come from a long line of anxious women, which shaped me into becoming a very conscientious child. I naturally had a pretty cheerful and joyful personality, but by the time I was a teenager, anxiety was starting to hold me back in certain ways.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was pregnant with my first child and that was a big motivator for me to try to end the pattern of anxious women in my family. I wanted to understand how not to raise an anxious child. I got my PhD in sociology, studying the science of wellbeing and happiness a bit before the positive psychology movement ramped up. I studied the aspects of culture that lead to happiness and calm, how families can foster certain emotions and inhibit others. After I wrote “Raising Happiness,” I turned my attention to the workplace and to teenagers, asking broader questions about how we can foster healthier habits that cultivate happiness and emotional well-being as opposed to stress and anxiety.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I’m lucky to have champions in my life who’ve always made me feel like I was limitless. Between my teachers, college professors, and my parents, I had people behind me who believed in me and wanted me to grow up to be a leader. My dad is such a great example of this unconditional support — almost to a fault! He’ll talk about how I have “such a great swing” even though I haven’t played golf with him since I was seven years old, and haven’t played since. Having cheerleaders like that in my corner has made such an impact on my life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Over the years as a professional speaker, I’ve learned how crucial it is to be present and perceptive to what’s happening around you. As someone who’s made the rookie mistake of going to the bathroom with a “hot” mic, I’ve definitely learned to be totally tuned into the present the hard way. At one talk, I was discussing gratitude, and was pouring my heart out sharing a recent experience about one of my children who had recently left the nest to go to boarding school — only to be interrupted by an audience member who said “You know, she’s probably smoking pot.” It was a hilarious way to realize I had completely lost my audience! One learning I’ve taken away from that is to avoid getting so wrapped up in your own story that you don’t realize when you’re not tracking with those around you.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

At the moment, I’m so excited about the work my team and I are doing to create one-to-many coaching experiences. At BetterUp, we’ve pioneered virtual 1:1 coaching at scale, and we work with more than 380 companies to drive transformational behavior change. We already know how powerful this combination of technology with world-class coaching can be in making a real difference in people’s lives. With this new offering, I’m thrilled about the impact we’ll have on so many people who are looking for quick, accessible hits of growth opportunities. We’re creating next-generation coaching experiences, with interactive, multi-media workshops that address areas where we all have a tendency to get stuck — when we feel overwhelmed, busy, surrounded by uncertainty, lacking focus, exhausted. We have such a huge opportunity to create a fun, high-energy coaching experience that can help thousands of people get unstuck so they can do their best work and live with greater purpose, passion and productivity.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

What’s important with these traits are that they are all practices that we can all cultivate — these aren’t inherent in us in our DNA –

  • Grit — People often misconstrue this with “relentless hard work” — and that’s not necessarily what I mean. I think it’s key to have perseverance toward long-term goals and stay passionate despite uncertainty or ambiguity. This is what’s enabled me to write books about topics I most care about.
  • Love — My friends, family and social connections are the foundation for everything I do. I love people, and I love being with people. Having access to love, and being able to tap into that well has helped me persevere through hard times.
  • Acceptance — This is the ability to meet life where it is when life is hard and move forward. It’s finding peace when things are chaotic or uncomfortable. I think we’ve all experienced this in varying degrees over the last year. Before the pandemic, I had just published The New Adolescence, and I had a full slate of speaking engagements — and it all came to an end. The book launch was essentially canceled, and that was difficult. But bringing acceptance helped get to a better place with it and ultimately led to the opportunity to work at BetterUp and do something completely new and amazing.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?

I have my PhD in sociology, and my focus of study was the sociology of happiness. That background gave me the academic foundation and lens, but from a human perspective, I’ve also been a coach since 2005. That’s been a daily practice in observing what leads to well-being and what hinders happiness and joy — I saw those trends on a one-on-one basis and from a macro perspective, with hundreds of clients. I also consider myself a lifelong learner, and I get a personal sense of joy from reading about wellbeing from different angles. I participate in coaching, go to retreats and therapy myself. I’m always my first guinea pig when it comes to putting these principles to practice.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?

We’re a very consumer-oriented culture, and there’s a misconception that pursuing happiness is the same as pursuing rewards. We certainly see this in our culture and values as a society. But what we’re activating isn’t actually happiness or positive emotions. We’re activating our reward system, giving us a hit of dopamine which gives us the illusion of joy, but what it really creates is the conditions that make us more likely to experience craving, desire and a sense of scarcity, which makes us more prone to pain. It’s a bit of a brain booby trap. The more we trigger that reward system — seeking a rush from things like status, money, food, alcohol, drugs, power — the more at-risk we are for not being happy because they don’t actually create lasting meaning for us.

We also tend to be a rather individualistic culture, which can leave us feeling lonely and isolated because social connections are the foundation of happiness for everyone, even introverts. We thrive in groups. So when we get caught up in thinking of ourselves more than other people, we tend to suffer.

What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

Happiness can be equated with gratification. Happiness isn’t the same as pleasure in the way we talk about it. Joy is finding or fostering a positive emotion in yourself, and that’s different from pursuing pleasure or seeking a dopamine hit that activates our reward system. When we pursue pleasure, we tend to not feel happier in our lives even if we experience momentary happiness. Ultimately that moment gives way to feelings of not having enough.

We need to be happy all the time. Happiness isn’t necessarily the most important thing to leading a joyful life. Meaning is so much more important, and meaningful lives can often be really hard.

Happy people tend to only feel happy. Research shows that people who consider themselves to be happy or have high life satisfaction feel a full range of emotions, including difficult ones. They experience negative emotions just as often as others — the difference is just that they don’t experience them for as long. So the trick is to cultivate resilience so we’re able to “bounce back” in the face of uncertainty and negative emotions, as opposed to avoiding negative emotions altogether.

In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

*Repeat of the previous response:

We’re a very consumer-oriented culture, and there’s a misconception that pursuing happiness is the same as pursuing rewards. We certainly see this in our culture and values as a society. But what we’re activating isn’t actually happiness or positive emotions. We’re activating our reward system, giving us a hit of dopamine which gives us the illusion of joy, but what it really creates is the conditions that make us more likely in the future to experience craving, desire and a sense of scarcity, which makes us more prone to pain. It’s a bit of a brain booby trap. The more we trigger that reward system — seeking a rush from things like status, money, food, alcohol, drugs, power — the more at-risk we are for not being happy because they don’t actually create lasting meaning for us.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)

  • Acceptance — We waste a lot of energy resisting the things we don’t like. There’s real truth to the saying that goes “what we resist persists” in the sense that we amplify stressful situations by resisting them. In bringing acceptance to difficulty, we free ourselves up to look at the situation as it is, which enables us to move forward.
  • Friends/Family and social connections —We are social creatures and we rely on our support system of connections. The single strongest finding in positive psychology research shows that happiness is predicted by the breadth and depth of people’s social connections.
  • Sleep — As a culture, we don’t value rest enough. From the academic research on this topic, it’s generally well-accepted at this point that emotional and physical well-being are dependent on rest. This checks out with my own personal experience too!
  • Exercise — We live in a stressful world, and taking some time to move our bodies, and increase that heart rate with some hard cardio can help clear out the adrenaline and reset our system.
  • Happiness habits — This will look different for everyone, but it’s important to build habits that counter stress and anxiety and that foster positive emotions. This may be a gratitude practice, going for a hike, going to the beach, volunteering or finding moments that inspire awe. If we turn this into a habit — a routine that happens every morning, or every night, once a week — whatever the cadence may be, we can essentially create rich, positive, powerful emotions on autopilot.

What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?

See them and hear them. Don’t try to fix them. Be a good listener. Understand that what they’re going through is hard and valid. Remind them of when they’ve done hard things before. Be their champion and supporter, someone they can count on. People can get through hard things when they have social support, so don’t discount the role you’re playing. You can also support them in getting the professional help they need. If a loved one is experiencing clinical levels of depression, supporting them in seeking professional help is important. And doing so from a place of care and understanding (as opposed to judgment or fear) is key.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My hope is to inspire masses of people to invest in their personal and professional growth. I’d love for people to find more joy and well-being for themselves. And I’m lucky because that is exactly the work we do at BetterUp. Our mission is to help people find greater purpose, passion, and productivity in their lives — and luckily for me, that’s my own personal mission as well.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Part of the joy I cultivate in my life is wanting what I already have, so I’d love to have a private breakfast with one of my children or my father or one of my best friends.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can learn more about my books, speaking engagements, my coaching practice and free resources at christinecarter.com

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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