I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ari Yares, a licensed psychologist, former private school principal, and father of four. He has more than fifteen years of professional experience working with parents and children facing learning and behavioral challenges. Dr. Yares holds a doctorate in school psychology from Temple University and currently directs a preschool evaluation center for the DC Public Schools and sees clients in his private practice.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Making the shift into private practice was really about opening doors that I hadn’t wanted to open before. Having an employer with a generous parental leave policy meant that I got to stay home with our youngest for an extended period of time, something I hadn’t done with the older children. It also meant that I had time to study for the licensure exam which I had been a bit resistant to in the past. It’s incredible how soothing it was to study for an exam with a newborn asleep on your shoulder!
What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?
I love the idea of intentionality being part of how you move through the world. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be impulsive; it just requires that you use processes like design thinking to help you with the decisions and choices you make. You observe the world, ask questions, generate hypotheses, try them out, and then iterate on what you have learned.
Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?
I first thought that I wanted to be a rabbi after I graduated college. Six months into rabbinical school and I was miserable. Something that I thought that I would love just wasn’t working out and I was miserable. It forced me to ask myself some deep questions about what I wanted in my professional life and what kind of work gave me meaning. Those questions led me to a doctorate in school psychology which blended my interests in education and psychology and let me serve as someone who removes barriers for others — a goal that still motivates my professional life.
The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
There are so many barriers in our professional lives that make it harder for us to feel happy. Work cultures often discourage us from taking leave and many of us struggle with work-life balance. Our desire to be professionally successful tips the balance away from some of things that make us happy.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As an educator and a psychologist, I’m always thrilled when I see a light bulb go on in the head of someone attending one of my parenting workshops. It means that something that I’ve said is resonating with them and maybe the life of a child will improve.
What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Breathe — you need a solid grounding to be fully present in the day and it starts with having an awareness of just the simplest thing, your breath. Pausing to breathe gives us the opportunity to address stress and anxiety and allows us to be in the present moment.
- Put the phone down — too often we’re trying to live our lives through the screen of our smartphones. There is a place for them, but not at the frequency that we reach for them.
- Be curious — unleash your inner five year old and let yourself be an explorer. I love the joy that allowing my curiosity to run loose brings me. I learn from others and feel my life being enriched.
- Take a break — for me, as an observant Jew, having one day a week that allows me to step away from the craziness of the world. It’s more than just disconnecting; it allows me to enjoy the simple pleasure of time with loved ones, community, and good food.
- Don’t neglect your physical self — I find that starting my day with exercise energizes me better than the first cup of coffee of the morning. I’m more focused and I’m helping my physical health, too!
- Express gratitude — too often we rush through our day without stopping to say thank you for little things or for big things. A practice of gratitude helps give you perspective, slows you down, and can enrich another person’s life.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?
Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath is a book that I return to over and over again to help me understand the flow and importance of time. I also enjoy the irreverent look at the world that NPR’s Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me brings me each week. It’s a reminder that it’s okay to laugh at the world and at myself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love this quote attributed to Thomas Edison — “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.” Too often, I find myself stuck and unable to see the other possibilities. This quote is a great reminder that sometimes you need to change your perspective to see what is going on.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m incredibly excited to be starting my private practice. It’s been a great experience to support children and families through the services that I offer. I’ve even launched an online course to help parents better deal with challenging behavior. For me, this is about prevention — with the right support, parents can do incredible things for their children.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Wouldn’t it be amazing if was normal for parents to seek out help in raising their children? We all read plenty of books while we are expecting, but once the baby arrives and starts to grow older, we don’t seek out help the way that we should. I would love to see parent coaching and basic mental health services be part of our doctors’ offices and our schools so that it easily accessible and destigmatized.