Beth Perkel has always been fascinated by positive psychology, the popular branch of psychology that uses scientific understanding to help achieve a satisfactory life. In fact, she focused much of her psychology major on the subject during her undergraduate years at the University of Pennsylvania.
Now Perkel is out with a new book, Light at the Beginning of the Tunnel: Wiring Our Children for Happiness, (Mosaica/Feldheim) that explores the intersection between positive psychology and parenting.
She points to famed UPenn professor, Martin Seligman, considered the father of positive psychology, as the inspiration for her book. "He published Authentic Happiness in 2002, when I was a freshman," said Perkel, a Chicago native. "This was the beginning of the emergence of the field and its efforts to scientifically explore human potential. The focus is not on repairing weaknesses but bolstering strengths. Not about what's wrong, but about what works."
A writer, teacher, mediator, and rebbetzin, Perkel has written for periodicals ranging from Newsweek to the Times of Israel; Light at the Beginning of the Tunnel is her first book.
Positive psychology is "about more than happiness," she said. "It is important to be well-adjusted-to be contented, not fleetingly happy. Because life isn't only about happiness."
As a new graduate, she married and temporarily moved to Israel for her husband to study for Rabbinic ordination in 2006. They eventually moved back to Chicago, where she devoted time to lecturing on the Jewish circuit about the intersection between lessons of the Torah and manifold positive psychology concepts such as mindfulness, self-esteem, and grit. She weaves these into the book, with an entire section devoted to parents applying the positive psychology concepts to themselves in order to work on happiness as a family-wide endeavor.
When she became a mother-she now has four children ranging in ages from 5 to 13-she added a third thread to the tapestry, applying her combination of psychology and Torah to parenting.
"I began to write what became a popular blog on teaching children happiness," she related. Her blog focused on "positive psychology for parenting, through the prism of Torah."
Throughout the book, Perkel alternates between-and stitches together- scripture and science. In the book, Perkel tries to define the skills children need to create "a light at the beginning of the tunnel" for their life's journey, she said. These skills run from delaying gratification to expressing gratitude, from "embracing the now" to becoming immune to the notion of "failure." Also important: "emotional agility," harnessing the power of habits in a positive way, and resiliency.
One surprising skill kids need? "How to complain better!" Being able to be specific, she explained, about what is wrong can help bring about positive changes.
Perkel counsels against "helicopter parenting," a term coined to describe overly meddlesome parents that hover overhead. After all, she said, parental guidance should resemble "a harness, not a straight-jacket."
Light at the Beginning of the Tunnel
can be purchased on
and Amazon.com or by emailing
. It will also be available at local Jewish bookstores in the coming days.