Page 2 of 3
In two books on the happiness of the Dutch, expats Michele Hutchison and Rina Mae Acosta write about raising their kids in the Netherlands. They paint an idealistic picture of children free ranging on bicycles, and looking forward to papadag, the day they spend each week with their dads—a facet of Dutch egalitarian society, since Dutch parents generally equally work fewer than 40 hours per week and Dutch children enjoy unstructured learning until the age of six. Both books are titled, in part, The Happiest Kids in the World, a reference to UNICEF's Child Well Being in Rich Countries survey of 2013, where Dutch children were found to be top of the list.
When it comes to education, Dutch kids enjoy little academic pressure. "In the Netherlands, it isn't all about getting straight As and getting into the right university," they write. "Education has a different purpose. It is traditionally seen as the route to a child's well-being and their development as an individual." So it might be surprising to learn that Dutch children are given only five to six weeks of summer break as opposed to our ten to eleven. But in a recent post on their blog, Finding Dutchland, American-bred Acosta explains why that works. "There's this unspoken, often self-imposed pressure to give our children an amazing, magical summer experience," she writes. "But for the Dutch, summer is something that they all seem to look forward to without that emotional or financial baggage." They go camping, play tourist at home, and embrace boredom and gezelligheid, which loosely translates to a feeling of enjoying life's simple pleasures in relationship with others. The Dutch fully recharge during their summer break, and return to their work feeling engaged.
With a focus on connection and family time, the Dutch seem to feel that a child's happiness begins at home. "It shouldn't be surprising that the happiest kids in the world also have parents who are also among the happiest people in the world," Acosta writes in another blog post. She cites an emphasis for women on pursuits beyond appearance, financial supports for families, and little homework for kids as the reasons why the Dutch are so blissed out. It's because of all this that Acosta hopes "going Dutch" will be the next big parenting trend.
Doree Lipson is driving and on speaker phone as I ask her about the mindfulness techniques at the heart of Wellness Embodied in New Paltz, a center for psychotherapy and healing, which she founded and directs. "I have to name how ironic this is," she laughs, pulling into a parking spot.
Lipson acknowledges that so much of the work we do as human beings centers around scheduling. She admits she's so much better about it with her kids, ages 9 and 5. "I might schedule myself to the edge of the universe but, with my kids, I'm very protective of their down time," she says. "If children don't learn the executive functioning that allows them to be comfortable in themselves, the reading and math skills are irrelevant. We need to pay attention to the entire being, not just the part that does math problems. Having time to figure out what direction you want to go in, or what book you want to read, what tree to lay under and look up at the sky, it's a different kind of learning. It may not be as mainstream acceptable but it's essential."
Wellness Embodied hosts one-on-one sessions with psychotherapists and healing practitioners, who use mindfulness techniques and alternative modalities. They also offer classes and workshops for teens and adults, which focus reflection inward. "That can be a beautiful companion for therapeutic work, or enough on its own, depending on who the person is," Lipson explains. This summer, they will offer lectures and workshops for healing professionals to deepen their practice.
"Our culture really runs in opposition to the very real human needs of rest, processing, and understanding the pursuits we engage in on a regular basis. So there are increased levels of anxiety, depression, and overwhelm in this country," Lipson says. "Often what I work on with people in the therapy office is slowing down."
- Sara Janssen
Sabine Sonnentag, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Konstanz, Germany, studied psychological detachment, or the individual's experience of disengaging from work: "to make a pause in thinking about work-related issues, thus to 'switch off.'" One study looked at a sample of 148 school teachers, and the other 159 employees from various industries, and found that both engagement while at work and disengagement when away from work provide more productivity and satisfaction. The key is a healthy balance between the two and intentional focus in each realm.