Category Archives: Personal Growth

7 Tips to Help You Achieve Your Goals in 2013

excited teens by Ambro freedigitalphotos.netIf you’re feeling like “a change would do you good” this year, what specific things would you like in your life to improve? Why has it been tough in the past to improve in that area?

This is the time of year when our New Year’s Resolutions may already start to be forgotten, or get pushed to the side as other more urgent matters come up. A friend of mine made what I thought was the best resolution:  to show more love. I’m sure his wife, kids and friends will be the happy recipients of his efforts and that better relationships will bring that love right back.

Many people have a goal to get more fit or to lose weight, and most of them will fall back into old habits. I read a few years ago that it only takes 21 days to make a new habit second nature. To that end, I got up and got on the treadmill for a workout for three straight weeks. I can tell you on day 22, I did not enjoy the workout any more, nor did I feel like it had become a natural habit. It took a force of my will do continue even a few days a week.

So I don’t believe in gimmicks when it comes to making changes. But I also think more change is possible than you think, in your relationships, skills, your body, your diet, or whatever you are hoping to improve.

As I was preparing this post, I read an article from The Generous Husband called You are going to change. Why choose now? He cites a study that concluded that we change a good deal more over time than we would have predicted. Looking back 10 years, you have probably changed a great deal more than you would have predicted back then. When I think about how different my husband and I were a decade ago, it makes me laugh. And you will probably be more different 10 years from now than you think you will be.  If you’re going to change, hopefully you will move in the right direction on the issues important to you.

Here are a few strategies that have worked well for me:

  1. Have clearly stated goals that are incremental. For example, “I will take my spouse out once a month” might be the first step toward infusing your marriage with more romance.
  2. Have an accountability partner. This is probably the most      important suggestion if you really want to get something done, at least it has worked very well for me. You will check in weekly or monthly with each of your goals and have to report whether or not you have done what you have said you will do. I suggest this partner would not be your spouse, but could be an encouraging friend who has something he or she also wants to achieve. Don’t pick someone who will make excuses right along with you and excuse your lack of effort. Even if you have a month that doesn’t go well, get back to your goals, and help one another get back on track. Celebrate small successes together.
  3. Put it on the schedule. It’s easy to overlook things on the schedule if you don’t have that accountability partner. Only schedule what you really intend to do. “Romantic evening with wife” or “hike with hubby” are things that may not happen if they are not on the calendar.
  4. Give focused time, then rewards. One procrastination expert I’ve read, Rita Emmett, suggests you select one thing to do for one hour. Ignore everything else going on during that hour. Take no breaks during that hour. Then, give yourself a small reward after one hour, such as a cup of coffee or a small break on Facebook. I’ve found this works quite well. We are so easily distracted; turn off email, phones and close your door during that hour.
  5. Make the first step easy. Then take the next step. For example, my friend might stock up on greeting cards or small gifts so he’s prepared to express his love when he has a few minutes. Taking a walk with a friend is an easy way to get started with improved fitness.
  6. Read and think about the issue you are working to improve. If you want a better marriage, read about strong marriages. If you want to lose weight, learn about nutrition and fitness. If you hope to deepen your faith, read the Bible or religious books. If you want a better job, study and practice the skills you will need to move up. If we spend all our complaining time focused on visualizing success, we will see more positive change by the end of 2013.
  7. When you come up short, start again. Don’t let your inner voice speak negatively.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

Keep Choosing Right for Your Marriage

The truth is you already know most of what your marriage needs. You probably come here for inspiration or reminders, but deep down you know what keeps your family thriving. The hard part is making the effort, making the time and keeping your priorities straight.

So, today is a day for some simple reminders that aren’t so simple to keep in practice. I’m going to include two links—the first is from a divorced man named Dan Pearce who learned the hard way what he should have been doing all along to save his two failed marriages. It’s humorous and entertaining, yet husbands and wives alike are praising his advice as the ticket to more bliss and fewer divorces.

His feedback on what he would do with a do-over is here at 16 Ways I Blew My Marriage. Sometimes a good laugh will help us remember the message. From the serious, “Tell her what she is doing right,” to the not-so-serious, “I’d wait to fart until I was in the bathroom whenever possible,” Dan covers a lot of ground.

For other useful reminders, check out: 10 habits to keep marriages strong from Redbook Magazine with advice from David Wilk, a couples therapist in Vancouver. I think his #10 tip spoke to me loudest—remember it’s the little, everyday behaviors that mean the most.

“When it comes to relationship satisfaction, you can’t just ride on the big things like, ‘I don’t drink, I pay the bills, I don’t beat you, we went to Hawaii last year,’” says Wilk. “This stuff is not really what keeps couples happy in their daily lives.” What really matters is all the small stuff that adds up, such as being there for each other when one needs to vent, or noticing when he needs a hug, or making him his favorite meal just because. “It’s also giving up on the idea that you have to feel in love all the time. Marriage is about trust and commitment and knowing each other,” says Wilk. “That’s what love is.”

From my own perspective, I know that family dinners and family walks help us connect, and that carving 15 minutes a day to talk to my husband is important. I also regularly have to remind myself to say out loud the things he is doing well, to express gratitude and praise. It’s all too easy to become too ships passing in the night, especially when he is traveling or working the night shift, and sometimes we have to work harder to be affectionate partners not just parents, workers and homeowners. Some days, all it takes is a longer-than-usual hug and kiss to get us back on the same page. Other days, actually scheduling a date night out is needed.

Take the reminders that help you most, and put them to use today and tomorrow, next week and next year. When you’re on the right path, surprisingly good things can happen. If you get off the right path, do what it takes to get back.

Which of these reminders speaks most to you? What do you do to keep your marriage moving on the right track on a daily basis?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo credit: Lori Lowe

Are You Focused on Productivity over Warmth in Your Family?

In today’s post, I’m continuing some thoughts on the book The Self-Centered Marriage by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT. You can read part I here: When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing.

In the last post, I shared several misconceptions about marriage that Runkel debunked. An interesting insight he writes about has to do with the family unit and our American culture’s desire to make our family life as efficient, productive and equitable as our work life. We want the wheels to run smoothly, and if there is a problem, we want to make the repair and get those wheels back on the track of life. So, here’s the problem, written so aptly by Runkel:

“You’re a family, not an office. You can’t operate on skill sets charted out and replace the person who doesn’t fit well. We are not simple machines and gears, working together toward a goal of increased efficiency and productivity. We are men and women, living together as a way to feed one another’s souls and create a warm home that is anything but mechanical and operational.”

I do think we need to be reminded of how our cultural desire toward productivity can get way out of hand. I’m often guilty of this. For instance, after my kids get home from school, the gears/tasks of homework, cooking and serving dinner, cleaning, making lunches and bedtime routines immediately begin. I’m often the productivity driver, constantly assessing progress on each task. When my husband is home, I delegate some of the tasks or supervision to him or he simply jumps in to help. Sharing warmth during the evening is often not a priority, at least until the above items are complete. Sometimes we carve out time for one-on-one discussion with each other or with each of the children, but often we are so concerned with completing tasks that the nurturing and loving feelings in the home can be hidden.

We need to refocus our energy and priority on the things that matter most, which should include accomplishing what we need to do in the midst of a loving home environment.

One couple dynamic which seems fairly common writes Runkel, is that one spouse is focused on productivity and is “over-responsible” to make up for the spouse who is “under-responsible” and does little to help. The overresponsible partner’s actions may help in the short-term by preventing some arguments, in the long term it creates a worse dynamic that pulls the couple apart. So, I appreciated Runkel’s examples and steps that help couples solve this sort of conflict not by changing their partner, but by changing their own actions and responses. (We can’t expect different results without changing our actions, right?) What I also very much appreciated was that these changed actions are done in a very loving, calm, mature, positive manner that doesn’t push the spouse away. No passive-aggressive behavior, no asking for “help” simply apologizing for contributing to the problem and acknowledging the co-responsibilities. Then, moving forward in a new way. (Check out the book for anecdotes.)

The next step is to grow in gratitude, which is something I preach here frequently. Expressing gratitude has been shown in research to be very effective at improving a couple’s bond. Thank your spouse for all the ways big and small that they help you in life. Do this instead of focusing on getting recognition for your own efforts. Waiting for your spouse to change only keeps you stuck. Be responsible for your own actions, and let your spouse be responsible for his/hers.

After focusing on yourself and experiencing personal growth, pursuing your partner with your truest self, then growing in gratitude for your spouse, we can learn to truly love one another.  That means we want the absolute best for that person. It means you will try to be the best spouse for them, even if you feel they won’t reciprocate in the same manner.

When you become a person of integrity, you become more attractive to your spouse, says Runkel. This replaces scorekeeping and resentment and helps you grow together.

Above all, this focus on the self means holding yourself to a higher standard, no matter what is going on around you.

What’s your take? Is it difficult to maintain integrity and commitment when you feel your spouse isn’t pulling his/her weight? Do you agree that changing your own attitude and actions can help transform the relationship?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com. Pick up your copy today!

Photo by ddpavumba courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Lessons after 17 years of marriage?

Seventeen years ago, I married a young man who made me laugh, who shared my dreams, values and faith. It turned out to be the right decision.

We met young and dated for years. But you don’t really know someone until you’re both sleep deprived with toddlers, or grieving at the loss of a loved one. When you’re under the stresses of life, your true character comes out.

So, what have I learned after 17 years of marriage? I’ve learned that after day 6,206, when you get up in the morning, it still matters what you say and do with your spouse. We can’t say, well it’s been this many years, so we’ve made it. Instead we have to choose love each day, even when we don’t feel loved and appreciated (although we try to communicate these). We have to choose our response, our words, and our actions. We have to forgive and move on. We have to look for the best in each other and look for the best for each other.

We have to fit fun into our lives even when we’re busy–whether it’s a family trip away, an early tennis game, or a lunch date on a weekday. We have to make time to connect, to share, to talk.

Honestly, it doesn’t seem that long ago that all our friends and family surrounded us on a sunny September afternoon. But we’ve grown a lot as friends, as parents, as partners, as people. We aren’t the same people who walked down the aisle back in 1995. (Read my most popular post ever, We all married the wrong person.)  Thankfully, we’ve stuck close on the journey so that we’re closer together now than we were even on that perfect day.

Yet, tomorrow again, we will have the same choices to make.

What have you learned during your marriage that helps you keep proper perspective for the long haul?

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, please consider getting a copy of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Sharron Goodyear courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Simple Solutions for Busy Families Part II—Saving Even More Hours Each Day!

Earlier this week, I wrote about simple solutions for busy families. If you haven’t read that post, check it out here. Hopefully, through that one tip alone you have saved yourselves hours each day that you can enjoy with your spouse, kids, or friends.

There are plenty of other areas in which Americans can get back the time that seems to be slipping through our fingers. Curbing online time is another huge potential area for time savings. This is certainly an area in which I could improve. My time wasters include checking CNN, Facebook, Twitter and email too frequently.

How do we spend time online?

For most Americans, online time is dominated by social networking and gaming, according to this Nielsen report.

A Forrester survey (Dec. 2010) says that Americans spend an average of 13 hours per week online. The vast majority of this time was spent on social networking, playing games or videos, and tiny percentage actually caught up on the news. Americans spent a total of 53.5 billion minutes logged onto Facebook in May of 2011, according to Nielsen. This makes it the most popular website in the U.S. Some age groups spend as much or more time online as they do watching TV. Mobile devices that are connected to the Internet are adding to the growth of time spent online. Mashable Tech has more info on these trends.

For younger Americans, the changes may be more dramatic. According to this New York Times article from 2010, “the average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.” The article says kids aged 8 to 18 spend 7.5 hours a day with their various devices, 1.5 additional hours texting, and a half hour talking on their cellphones. (The article has lots of interesting info on kids and media use if you’re interested.)

6 ways to save time online

Technology is nearly ubiquitous, but I’m not giving away my iPhone anytime soon. Most of us find it helpful, entertaining, and/or addictive. You can make small changes that will add up to a lot of time saved.

  1. Consider whether keeping Twitter and Facebook on your home computer not on your mobile device could save you many interruptions during your day for not-so-crucial updates. You might even consider, like my husband, not participating in social media–egads! Or, pick one or two brief times a day to scan and post updates.
  2. Ditto for email. After checking one email, I’ve read it takes several minutes to refocus on a task. So, processing a large group of email is more efficient than doing so all day long. And don’t do it first thing in the morning when you could be most productive on an important task.
  3. Don’t be afraid to set family guidelines for online time and/or device time. Learn how to tune out the world and focus on each other. Turn phones off for dinner, dates or other special times.
  4. Place time limits on social networking and game time (or Pinterest, etc.). Consider “rewarding” yourself only after you’ve done something higher up on your priority list like taking a family walk.
  5. Keep computers and laptops out of the bedrooms. A computer screen isn’t conducive to sleep and hinders intimacy. And for kids, it prevents good sleep habits and encourages more time spent online.
  6. Give yourselves a deadline where you’ll both be offline and able to connect with each other at the end of the day. Many nights, we’ve both been on the computer waiting for the other person to be done, not communicating that we weren’t doing anything important.

What online tips do you have for saving time? Do you consider your computer and Internet-connected devices helpful or harmful to your family?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available  at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by jscreationzs courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Simple Solutions for Busy Families—Get Back Hours a Day Starting Today!

Even with the school year winding to a close, most of the families I know are struggling with lack of time to do all they would like to do, or even all they feel they must do. It’s such a pervasive issue that affects marriages and families of all ages that it’s worth spending some time to see if there are solutions.

I was prompted to write this from a couple of things I’ve read recently, the most recent of which was a blog post by Kathleen Quiring on “The Importance of Not Being Busy.”  She makes many good cases for striving to be less busy, including the fact that busy people are less likely to give their time to help those in need. (FYI, this isn’t just her opinion; it’s been shown in research.)  Also, busy people are more likely to get into accidents, to sleep and eat poorly, to yell more, and to waste more resources in the name of convenience.

Yes, these are all important reasons. I think even more important is the fact that your family needs you to be present and available, and to do that you need to have time to give. Most of us don’t even have wiggle room in the schedule. When we are rushing from one event to the next, it’s hard to be present and loving—let alone patient and kind. A marriage needs time to be nurtured. We need time to go on dates, or even to watch a movie at home together. We need time to talk and to make love. For those of us with kids, we need time to have real conversations, not just discussions of homework and the schedule of supervised activities or sports. I read a stat today that I seriously hope is wrong that says the average number of minutes per WEEK that parents spend in meaningful conversations with their children is 3.5. I wonder how many minutes per week we spend in meaningful talks with our spouses.

Is there a way out of this busyness trap? Of course. But when I said the solutions were simple, I didn’t say they were easy. They are doable! What would you do with an extra 20 to 30 hours a week? Would it fall through the cracks or would you spend it with your husband, wife, friends, sleeping, or enjoying your hobbies? Could you use the time to better organize your home or family so life doesn’t seem so chaotic? First decide what you would do with that time so you have the motivation you need to make changes.

Today I’ll focus on the absolute biggest time waster for the average American family, then I’ll add some additional tips later in the week.

Your TV May Be Stealing Your Family Life

Nielsen surveys say that say the average American watches four hours of TV per day. That adds up to two months non-stop in a year, or nine years of your life up to age 65. Nine years! The TV is on for six hours and 47 minutes a day in most American homes. And about half of Americans say they think they watch too much TV. Two-thirds watch it while eating dinner.

The average adult male watches 29 hours of TV per week; the average adult female watches even more–34 hours per week. And remember the kids having less than four minutes a week having real talks with their parents? They watch an average of 1,680 minutes of TV a week. When I shared this with my son, he said, if that’s the average, then lots of people watch even more than that! My daughter chimed in, “I’m glad we’re not average.”

I’m not saying TV is terrible in itself. But it’s what we are giving up to have so much of it. What is the opportunity cost for you? What could you accomplish with an extra hour or four extra hours a day? You get to choose what you think is most important in your life. In my experience, TV shows can feel pretty addictive. We get into patterns and they are hard to break. We think of the characters as friends, even as we neglect our own friends. Even the marketing campaigns convince you it’s “must-see” TV. But if you stop watching the new shows, they can’t pull you in.

During the last few years, my husband and I have drastically cut down on TV time. Even when he is traveling on business, he only watches TV if he’s in the exercise room working out. I enjoy a few minutes with Matt Lauer in the mornings, and TV helps me pass the time on the treadmill, but most evenings the TV is not turned on.  I’ve used my extra evening time to write a book (see the end of this post), read many great books, take tennis lessons, and enjoy more time with my family. And I often write this blog in the time that used to be eaten up by TV. I do sometimes miss a show I wish I’d seen. But by the miracle of the Internet, if I really want to see it later, I can watch it commercial- free online. I’m not a fan of TIVO, because I think it encourages more TV watching. My kids watch less than an hour a week and don’t seem harmed by it in the least.

If you and your spouse enjoy the same show, at least you can enjoy it side by side and maybe trade back or foot massages. I cringe when I see that often one spouse watches one TV while the other watches something else in a different room. Every night.

OK, my last point is regarding TV in the bedroom. I’ve said it before, but research shows couples with a TV in the bedroom cut their sex life in half. An Italian study showed having no TV in the bedroom doubles the couple’s sexual frequency.

I can hear people saying, “but TV relaxes me” or “I need to veg out after a long day of work.” But it’s just a habit that’s been formed. You could just as well relax by taking a walk or having a glass of wine with your honey on the porch. What new habits could you form that would be fun for you and would benefit your family?

If you’re not a big TV watcher, first ask yourself if that’s really true or if you just aren’t adding it all up. But if TV isn’t an issue or you aren’t willing to cut back, stay tuned for other solutions this week.

Please share if you have found cutting back on TV helpful for you or your family—as well as other solutions for your busy life.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available  at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net

How to Boost Your Willpower, Success in Marriage and Life

Happy Life: Happy Marriage

What would you do differently in your life if you had more willpower? Are there efforts related to your personal health or improvements to your marriage and family life you would make if you could stay on target?

Sometimes it’s easier to get inspired to start something new or to make increased efforts, but it’s hard to continue. For instance, if you decide to do something romantic for your spouse once a week, how long will you continue? Or, if you decide to participate in more physical activities (alone or with your partner or kids), does your enthusiasm quickly wane?

The Greater Good newsletter provides 5 tips for boosting willpower that may lead to more success. My favorite was #5: “Remind yourself WHY you are doing what you are doing, and what you will lose if you give up.” Ask yourself, “Why are you trying to start your new habit or quit your old one? Be honest as you do this; remind yourself what you really want, rather than what you think you should want. For example, I could tell myself, or my neighbors, that I’m exercising more because I want to be a good role model for my children (what I should want). But what I really want even more than that is to fit into my jeans and feel healthy. Research suggests that these less moralistic motives tend to be more effective.”

If you’re trying to make an effort in your marriage, such as to increase the number of positive interactions compared to negative (which should be at least 5:1), or to schedule and prioritize time alone, or to work on improving your communication or sex life, etc., remind yourself frequently what your goal is and what you would lose if you give up (i.e., a better, more intimate relationship).

Read the other four tips here for boosting willpower, and if you have others, please share in the comments. Other ideas include getting enough sleep and curbing alcohol, because lack of sleep and alcohol use can decrease your willpower.

I have read that creating a new habit is the key to willpower, and that 15 days of a new habit is all it takes. So, (years ago) I got up for 15 mornings in a row and exercised. But I have to say on the 16th day, I felt no more desire to exercise than the first. So for me, maybe focusing on why I’m doing something would be more effective.

How does your willpower measure up these days? What goal are you working toward that requires a willpower boost?

LINK:
Speaking of increasing your happiness, I enjoyed this article on the 15 powerful things that happy people do differently. It’s a meaningful list; check it out.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages. It’s available  at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Study: Personality Changes Boost Happiness More than External Factors

Happy Life; Happy Marriage

How many millions of people bought lottery tickets last week, hoping for a chance at the $500 million pot, and dreaming of what kind of happiness that could buy? (My hubby even bought them, and he rarely plays.)  After failing to win the big one (better luck next time), many turned to hopes of a raise or a new job as ways to boost their happiness. However, new research based on a study of more than 8,600 Australians concluded that personality changes were much more meaningful to life satisfaction that other factors, such as financial gain. In fact, personality changes explained nearly double the changes in life satisfaction of all the other characteristics studied.

You may ask whether your personality is fixed—or, at least very difficult to change? It turns out that is isn’t. Our personality shifts much more than we realize. “Compared to shifts in these external circumstances, a personality change is just as likely to occur and contributes much more to improvements in our well-being,” says The Atlantic of the study, which was completed at the University of Manchester and London School of Economics and Political Science.

Participants answered questions on life satisfaction and personality at two different points in time, four years apart. Personality characteristics related to openness to experiences, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism were measured. External factors were also measured: shifts in income, employment, and marital status.

So, if you are looking to boost your happiness, consider making small positive internal changes, and realize that you can alter your personality, hopefully reducing negative aspects and improving positive aspects. These efforts can be rewarded with far greater boosts in happiness than that work bonus you may have been holding out for or other lifestyle factors.  Check out the full study here.

Lori Lowe’s book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

Photo by graur razvan ionut courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

Happiness Comes Before Success in Life, Not After

Happy Life; Happy Marriage

I have been bombarded in the last weeks with information leading to the same conclusion; that is, if we want to be successful (in things like work, parenting and yes, even marriage), we have to figure out how to be more happy and positive first. This is because increased happiness is correlated with more success, not the other way around. Most cultural messages switch that around to say if you are successful, then you can find happiness, but for reasons I will try to explain, our brains just don’t work that way.

Maybe you know people who are both happy and successful, and it never dawned on you that they were happy first, which helped them achieve success. But studies show that happiness fosters achievement and success. On the flip side, striving for success doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find happiness. In fact, there are good reasons your brain can’t make that leap.

Shawn Anchor, a Harvard psychologist who was recently profiled in this Inc. article called Happiness Makes Your Brain Work Better, explains his theory very well (and in an entertaining fashion) in this TEDx Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work. If you’re at all interested in success or happiness, I’d recommend watching it. Today, I’ll address how this theory relates not only to work, but to our personal lives and relationships as well.

Here’s the fallacy with us using success as a means to become happy:  Every time we set a goal then achieve it, we change our benchmark for success rather than becoming happy with our success. Since your brain changes your view of success, you can’t reach the happiness that comes on the other side. That’s why you often see people who seem successful from the outside who are anything but happy, even if they achieved the lofty goals they set.

How can we boost our happiness, especially if our life isn’t ideal right now? Happiness is much more under our control than you may think. Only 10 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by our circumstances, say experts, while 90 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes the world. By adjusting the lens through which you view the world, you can not only increase your happiness, you can also improve your outcomes. This theory applies to whatever outcomes you want to improve in your life or goals you want to reach.

If you’re following the logic, you probably want to know… how (and why) can we improve the way our brain processes the world, thereby increasing our happiness? The answer is that we can actively increase the positivity in our lives and alter our brain functioning. Our brain performs significantly better when it is focused on positive things than at neutral or negative stress levels, says Anchor. Our levels of intelligence, creativity and energy rise, and we become more productive. This allows us to reach our goals and be more successful. The positivity in our brains also causes the release of the feel-good chemical, dopamine. All of these things can lead to more happiness and success.

Do you believe some people have a happier, more positive bent than others, that maybe you’re born with a certain disposition and can’t change your genetic inclination? Anchor is quoted in Inc. as saying, “Happiness comes easier to some people, but happiness is a possibility for all if we change our behavior and our mindset.”

4 Ways to Boost Positivity

Anchor says we can train our brains to be more positive in just two minutes a day. Select one of the following actions to do for 21 days in a row, and you can help rewire your brain and retain more positivity:

  1. Write down three things you are grateful for, and select new ones each day.
  2. Write in your journal about one positive experience you have had in the last 24 hours.
  3. Exercise—This can help alter your behavior.
  4. Meditate—This allows you to focus on just one task at a time.
  5. Perform a Random Act of Kindness, such as emailing one person to praise him or her, or writing a kind note to someone.

Boosting Marital and Family Happiness

My thought is if your goal is to increase positivity into your relationships, try focusing 1,2, and 5 on your mate. For instance, write down three things about your partner for which you are grateful. We know through the research that focusing on gratitude increases marital satisfaction.

In this excerpt from this week’s Washington Post, Christine Carter, a sociologist with the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, comes to the same exact conclusion as Archer does. She says “studies are finding that achievement does not necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness is what fosters achievement. She points to an analysis of 225 studies on achievement, success and happiness by three psychologists that found that happy people — those who are … comfortable in their own skin — are more likely to have ‘fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health, and a long life.’”

Hopefully you caught that part about how happier people have more fulfilling marriages and relationships. It’s also key to those of us who are parents in how we raise the next generation and how we conduct our lives as parents.

“We tell our kids to work hard now so that success, then later happiness, can follow,” Carter explains. ‘The underlying American assumption is, if our kids get into a great college, they’ll get a great job, then they’ll be happy,” Carter said. “Our cortex of fear is around achievement. So, in order for our kids to get into a great college, get a great job and be happy, we get them piano lessons, after-school Mandarin class, we think more, more, more, more, more is better. And it blossoms into such pressure that by the time the kids get to college, about a quarter are on some kind of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Our hovering and insecurity as parents breeds insecurity in our kids by teaching them that they can’t handle discomfort or challenge.”

“What we need to be parenting for,” Carter said, “is not achievement first, then happiness — but happiness first.” To do that, she advises parents, when they can, to lose the self-sacrifice and take care of themselves; expect effort and enjoyment, not perfection; savor the present moment; and do simple things together such as have a family dinner. “When our children are happy, when their brains are filled with positive emotions like engagement, confidence and gratitude, we know from science that they are more likely to be successful and fulfill their potential,” Carter said.

That’s really a lot of words to explain what we said at the beginning—if you want to be successful in your marriage, in your parenting or in your work, figure out how to increase your happiness first, don’t look for those things/people to give you happiness. What we focus on, we become.

Lori Lowe is a marriage blogger at MarriageGems.com. Her book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Strategies for Manly Married Men

Lots of men seem to be looking for a magic button of sorts to satisfy their partners in bed. I’m guessing that is why there are so many magazines and books focused on various sexual techniques, finding the elusive “g-spot” and other tips for men.

Notwithstanding the fact that women can be a bit complicated, when I read the following paragraph from Tom Basson’s blog, I thought it might just be the best sexual advice I’ve read for husbands to always remember. The article is called This one goes out to all the manly men, and he offers very good advice on how to create the love story in your life you’ve always wanted.

“Husbands, make love to your wife’s heart, not just her body. As ferociously as possible, find that woman’s heart and connect with it. Learn everything about her and connect with her in as many ways as possible. Understand her story and care about her past. Then her body will respond in ways she never thought humanly possible, and, for that matter, so will yours.”

The advice isn’t only intended to satisfy a mate sexually, but to build a better connection between both partners and satisfy a deep longing in both of them. Husbands and wives have a deep desire for connection, and the pace and technological influences of our day don’t help us meet that desire. Instead, they create obstacles that impede us in our drive for true connection, because they take our eye off the ball with many distractions.

What can you do to move your love story forward, and to bring you and your spouse closer together? How can you truly connect this week, understand your mate’s cares, desires and longings? How can you help stay connected despite your many obligations? How can you remove distractions that get in the way of your focus on your spouse? If it seems like too much of a challenge, read on.

How much time are you spending a day together?

Here’s one possible way to get a jump start. Dustin Reichmann at Engaged Marriage blog has a 10-minute test drive, with eight short things you can do with only 10-15 minutes of time to spend each day with your spouse. He nicely did the math for us, and explained that if we spend just 15 minutes a day connecting with our spouse, we will spend more than 91 hours together in a year. And this type of daily connection is more important than an annual vacation, especially if you are neglecting the rest of the year.

So check out the 100-minute challenge (10 days, 10 minutes) and you’ll see the steps are not at all daunting. For instance, day 5 is relaxing with your favorite dessert or drink together while sharing three things about your day, and day 6 is sharing a foot or back massage. Days 1 and 10 involve rating your marriage to see if you have made a difference in just 10 days. I think these bite-size challenges are a great way to infuse a little extra connection into your day.

What other ideas do you have to help you build a daily connection? Discuss your ideas with your spouse, and feel free to share your ideas here!

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. The book tells the true stories that demonstrate that marriage can thrive even in the most difficult circumstances. Learn from 12 inspiring couples who experienced child loss, infidelity, drug addiction, cancer, financial crises, brain injury, stranger rape, military service, infertility, opposing religions, unsupportive families, interracial relationships, raising special-needs children, and much more. These couples found the pressures of life didn’t destroy them; instead, they crystallized their commitment to each other. Available from Amazon.com or at your favorite e-book retailer.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.