Category Archives: Personal Growth

Are you or your spouse being taken for granted? Check out these obstacles and keys to gratitude.

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Do you feel taken for granted, at least some of the time? Who appreciates that you get up early to make lunches or do laundry? Who appreciates how hard you work to provide for the family? Who appreciates the dinners, help with homework, paying the bills, doing the chores and the countless things you do each day? Or the fact that you haven’t given up and run off to find an easier life?

Maybe no one.

That’s because we mostly take for granted the good stuff we have. I don’t wake up and give thanks for the fact that my husband didn’t have an affair, or that my kids didn’t throw up in the night, or that my house didn’t burn down. I don’t give thanks that my children’s are not starving or suffering from a debilitating illness. By default, we seem to focus on the negative instead of the positive, to dwell on our problems and concerns. Sure, we often give thanks for our food and our health in a generic sense, but that’s different from noticing how richly we are blessed in all the ways we take for granted.

It stands out when you say thank you to your spouse for the usual things they do, because we are so used to not being thanked.

Most religions have gratitude at their core. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything, give thanks…” We all seem to know the power of giving thanks, and research has demonstrated gratitude is a key element of happiness. Yet, we still grumble more often than not. Why?

“Given its magnetic appeal, it is a wonder that gratitude might be rejected. Yet it is. If we fail to use it, by default we choose ingratitude,” says Psychology Professor Robert Emmons, PhD, in an essay which appeared in Big Questions Online and Greater Good Science Center. He explains that our provision becomes so commonplace that it is easily accepted. “We believe the universe owes us a living.”

At this morning’s church service, I heard again the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed, and only one returned to him to give thanks. Think about the people you know, and you may agree that about 90 percent of of people complain more often than they express gratitude. I’m often guilty of focusing on a problem or crisis, then when it is solved or passes, I rarely think of it again. We are on to the next thing, with little more than a “thanks” or “whew, I’m glad that’s over.”

If you’re with me so far, hang in there for the “ouch” factor and the happy conclusion.

What’s the obstacle to gratitude?

Research shows ungrateful people have a high sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval, explains Emmons. This is about a sense of entitlement that says, “Life owes me this,” and “I deserve this.” Being preoccupied with ourselves makes us feel we are owed what we have, or that we have earned it, and it makes us forget the giver of these gifts.

While only one percent of the population meets the criteria for narcissistic disorder, these self-serving characteristics are found in all individuals to varying degrees. It starts in childhood as all children believe the world revolves around them, and we hopefully evolve to understand the importance of other perspectives and needs.

A focus on the self is an obstacle toward being thankful.

Humility Paves the Way

“Humility is a key to gratitude because living humbly is the truest approach to life. Humble people are grounded in the truth that they need others,” says Emmons. “The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.”

The thing is, humility seems to go against everything we are taught will make us successful in life, to take charge, to take credit, to demand the best the world has to offer. The Paradox of Giving, in which the more we give, the more we receive, is just like the Paradox of Gratitude, in which the more you give thanks, the more blessed you will feel. (OK, I made that up, but that’s what I think.)

“Humility is profoundly countercultural. It does not come easily or naturally,” says Emmons, yet “reigning in entitlement and embracing gratitude and humility is spiritually and psychologically liberating. Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift.”

The truth is I didn’t do anything to deserve my life, my husband, my kids, my job, my parents, my friends—any more than a person suffering in the Philippines deserved to experience a typhoon.

As we approach Thanksgiving in the U.S., let’s shift our focus away from ourselves and toward humility and gratitude for others and toward our Creator. Tell your spouse and all those who are special to you all the ways in which you appreciate them.

Don’t fall back to the default setting of ingratitude. When you think of complaining, try to find five people or things to be thankful for. Please share in the comments three things you are grateful for today!

For the full essay as well as a short video from Robert Emmons, PhD, explaining the following four benefits of gratitude, check out this page.
1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.
2. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression–because they are incompatible with gratitude.
3. Grateful people are more stress-resilient.
4. Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth.

Related articles:
4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part III: Express Gratitude
Express Thankfulness to Your Spouse Today
Can Your Mind Change Your World?
Focusing on What’s Missing in Life Can Cause You to Miss What’s There

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 various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

How Stress Can Help Your Marriage

stress morguefile While it was not a stress-free summer for my marriage, it wasn’t a bad time either. I’ve seen several reports that indicate some stress can actually be good for us and for our marriages, and I have to say I agree in some respects.

In my case, the stressors were outside the marriage, and I think that makes a big difference in staying positive. My husband was in training in another city for several months, meaning date nights were out of the question, and even 15-minute phone calls a day were usually not available. Instead, the kids and I made the best with one or two day visits, or longer when that was possible. I think we viewed it more of a family challenge to handle the circumstances in the best way we could, knowing it would be best for the family in the long run.
Now, three months is much different than an 18-month deployment by a soldier. And unfortunately, a recent RAND Corp. study showed long and frequent deployments hurt military marriages, often leaving them feeling disillusioned. The longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce, it said. Often, it had to do with unmet expectations. “Couples who married before 9/11 just didn’t expect that deployments were going to be amped up,” said the study author. Read the study details here. Thankfully, resources are available to help support military marriages, as well as help from family and friends.

Other stressful events that can impact marriages may have to do with traumatic life-events, which 75 percent of us face at one time in our lives. In fact, in a given year, 20 percent of people are likely to experience some kind of a trauma in their life, according to The Greater Good Science Company. So, the odds are not in favor us living free of pain and suffering.

How can we either insulate our marriage from the negative effects of stress, or somehow extract some positive from the experience?

Be a Team
As much as I hate sports analogies, teaming up with your spouse against the problems you face is critical. None of us wants to feel alone, particularly when things are difficult. We went to be heard and have our feelings validated. We want to be encouraged and cheered on. During my husband’s stressful training, we sent him a barrage of encouraging cards and notes to let him know we were behind him. If financial stress is a problem, the couple must work together to attack it bit by bit. “We will get through this together,” is the message that is expressed, whether “this” means a serious illness, a loss of a loved one, a robbery, a job loss, etc.

One couple I interviewed who grew close after being very argumentative early in their marriage describe the shift as moving from opposite sides of the tennis net to playing side by side against an opponent. We as married people have to feel like our spouse is on our side in life.

Even if you can’t physically be together, you can feel like you’re a team, each playing an important family role, and each respected and valued.

Look for Growth Opportunities
“Our success and happiness depend on our ability not just to cope with (stress) but to actually grow because of it,” says Christine Carter from The Greater Good. She explains that the stress we experience as a result of adversity—and how we respond to that stress—tends to predict how much we will benefit from it. The individuals who benefit and grow the most are NOT the ones who are able to avoid the stress. Those who grow the most are the ones who may be shaken up, and then grow as a result.

In my experience, I would agree that people I have known who have overcome cancer or faced dire circumstances often have a unique perspective and wisdom about what is truly important.

And many of the couples I interviewed for First Kiss to Lasting Bliss experienced a great amount of adversity but grew together as a result. That is not to say your spouse must be your only support system in times of stress and need—certainly not. Friends, family, pastors, doctors, neighbors and others in your life often want to help when you are facing a tough time, and they can be part of the learning and growth process when we are ready to make those advances.

It kind of stinks that it takes tough times to truly grow and appreciate the good times, but isn’t that truly the case?

If day-to-day stress is affecting your marriage due to over-scheduling, family conflict, household disorganization, etc., then take action to address the issues. This kind of stress will deplete health reserves and will rarely offer growth opportunities.

What has caused the most growth in your marriage?

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 various e-book formats here.

Marriage Negotiating Tips from FBI Top Negotiator

dog fight morguefileI came across this Forbes article that gleaned negotiation and communication tips from Gary Noesner, former Chief Negotiator for the FBI, a man who talked many a deranged individual out of their destructive plans, including David Koresh.

I was intrigued by the concept of the Paradox of Power he discusses. This means the harder you push, the more likely you are to be met with resistance. I think we know this deep down, and we display defensiveness and push-back when others come at us in an attacking manner. Yet, we sometimes forget that the key to a successful negotiation or outcome is often in the way we approach our spouse or coworker or child or boss or whomever we have an issue with. Instead of a calm, conciliatory manner, we may approach in an angry or hostile manner. Displaying power may work well in the animal kingdom to throw off predators, but it doesn’t work too well in family life.

What works? Staying calm. Listening. Acknowledging. Then moving forward toward a solution. Noesner says it very well here:

“If the communication skills we developed in the crisis negotiation arena are successful in convincing the most desperate people in the world to cooperate with a 90% success rate, then surely some of these you know active listening skills, these de-escalating cooperation building skills certainly have applicability in the world of business and in people’s personal and family lives. If you’ve got somebody you’re dealing with that’s angry, remain calm and in self-control, listen carefully, and acknowledge their point of view. Then, once you have a calmer atmosphere, you can work towards resolving the problem satisfactorily. I think that is a tremendous diffusing tool that people can use.”

I’m certainly going to try to take his advice to heart. What communication strategies seem to work best in your marriage? Do you find they help you at work also?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

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 various e-book formats here.

A Marriage with No Regrets

TearThe phone call out of nowhere. The shaking voice. The bad news comes. We’ve all been there. You will likely remember exactly where you were when you received the news. I can recall several instances of losing loved ones like this, the hardest when I lost my sister suddenly.

Last week was another time of grief for my husband and I as a good friend and fellow pilot died in his sleep while on a layover in a city far from home. We were blessed and crushed to stand with his wife, also our good friend, who is left with two young daughters. It’s a helpless feeling to know that something shocking and sad has happened, and that time cannot go back.

Thankfully, theirs was a marriage that everyone admired, full of humor and adventure. No one is perfect, but he was a father who enjoyed spending as much time with his children as possible. He was not the distracted dad staring at his cell phone. He was the fun dad, the husband who was happy to help out in the yard or the kitchen. He read books that his 12-year-old daughter enjoyed so that they could discuss them. He took his wife on many getaways, just the two of them. He spent time relaxing with his family on their pontoon boat. He made time to laugh with friends. And when he kissed his wife goodbye to leave on his last trip, he had no idea that would be their last kiss.

The point of this post is that we never know when that last day will be.

-It is our responsibility to have our affairs in order for our spouse and our children. (I wrote a post a while back on this called “What is in your legacy drawer? Are you prepared?” Please refer to it to ensure that you are prepared.)
-Take the time each day to let your loved ones, particularly your spouse, know how much they mean to you.
-Kiss hello and goodbye like you mean it.
-Invest in your marriage with time, money, and attention. It takes effort to not drift apart, but if you find yourselves drifting, get in the boat and paddle back to one another.
-Keep an eye on the big picture, and don’t let the little things get you down.
-Be prepared spiritually, mentally and physically through daily effort.
-Spread love and joy.

While we were technically “prepared” before this happened, this loss has brought about many conversations between my husband and me regarding funeral wishes and discussions about our children and assets. They aren’t easy topics, but it’s better to have them than to wonder what your spouse would have wanted. Don’t leave any regrets.

It is actually a gift to be reminded every so often that how we will be remembered has nothing to do with how much work we produce or how clean our house is or how many activities our kids are involved in. The things that often stress us out will not matter in the end. What matters is that we learned how to love.

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 various e-book formats here.

Is Your Family Choosing Money Over Time?

traffic morguefileFollowing up on the last post suggesting we “underachieve” so that we have time to achieve with our family, you might ask whether not putting most of your energies into career and financial achievement might end up reducing your happiness in the long run. In other words, won’t you be less happy with less money and/or career advancement?

It seems justifiable that we need to work enough to provide a comfortable home and to care for our family. However, many of us become competitive and want to be “the best” and to earn as much as our talent and opportunities will allow. We also decide as a family that we “need” more and more, requiring more money to satisfy these demands. Spending more time working usually means less time for your marriage and family. And if those bonds are strained, the stress will certainly mean less happiness for you.

A new study reported in CNN called “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending” by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton finds that we often get so much in the habit of working and earning that we don’t stop to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Even wealthy people spend too much time overworking and doing things they don’t enjoy, such as driving long commutes to work. Researchers say we should use some of that money to “buy happier time.”

While we’re at it, we should ask ourselves before spending money how the purchase will affect our time. For example, buying a nicer car may seem like a great reward, but not if you have to work more hours to pay for it. Drivers get no more pleasure from commuting in an expensive car than in a cheap one. And the average American spends two hours a day just working to afford his car.

Another bad investment is an improved home entertainment system, according to researchers, who say watching TV is a clear happiness drain. On the other hand, they say investing in a dog pays off in happiness dividends, encouraging you to take daily walks and socialize with other dog owners.

I can relate to the research. Before starting my own business in 1998, I put in long hours at work, only to feel I could never get ahead of the work load. I think many Americans feel they don’t have a choice but to participate in this rat race, particularly with the weak economy.

So a focus on smarter spending of time and money on things that will improve your happiness and your family’s happiness is key. Our family enjoys time in nature, trips to the library and cooking at home. My husband has always been one to make time to enjoy life and encourages as much time together as a family as possible. If you think about your happiest memories, they probably weren’t the most expensive days of your life.

Think about ways you can spend enjoyable time with your spouse, friends, and family without spending a lot of money. Brainstorm things you’d like to do together this summer and keep the list handy. You might also want to keep a list of books or movies you’d like to enjoy together.

Do you feel like this is a difficult tradeoff for your family? Do you and your spouse agree on how to spend time and money? Feel free to share any tips you have.

For newer readers here, I’ve written lots of research articles on happiness. If you’re interested in learning more about creating a happier life and happier marriage, search the archives.

I hope you have an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Take time with friends and family to enjoy life and give thanks to the service men and women who helped to make our freedoms possible.

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 various e-book formats here.

Is Marriage Easy or Hard?

Easy hard by Stuart Miles freedigitalphotos.netDo you find it interesting that many marriage experts say marriage is work—maybe even hard work—while others say it should be easy? Well, which is it?

That’s why the article Making Your Marriage Easy from Hitched Magazine by Dr. Corey Allan caught my attention. Dr. Allan says he used to believe marriage was hard, but the hard part is the difficulty of interacting with an immature human; when we both act like grown ups, marriage can be easy. He says we often get bogged down with the nonessential, or lose sight of the fact that we each get to make decisions. This isn’t a bad thing! It means we are free to choose each other, free to grow, free to embrace change and not get stuck in a rut.

Essentially, Dr. Allan says marriage is about growing up. And your own growth is your own responsibility. So, relax and enjoy your marriage.

To summarize some of his tips:

  • Focus on what you can control. (You. Period.)
  • Simplify your life so that you can savor more of the good things in your life and marriage.
  • Slow down. Enjoy your conversations and interactions. Breathe.
  • Remember married life is easy.
  • Think of yourselves on the same team—not as opposing teams.

Read the article at Hitched here.

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.

MARRIAGE RESEARCH STUDY

Please let me digress for a minute to briefly tell you about a marriage research student who could use some help from you wonderful readers. A graduate student at Clark University in Worcester, MA, has asked for help in distributing this information. Thanks to those who qualify and can help.

Participate in a survey on couples and alcohol use and enter to win a raffle!

Are you and your spouse legally married and at least 18 years of age?
Do you or your partner currently consume alcoholic beverages at least once a month? Is alcohol use an area of disagreement in your marriage?

If you answered yes to the above questions, you and your spouse are eligible to participate in a research survey regarding the relationship between your marriage and your alcohol-related help seeking behaviors. When you both complete the survey, you will each be entered into a raffle for one of four $50 Amazon.com gift cards!

The survey will take each participant approximately 20 minutes, and survey responses will be anonymous.

https://surveys.clarku.edu/AlcoholUseSurveyStart.aspx

Photo by Stuart Miles copyright by freedigitalphotos.net.

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.