Category Archives: Uncategorized

Avoid Cognitive Traps for a Happy Life and Marriage

memory morguefileBeing happy in your life and being happy with your life are two different things. The former has to do with the actual experience, and the latter equates to the memory or conclusion of events. For example, most women aren’t happy during childbirth, but they are very happy having given birth.

We can become confused between these “cognitive traps” according to Daniel Kahneman. (Check out his TED Talk here if you like.) He calls confusion between the events and our memories of them a “focusing illusion”. Experiencing 20 minutes of a glorious symphony that ends on a dreadful note can distort our memory of the night.

I can relate to focusing illusion, because a few years ago I had an amazing vacation with the ladies in my family at a resort in Mexico. The week after we returned home, the resort violently exploded from a gas leak, killing many (newlyweds, children, employees, and more) who stood right where we had stood. So, the memory of that trip is now marred for me, but the experience was a good one.

In the same way, we can overlook a good evening with our spouse with a small argument at the end of the night. Our negative emotions are stronger and more likely to overshadow the positive ones. A nice dinner out can be ruined by a sarcastic remark or offhanded comment. Our memory of the event overtakes the experience.

Kahneman explains that the difference between experiencing suffering and the memory of that suffering is how things end. I interviewed a husband who spent years overcoming his drug addiction. He was separated from his wife and son and suffered greatly, as did they. However, after getting clean and rebuilding his marriage he says everything he went through got him to where they are today. So their memory of the suffering is tempered by their happy reconciliation.

Time certainly affects our memory of experiences. We make decisions about the future based on these distorted memories. When we think about the future, we often think in terms of anticipated memories, for example what it will feel like to be retired or have grandchildren.

Conflict can exist between the “remembering self” and the “experiencing self”. I recall having a great time in Rome last summer, but I experienced a great deal of exhaustion and some ill health during my trip. My memories fade the negatives away based on the photos and stories we tell. Kahneman asks, if you were told after a two-week vacation that all of your photos would be destroyed and your memories would be deleted, would you choose a different vacation? Would your spouse? If so then there’s the conflict or rub.

How pleased and satisfied you are with your overall life is much more important than how happy you are during each minute of your daily life—meaning vs. pleasure. People rate their happiness much higher when they have greater meaning in their life.

Other things that affect your happiness:
1. Spend time with the people you love and like. This has a high contributor to happiness according to researchers. Of course, spending more time with your spouse will also help you have a better marriage, and that will help you be happier as well!
2. Climate is not very important to happiness (even though I complain about the cold incessantly). Interestingly, people often move to find a better climate, then recalling the terrible winters where they used to live, they rate their current happiness level higher.
3. More money doesn’t buy more happiness. Incomes below $60,000 are related to lower happiness levels. However, higher income levels don’t equate to higher happiness levels.
4. Recall happy memories with your spouse—your engagement, dating life, wedding day, children’s births, celebrations and holidays. By focusing on these positive emotions, you can balance out those small negative things that can happen in your day, like forgetting to run an errand.
5. Remember the meaning and purpose in your life. Changing diapers may not be fun, but being a parent brings tremendous long-term joy. Sacrificing for your spouse may not be easy, but building a great marriage is very rewarding.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Researchers find a huge advantage to friendship in marriage

happy young couple morguefileMore benefits to being married have been revealed, especially if you’re married to your best friend. The National Bureau of Economic Research has found more reasons to get and stay married—and they don’t all have to do with economics.

Their findings suggest that marrying your best friend can give you greater life satisfaction and help you navigate the stresses of life, cushioning the difficult periods. The economists controlled for pre-marriage happiness levels to separate the issues of whether marrying actually makes people happier or whether happier people are more likely to marry. They found the former was true.

People who are married are happier and more satisfied with their lives on average than are people who stay single. This is especially true during times of stress, such as during a midlife crisis.

They confirmed that college educated individuals with higher incomes are more likely to get and stay married (we knew that). Researchers further added that married couples gain family stability, financial stability, higher happiness levels and lower stress.

Happiness levels were maintained long-term, not just immediately after the marriage, particularly when couples found friendship as well as love in their marriage. As marriage has changed in recent decades, spouses have broadened their roles from merely economic and social partnerships and have become friends and companions as well as lovers. The researchers found the benefits of marital friendship were greatest during middle age, when demands of career and family are high and life satisfaction tends to ebb.

Some interesting conclusions:
*Individuals who consider their spouse to be their best friend get about twice as much life satisfaction from marriage as others.

*Women benefit more from being married to their best friend, but men are more likely to call their wife their best friend.

Being married to your best friend may be a wonderful way to keep life’s stressors at bay for the long haul. Positive long-term relationships, especially marriage, can help buoy us in troubled times. Unfortunately those for whom marriage seems out of reach (financially or culturally) may be at an even greater disadvantage in life, making the bumps in the road feel that much harder. The economists wrote that those whose lives are the most difficult would benefit the most from marriage.

Read more in the New York Times: “Study Finds More Reasons to Get and Stay Married.”

Cultivate not just the love in your marriage, but also your friendship with your spouse as you grow older together. And if you’re married to your best friend, count yourself fortunate and give your spouse a big thank-you today.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Confidence can impact your marital success

confident woman morguefileA growing body of evidence shows how devastating a lack of confidence can be. “Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence,” say Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Gap, written for The Atlantic’s April edition.

I believe confidence also has a great deal to do with the success of our marriages. That’s one reason why I don’t like to read the (often false or misleading) divorce statistics. It leads young marrieds to thinking they are so unlikely to succeed that they shouldn’t even believe in themselves and their union.

But you know what it means to have someone believe in you, don’t you? Maybe it was a coach or teacher or parent. You know what it’s like to cheer someone else on even in the face of despair or difficulty. You know the difference that it makes to root someone on and to believe they will succeed.

Kay and Shipman have researched and written about the gap in confidence that has been found between men and women in the work world, to the detriment of women’s advancement. They share their own struggles and doubts with professional confidence (despite their impressive experience and credentials). They conclude that confidence can indeed be gained, and that the “confidence gap” can be closed. And they write about how that lack of confidence fails women in the work world, leading them to not go after promotions, new jobs, raises, and other opportunities. It’s not because they lack the skills, they often don’t go for it. Why? Because they don’t believe they will succeed.

Researchers have shown that being overconfident will aid you in your success more than being very competent or skilled in your area of expertise. We don’t want to believe this! “Overconfidence can get you far in life,” concludes researcher Cameron Anderson from the University of California at Berkeley. However, faking confidence just does not work.

Perfectionism is another confidence killer. In fact, striving for perfection hinders our performance and productivity.

What are some of the causes of lack of confidence? The researchers say women tend to ruminate over what has gone and worry about future consequences, whereas men have been more indoctrinated into the male competitive world of action more than overthinking things. I wonder if these contribute to the fact that two-thirds of divorces are initiated by women.

Our brains are fairly plastic, and we can learn to be more confident. We can even boost one another’s confidence. For example, researchers told random individuals in a group that they did very well on a previous test. The individuals who received that feedback scored much higher on the next test, showing that confidence can be self-perpetuating.

The choice not to try was one of the biggest reasons that researchers found people didn’t succeed at various tasks. How about your marriage? Do you have confidence in your marriage and in your abilities to succeed? Do you encourage and lift your spouse up and believe in him or her? If you have children or know children, you can clearly see how confidence can affect their performance in school or sports.

Now for a taste of realism: Being confident doesn’t mean that you believe all your problems will disappear, any more than women ignoring the glass ceiling will make it disappear. But most marriage problems can be overcome, and you can do challenging things. Be confident. Be hopeful. Take positive actions to keep your marriage growing together.

Do you agree or disagree with this premise? Why or why not? I admit I would rather success be based on skills and effort than on something so nebulous as confidence. Are you a confident person or do you struggle with it?

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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Tell your wife she is beautiful

file0001696146113I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Your wife doesn’t think she’s beautiful. How can she? The world is busy pointing out all of her flaws.

Particularly at the beginning of the year, I have noticed many women feeling insecure about their appearance. Maybe it’s a few pounds they put on during the holidays, or even if they have maintained their weight, feeling like they are not fit enough. But in general women are not as happy as men are with their appearance.

Magazines, TV shows and print ads are pointing out the tiny wrinkles and the need for more radiant skin, shinier and thicker hair, and a perfectly made up youthful face. Media accentuates and celebrates long, slender legs, tiny waists and ample, perky breasts. Fashion dictates that anything in our closets is just not trendy enough.

What does that have to do with your wife? She probably thinks more about her appearance (and her perceived flaws) much more than you realize. You may have told her she is beautiful, but she has heard 100 times more frequently through subtle messages that she is not. So when she hears you say it, she may at first not believe you. She may even argue with you.

Don’t give up. Tell her she is your one-of-a-kind woman and that in your eyes she is the most beautiful woman. Tell her what you love about her, and give her sincere compliments often. If she wears a flattering outfit, tell her she looks great. And if the clothes and the makeup and the special hairdos don’t matter to you, tell her that as well.

I’m not suggesting husbands don’t require compliments, but I’d be willing to bet men spend less energy, money, and brain power worrying about how they look.

Ladies, if your husband tells you that you’re beautiful, smile, say thank you. Know that he sees you with his own eyes and heart, and he means it. You might even start to believe it.

If body image or self-confidence is an issue in your marriage, read Is Low Body Image Harming Your Marriage? and Improve Sexual Sparks with a Better Body Image.

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

Harvard Study: What Makes Men Happy for Life

morguefile walking coupleI do not refer in this article to what women can do to make men happy. Nope, men are responsible for their own happiness, as are women. That being said, a 75-year-long Harvard study provides some great insights into what it takes for men to live a happy life. And not surprisingly, relationships have a great deal to do with this earned happiness.

The study began in 1938 and followed 268 male undergraduates into their old age. Many factors, of course, influence their happiness. Following are some of the more surprising, helpful or interesting findings:

1. Alcohol use is by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness among the study’s subjects. Alcoholism was also the single strongest cause of divorce between study participants and their wives. Together with cigarette smoking, it was the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death.
2. While some of the participants successfully recovered from a lousy childhood, memories of a happy childhood were a lifelong source of strength. (This should help parents understand the importance of those early days with our children.)
3. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70.
4. Habits developed before age 50 were more important to physically aging well than heredity.
5. Having “warm relationships” was critically important to health and happiness in later years. Even more surprising, those who scored the highest on the warm relationships scale earned $141,000 a year more during peak salaries than the men in the lowest scale.
6. Men who had warm childhood relationships with their mothers earned much more than men whose mothers were uncaring. Those who had poor relationships with their moms were much more likely to develop dementia in elder years.
7. Men who had warm relationships with their fathers had lower levels of adult anxiety, enjoyed vacations more, and had increased satisfaction with life after age 75.
8. Men who did well in old age did not necessarily do well in midlife, and visa versa. (There is always time to make a change in your life.)

Study director George Vallant summarized that the $20 million study boiled down to one conclusion: Happiness is love. Vallant details the findings in a book titled Triumphs of Experience. While money and social class did not impact lifelong happiness, the ability to “take love in and metabolize it” certainly did.

You knew that already, right? With so many goals to consider for 2014, a renewed focus on love may be the most important to your happiness.

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

Is Self-Marriage a Fluke?

wedding ring The ubiquitous selfies you see on social media are nothing compared to this new level of focusing on the self. Self-marriage is a new trend reported by CNN, a ceremony during which individuals marry themselves.

The definition of marriage is to join or unite intimately. How does one unite with oneself? Aren’t we already intimately united with our own bodies? Has the focus on individualism reached a new low?

Some claim self-marriage is about “lifting up and celebrating the singular awesomeness of yourself”. I have no problem with celebrating singlehood or the fact that you believe you are awesome. But why, oh why, does this have to involve the ceremony of marriage? Is this not just another way of drawing attention to ourselves?

So is this trend just a fluke? After all, the people promoting the idea of self-marriage are selling a “self-wedding in a box” as a way to profit on the idea. They claim, “It’s about acknowledging that you are a lovable, adorable, amazing person with all these fabulous qualities.” I hope that everyone reading this feels they can agree with that sentence, whether they are single or married or dating. You’re a lovable, amazing person. You don’t have to marry yourself to prove it to your friends and family, do you?

I haven’t hidden my opinion on the subject, but do you disagree? Is this an idea that fits in just right with the culture and its focus on individualism? Is it a good way to lift up people’s self-esteem and celebrate their life, or does it move us further away from a loving and sacrificial commitment between two married people?

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.

5 Ways to Renew Your Love

love on hand by David Castillo Dominici freedigitalphotos.netA lot of insightful research on relationship effectiveness comes out of the Greater Good Science Center. This article from researcher Barbara Frederickson, PhD, was exceptionally interesting in that she essentially breaks down our loving feelings into a science.  She explains that love is a renewable resource, and tells us five ways in which we can renew it.

Frederickson describes these loving feelings as a combination of the sharing of positive emotions, the synchrony between your and another person’s biochemistry and behaviors, and a dual motivation to invest in each other’s wellbeing. The positive energy we create can be sustained and can grow (with effort).

Several results occur when we inject positive emotions into our day, according to researchers. First, we open our awareness and better see the big picture. We see more possibilities when we experience positive emotions (as opposed to neutral or negative ones), and we can bounce back better from adversity. Even creativity and academic test results are improved when they are preceded by positive emotions.

Clearly these outcomes would benefit a marriage, particularly when we are looking for solutions or ways to do things better. The kicker is that we need to renew these loving feelings daily—multiple times each day. Frederickson shares five ways research says we can boost our “positivity resonance:”

  1. Look into your spouse’s eyes as often as possible. Your body craves more than text message connections; it craves “moments of oneness.”  Eye contact helps you synch up.
  2. Look for opportunities to be silly together in a cooperative manner. For example, don’t be afraid to engage in silly contests and have fun figuring out how best to solve the challenge together.
  3. Bring up shared history in a positive way. Show that you know your spouse well and that they can trust you.
  4. Take time to appreciate the good things. Express gratitude not only for the actions of another but for the good qualities that you see in your partner. This extra step helps your spouse feel validated and cherished.
  5. Invest in positive emotions for the future. They can be built up, and when difficult times appear, you will have a resource from which to draw on.

Frederickson says, “Genuine positive emotions are available to you at any time.” Practicing these five tips may help you feel more connected and give your marriage greater resilience.  You can find more insights from the Greater Good Science Center here.

Do you agree with these suggestions, or do you believe love isn’t something you can break down into actionable components?

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 David Castillo Dominici courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.