Tag Archives: better spouse

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.

Are You Hunting for Perfection in Your Spouse?

The following is based on the introduction to my upcoming book, FIRST KISS TO LASTING BLISS: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage.

Wading waist-deep down Missouri’s Fox River on a hot summer day, I learned to hunt for geodes. These semi-round sedimentary rocks, said to be 350 million years old, contain hidden crystals. The casual hiker sees rocks, but geode hunters notice their cauliflower-shaped exterior and envision gem-like interiors.

At the sweet, shallow spot of “The Fox,” abundant geodes range in size from a newborn’s fist to more than 100 pounds, discovered under the water and lying nearby in the grass, as if tossed there during an Easter egg hunt for us to find. We also found them lodged in the riverbanks with ten feet of earth pressing down on them—half circles poking out of the earthen wall, waiting for erosion to release them into the river.

Geodes’ sparkling interiors are generally white or clear, but some are colored, depending on mineral content. The product of a combination of water, natural chemicals, pressure, and heat, each porous geode is unique. There is no way to tell which will open to reveal a crystal treasure and which will reveal a solid mass or a greasy ball of sediment.

We’re a lot like geodes, and so are our marriages. Without exception, we feel pressure from all sides, which can at times feel like the weight of the world. There is no shortage of muck dredged up in our society and no way to prevent seepage of this sediment into our lives. Some people, like geodes, use stressful situations to help shape, improve, and crystallize themselves. Others crumble under the pressure, store the muck for someone else to discover, or become hardened masses—of no real value to others.

For my upcoming book, FIRST KISS TO LASTING BLISS: Hope & Inspiration For Your Marriage, I interviewed happily married couples across the country, some who have faced intense adversity—the kind that would pummel most marriages—yet became closer as a result. I tried to discover what made some marriages succeed despite hardship, while others wash away with the first storm. Successful couples don’t just “overcome” adversity; instead, they become changed by it and incorporate what they have learned into a more perfect union.

We’re all hunting for perfection—in ourselves, in others, and in our relationships. We won’t find it by looking at the outer shell. Just as there isn’t just one path for creating an ideal geode (volcanic geodes differ greatly in composition and form from Mexican “coconut” geodes, for example), there certainly isn’t one recipe for an extraordinary marriage, although there are some common ingredients. Since we have different needs and personalities, no magic technique will work for all marriages. Still, despite our range of challenges, we humans share similar fears, desires, and longings. So when some couples uncover what makes a marriage—even one fraught with major obstacles—work well, we want to hear their story, to draw our own conclusions and to add them to our own life experiences. Success stories are all around us if we listen.

At some point, all marriages will face intense pressure. Will the pressure change you? Undoubtedly. Will it break you apart? Maybe. It may also create something entirely new and better than expected, like the twin-chambered geode, a merger of two hollow geodes. Learning how others have handled crises can help you prepare for your own.

Lest we think true love is a one-in-a-million find, consider that each spring, countless geodes are released from the earth, a seemingly impossible product of millions of years of time and energy. Be open to the possibility that your hunt for perfection is over, that your marriage is perfect but unfinished, being honed by outside forces, in the same way that a child is a perfect but incomplete person—no less perfect because of he or she is in the early stages in life.

The couples profiled in this book are from different generations and walks of life, but they all became united in their difficulties. Those who faced multiple tests found their marriage became stronger with each one. Each couple found joy together, even amidst chaotic lives. These are not couples who merely “stuck it out”; theirs are great love stories whose commitment is not dependent on their circumstances. I hope they contribute to your own love story.

First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage will be available December 8th on Amazon.com. To learn more, go to www.LoriDLowe.com.  The book’s Facebook page is www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss.

Photo by Lori Lowe

Happy Couples Give Spouses Their Attention

“Happily married couples respond to one another’s bids for attention 86 percent of the time,” says Dr. Michele Gannon in an article for Hitched Magazine. She continues, “They ask one another questions, communicate understanding and respond positively when their spouse asks them to. They say ‘Yes’ to one another as often as possible. However, research has found that in unhappy marriages, couples respond to one another only 30 percent of the time.”

This finding intrigued me, and made me pause ask myself when my husband and I interrupt one another, how often we offer our full attention. I don’t think I’m nearly up to 86 percent, and frequently ask for a minute to finish what I’m doing. Whether it’s for something fun or something important, I’m going to work on providing my attention when asked. Ask yourself if you might improve in this area with your spouse, and even with your children.

Some other interesting research-proven habits for happy marriages Dr. Gannon shared in the article include showing admiration and fondness for one another, prioritizing affection and sex, making time for one another, helping one another grow, and cultivating forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of the keys to a happy marriage in my opinion, and an area in which we can all make improvements. So I read with interest Dr. Fred Luskin’s forgiveness steps. In part, he advises:  “Successful forgiveness requires that we allow ourselves to feel deeply our hurt, disappointment and anger. We need to ask ourselves whether the betrayal or disappointment is a deal breaker or not. If we stay in the relationship, we need to allow ourselves to feel our pain, soothe ourselves, and then be willing to widen our hearts, surrender and risk pain and disappointment again. All of this can happen even if our partner is not willing to take responsibility and change.”

The research findings are from the web site Greater Good Science. I found it to be a truly interesting resource with lots of research-based advice on living a more fulfilling life. For instance, “How well do you know your partner?” shares that knowing your partner’s long-term life goals will make your relationship more satisfying in the future.

Another interesting article I read recently is “The line between no expectations and doormat” by Patty Newbold at Assume Love. It’s about how our expectations can get in the way of our love. Here’s an excerpt:

“You are not a doormat if you take out the trash when your husband fails to. If you were not married, there would be trash to deal with. If you take out trash AND have a husband to love you, you are well ahead of the game. Where you shoot yourself in the foot is when you let yourself expect that if your husband loved you, he would do more around the house or be as prompt as you are with chores. Now, you have trash to take out and what looks like an unloving husband, even though it’s the same husband and the same bag of trash. And while you’re stewing over the garbage, you may very well miss out on some great loving. He might have walked in the door ready to kiss you, but turned right around when he sensed your mood. He might have wanted to tell you he sucked it up at work today and did not quit on the spot because of his commitment to your wellbeing.”

In sum, she says, “When I let go of my expectations, I was completely shocked by how much love I could see in my marriage.” I’ll be interterviewing Patty Newbold soon and sharing her incredible story with you.

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Happy Memorial Day and many thanks to our veterans and to their families.

Photo by Edward Bartel/Dreamstime

Is There a Case for Settling in Marriage?

Single women say finding a man with 80% of what they want would be “settling,” but single men say finding a woman with 80% of what they seek would be “a catch.” I’ve heard these statements before, but author Lori Gottlieb backed them up with a scientific survey. Her controversial book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough is not really about settling at all. It’s about women needing to have more realistic expectations of Mr. Right.

Gottlieb was a woman with ultra-high standards. She thought women should have it all and shouldn’t settle for anything less; compromise was not a part of her vocabulary. She had many prospects in her 20s and 30s, but none was good enough. Then, she found herself single and 40, the mother of a donor-conceived baby, when she realized she would have made very different choices about marriage and family if she had know what truly would make her happy. She realized the loneliness she felt was not assuaged with a child. “It was different and perhaps even compounded. It’s both single-person loneliness and the loneliness of not sharing the little moments of my son’s life with someone who cares about him as profoundly as I do.”

She realizes she hadn’t been picky about the important stuff, but rather about the trivial stuff that doesn’t matter a decade or two into marriage “when you’re more concerned about child care and contented companionship than you are about height or hairlines.”

For those of us who are married, Gottlieb seems to make a lot of sense. But when you see her interviewed on national TV, they always pair her with a young professional woman who still believes there is one perfect man out there who will make her every dream come true, or with a woman who believes a marital partner is not necessary to make a woman happy. They get hung up on the word “settle” and feel doing so would be compromising their integrity. Gottlieb has been called “an affront to the entire woman’s movement.” She’s been called desperate, but she says she is only wiser. She has a better picture of who Mr. Right is, and his name is Mr. Good Enough.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not as perfect a wife as I thought I’d be, and my dear husband has one or two flaws as well. If we looked for perfection, we wouldn’t find it. I agreed with the wife in a Washington Post article about Gottlieb’s book who said “if I had made a list of what I wanted in a husband, I would not have had the wisdom, creativity and self-awareness to create a husband as wonderfully quirky and perfect for me as my husband is.”

Still, one can argue that a woman should know what she wants in a husband. I’ve known several women who have listed out their priorities and found great men to match them. The key is to know what your deal breakers are, and to know that they are not superficial. Physical attributes can’t be counted on. Job status is not permanent. However, certain character traits, common values and goals, and similarities in faith may be important to your long-term happiness.

Gottlieb says that recognizing both she and a potential Mr. Good Enough have less-than-ideal qualities is not settling—it’s maturity. It’s the kind of maturity that admits companionship and compatibility are as important as passion. “Nothing about good enough implies that you haven’t found a true love—or in fact, a much deeper kind of love.”

If you’re married, did you have a list of must-haves before you wed? If so, were they met? Do you think women are too picky in dating? Or do you think women shouldn’t feel pressure to “settle” in such an important relationship?

The No-Talking Way to a Better Marriage

If you aim to make your husband fidgety, stressed and uncomfortable, simply utter the words, “Honey, we need to talk.”

While talking about feelings can be soothing to women, for many men, it has the opposite effect, according to psychotherapists Patricia Love and Steven Stosney, co-authors of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. Stosney’s research, which includes studying hundreds of human and animal responses, shows males and females respond differently to stress from birth. For instance, baby girls need to make eye contact if they hear a loud noise, while boys need to withdraw to prevent overstimulation. As they get older, girls and women use talking to cope with stress, while boys and men pull away to cope.

The authors explain men tend to feel shame if they feel they don’t measure up. So, a woman initiating a conversation about relationship problems can cause these feelings of shame to well up. Other likely results: glazed eyes, defensiveness, or withdrawal (to TV, man cave, sports, etc.).

Why? Love explains when a man feels shamed by his sweetie’s criticsm, the stress hormone cortisol floods his body. A woman might feel a similar stress hormone rush if her husband yells at her.

So are there better strategies to address relationship issues? Thankfully, yes. Stay tuned for the next post, which will give you the four new tools to keep you both calm and cool, and perhaps more likely to please one another.

Let’s hear from you. If you’re a man, do you agree with this assessment that talking about your feelings is about as pleasant as eating sand? If you’re a woman, do you find relationship discussions put your partner on edge, or are they successful?