Tag Archives: Finding Happiness

Looking for happiness in all the wrong places

dancing couple morguefileWhat are you looking for in your life and marriage to make you happy? Researchers have done a lot of work analyzing particular kinds of goals and whether they led people to happiness. They found that those with “intrinsic goals” (i.e. deep relationships, personal growth) tended to be happier than those with “extrinsic goals” (i.e. wealth, fame). It appears Americans are looking for happiness in all the wrong places.

Arthur Brooks detailed multiple studies in his article for the New York Times called “Love People, Not Pleasure.” For example, psychologists have concluded through many studies that people who rate materialistic goals like wealth as a top priority are significantly more likely to be anxious, more depressed, and frequent drug users, as well as to have more physical ailments than those who are seeking intrinsic goals.

A 2009 study by the University of Rochester looked at 147 graduates’ success in reaching their stated goals. They found graduates who were pursuing extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear, as well as more physical maladies. Whether it’s popularity on social media, or to become famous or rich, their goals ended up making the subjects less happy rather than making them feel fulfilled. Career success, power, or self-promotion are other common extrinsic goals. Graduates who were seeking intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives.

After finding that neither fame nor materialistic success fulfilled people and made them happy, Brooks assessed whether lust might do the trick. Does experiencing a variety of sexual pleasure make people happy? Brooks cites a 2004 study in which economists analyzed whether more sexual variety led to greater well-being. Data included 16,000 Americans who were asked confidentially how many sex partners they had in the previous year, as well as their happiness levels. For both women and men, researchers concluded the optimal number of partners to experience happiness is one. In other words, the happiest people had only one sex partner in the previous year. (This is certainly contrary to our culture’s and media’s messages.)

So why do we as a society pursue lust, materialism, power and fame if they don’t lead to happiness? Brooks suggests that just because something feels good doesn’t mean it will fulfill you. Many of those instincts may only be residual desires based on our need to pass on DNA. “If you conflate intergenerational survival with well-being, that’s your problem,” he says.

“If it feels good, do it,” is bad advice from idiots in society, he adds. It may lead you to pass on your genetic material, but it won’t lead to a feeling of long-term well-being.

But there’s more to our longings. We are dissatisfied; want more from life. We aren’t sure what the problem or the solution may be. “Without a great deal of reflection and spiritual hard work, the likely candidates seem to be material things, physical pleasures or favor among friends and strangers,” says Brooks. But it is never enough.

This leads us to Brooks’ formulas for life: To love things and use people—this is a deadly formula too often attempted in the search for happiness. “You know in your heart that it is morally disordered and a likely road to misery,” says Brooks. An example is using people to find a better job, a bigger house, or greater influence.

Invert that advice to find the virtuous formula: Love people, use things. This means placing love above pride, only denying love to things that are actually objects; condemning materialism; and being skeptical of our own desires. It means using things to express your love rather than to fill an emptiness. It means seeking spiritual and emotional maturity so that we can have mature, meaningful relationships.

Apply this formula to your marriage and your life to find deeper fulfillment.

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

Don’t be Afraid to Underachieve in Life to Better Achieve in Your Family Life: Lessons from a former Indpls Colt

smith-hunter-01Last week, I attended a talk in Indianapolis given by former NFL punter Hunter Smith and his wife, Jen. One of his biggest messages was this headline. The former Colt advises those who want to be good spouses and parents to not be afraid to underachieve by the world’s standards, in order to make the time to succeed in your family life.

“I’m never going to be all I could be, and I don’t want to be. In America that’s counter-cultural,” says the former Indianapolis Colt. “Achieve in your marriage and with your children, and not in what the world expects of you.”

Other pieces of advice from their talk at Better Together included:

  1. Keep good company—trusted friends who will help keep you from making wrong decisions.
  2. Be who you say you are—live your life well.
  3. Understand that men have the tendency to be lustful and passive, while women have the tendency to be controlling. As men, don’t abdicate leadership in the home.
  4. Be willing to show your true self to your spouse.
  5. Be willing to share each of your needs honestly with one another.
  6. Place your spouse’s needs above yours. If you both practice giving, you will both receive more.

Hunter and Jen have four children, and they aren’t afraid to “miss opportunities” for their kids to develop in sports or other areas. Instead, they focus on the priorities of their family and their faith life.

Hunter shared openly about life in the NFL both with the Colts and with the Washington Redskins. He also expressed how much impact one person can have, using the example of Tony Dungy changing the culture of the Indianapolis Colts team by calling all the players to be authentic men full of strong character.

You can read here in an Indianapolis Star article about how Hunter calls the life of NFL athletes “tragic” with false images and frequent divorces and bankruptcy following the end of their football career. Hunter took a different path and retired to follow his interest in music and singing. His wife shares his love of singing.

Is his advice to underachieve difficult to hear, especially from someone who at one time made a multi-million dollar annual salary and who has a Super Bowl ring? My opinion is that he seems genuinely interested in using his platform to share the lessons he has learned. What are your thoughts on the other suggestions?

My next post will be about how earning more money does not usually make us happier. Instead, working more takes time away from activities that would probably give us more happiness.

Photo credit: Indianolis Colts

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.

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.

Celebrate Each Day With Your Loved Ones

I want to wish a Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate. As we reach the holiday season again, I’m reminded that I haven’t lived up to my aim to celebrate each day of 2011 in my own way. Many days, I was caught up with the to-do list and didn’t have my heart leaning into celebration. I’m re-reading those tips and trying to take them more to heart. I hope you will, too.

My friend Debi Walter recently wrote about the famous Jim Croce song, Time in a Bottle here at The Romantic Vineyard. The lyrics that struck me were: “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things we want to do once you find them. I’ve looked around enough to know that you’re the one I want to go through time with.” Listen to the song, and let it remind you that we can’t save time in a bottle and spend them again with those we love. We just get the one shot, and before we know it, another year has passed. 

When I was young, my mother and I used to watch the soap opera, Days of our Lives, which always began, “Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” Thankfully, I gave up soaps long ago! But I think of those words as I look at the hourglass in my son’s room. Please share your ideas for making each day really count, both as we finish up 2011 and as we make plans for 2012. Blessings to you.

Online florists offer flower delivery to help people show loved ones they care.

There’s More to Life and Marriage Than Happiness

Happy Life:  Happy Marriage Series

Despite the headline, I’m not suggesting that people live unhappy lives or in unhappy marriages. However, I do think people misunderstand what true happiness is and what it involves.

Is happiness overrated? Happiness is too often confused with feeling good, says Martin Seligman, author of Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Rather than just feeling good, he says leading a good, happy life entails more than creating positive emotions. We need five critical elements to flourish in life: positive emotions, engagement (i.e., feeling lost in a task), relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

To flourish, we can’t just feel good in our own heads, we must have something good to show for it. This is a theme I have returned to occasionally (such as in this post on the difference between pleasure, happiness and joy), because I think our modern culture encourages us to seek immediate pleasure without regard for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us. Sacrifice and service to others are valued far less than freedom, independence, and display of material wealth.

If we reflect back on an older person’s life, we often admire the times of hard work, sacrifice, integrity, productivity and innovation. We connect how they contributed to others with a life well lived. I wonder if enough of us measure our own lives in the same manner, asking how fruitful and helpful we are rather than merely how happy we are in a particular moment. The same goes for how we raise the next generation. Are we focused on helping our children achieving great academic and athletic prowess and collecting impressive achievements that they can use for the next stage of life, or are we also guiding them on how they can build healthy relationships, engage with others, find meaning in their work, and contribute to a better world?

Whom do you admire? How do you define a life well lived? What role models do you have for achieving a happy life and/or a happy marriage?

When you ask yourself how happy you are in your marriage right now, are you also factoring in what you are contributing to the marriage, how fruitful you are being in the marriage, how engaged you are with your spouse on a daily basis, etc.? Or, are you asking yourself what you are “getting” from the marriage right now? Imagine yourself and your spouse in your “golden years” looking back at your current life. What are the things you would be glad you accomplished or invested time in? What are the passions you would be happy to know you participated in together? Who are the people you will be glad you helped? What are the regrets you might have if you don’t change course? Are you spending too much time or not enough time in an area of your life?

Living a happy, fulfilling life is a worthwhile aim as long as we understand what we’re working toward. What are you working toward in your life in your quest for happiness?

Related posts:
Why does our experience with pleasure fade?
An eye-opening post by Jane Devin explaining why unhappiness is not a disease and the tyranny of positive thinking.

SURVEY PARTICIPANTS NEEDED

If you, your spouse, or someone you know is unemployed and married, you can assist a researcher who is preparing his dissertation research on the impact of unemployment on marital relationships in the current economy.  Go to this survey page, and share the link with others who may be willing to help  Andrew Bland in his work. The survey is anonymous. As you know, I’m a fan of research that can help us in our relationships. And in order to get that useful research, the researchers need participants willing to provide their experiences. Thanks in advance.

Photo ©Lori Lowe

Is seeking success keeping you from a happy life and marriage?

Happy Life: Happy  Marriage Series

“If you equate happiness with success, you will never achieve the amount of success necessary to make you happy.” –Dennis Prager

The above quote from Happiness is a Serious Problem stood out to me as a major challenge in today’s society. Many of us are focused on achieving an ideal lifestyle to make us happy. In other words, living in a certain home that is well decorated, having an attractive spouse and children, working in a challenging and well-paying career—these things become prerequisites to happiness, not additional blessings to enjoy.

Prager says this is one of the most common obstacles to achieving happiness in our lives. I would add that it is also an obstacle to achieving happiness in our marriages, because our relationship happiness is so heavily influenced by happiness (or unhappiness) in other areas of our life.

Are there goals (either subconscious or conscious) you are seeking—specific areas of success that you can write down? Jot them down and imagine how your life would change if you achieved these items. Most of us will realize that 1) our life wouldn’t change that significantly if we achieved them and 2) we would then become focused on new goals that would then be required to make us happy.

“Identifying success with happiness is like moving the goalposts back 10 yards every time your football team has a first down—your team may be more and more successful, but the goalposts will always remain unreachable,” says Prager. The solution is to decide today that you are successful. This doesn’t mean you must stop seeking new goals and challenging yourself, but rather that the additional success isn’t required for your happiness.

There are plenty of people who are not successful by the world’s standards who are very happy, and the converse is also true. (“Unhappy poor people at least have the fantasy that money will make them happy, unhappy rich people don’t even have that,” says Prager.) So we should realize that seeking a worldly view of success doesn’t guarantee any increase in our happiness. Success on its own is not bad. For instance, achieving career goals and providing financially for your family can be quite positive and rewarding, but negative when ever-increasing amounts of money, recognition, fame, or ego-boosting are necessary to feel fulfilled. The pursuit of financial success is not necessarily destructive to happiness; it is destructive when engaged in for its own sake and not for reasons that increase happiness, explains Prager.

Prager suggests we ask ourselves “why” we want to be successful. For some, their parents loved them when they were successful academically or with certain career choices. Others may have a fear of financial failure. Many individuals are driven by demons that no amount of success can assuage, says Prager.

On the flipside, when our work is joyful and meaningful, success at work can certainly bring about increased happiness. This is why unpaid volunteers can derive more joy from their work than the highest paid professionals. What would you do if money weren’t a driving force in your life? If success gives you peace of mind, helps you give of your time and money to worthwhile causes, then it is likely building happiness.

For example, I derive satisfaction and enjoyment from researching and writing about marriage, an endeavor I have been working on for three years without compensation. I have another job that supports me financially. On balance, I feel my career is rewarding and adds to my happiness. I believe investing in my personal relationships adds even more to my happiness.

Where else do you seek success?
Since you have read this far, you are likely focused on marriage improvement and self-improvement as well. These are areas in which success can be equated with increased happiness: success in love, in relationships, in child rearing, in gaining wisdom, in doing good, in spiritual growth, and in learning about oneself. Seeking worldly success can be more likely to bring unhappiness than happiness, as it detracts us from the areas that will ultimately bring us happiness.

What success are you seeking in your life, and in your marriage relationship?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com/Stormcab

How Important is Love to Happiness?

Four in five adults of all ages rate love as important to their happiness. And it turns out those in loving relationships do enjoy greater wellbeing than those who are single. (This despite our culture glorifying the endless positives of remaining unattached.) Fewer than 25 percent of unmarried adults say they are “very happy” but 40 percent of married adults say they are.

David Myers, PhD, in The Pursuit of Happiness, cites the above research and says even more important than being married is the marriage’s quality.  While women suffer more emotional disturbances in a stressed marriage than do their husbands, wives also report slightly greater happiness across all marriages. Researchers suspect this is because women find more joy in positive, close relationships than men do.

Further, most married people say their marriages are happy. Myers says three out of four in the U.S. say their spouse is their best friend. (This seems high to me, but I’d agree with it in my marriage.) And this relationship happiness carries over into their overall life happiness.

Why are married people happier? Marriage is likely to provide an enduring supportive relationship, and married people are less likely to suffer loneliness. Those who parent together may experience additional stresses, yet also receive additional rewards from their roles as parents.

While I completely agree that my marriage has made me a happier person, I also strongly believe that we as individuals control most of our happiness. When we are happy on our own, that happiness tends to bleed into our relationship. We’re more interesting to be with, more supportive and more engaging when we have a life we enjoy.

A National Opinion Research Center study found that nearly six in ten Americans who rate their marriage as very happy also rate their life as very happy.  And among those NOT in a happy marriage, only one in ten say their overall life is very happy. A bad marriage is worse than no marriage, and loneliness within marriage can be the loneliest feeling of all.

 When we are unhappy as individuals, we tend to project on our partners that they aren’t supportive enough or don’t understand our needs. But the truth may be that we are in a life transition, or have lost a loved one, or in one way or another are struggling with our life or identity. Our marriage or spouse shouldn’t have the burden of “making us happy”. Instead, we can enrich and enjoy our lives more fully because of the close, intimate relationship we share.

If you think you are unhappy in your relationship, consider that you may need to make improvements in your own individual life to improve happiness. For example, a person who feels overworked and underappreciated in their job may bring those feelings into their home and feel taken advantage of across the board.

Myers says to avoid two mistakes in thinking if you aim to have a happy marriage. First, even if you’re newlyweds, don’t take a successful marriage for granted. “Unless nurtured carefully, the relationship you counted on for love and happiness may leave you crushed, lonely, feeling like a failure, or trudging hopelessly along, resigned to your despair.” (Ouch.) Conversely, don’t be overly pessimistic saying marriages seldom last, so why should I commit, invest and work on my marriage? A positive attitude channeled by a wariness of real dangers offers the best chance at a happy relationship, he concludes.

So, is this a chicken and the egg question? “Which comes first personal or marital happiness?” I think they feed on each other, but the personal happiness ideally comes first. What do you think?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com