Tag Archives: Happy Life

6 Habits for Happy Lives & Marriages

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

I came across this awesome visual from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) on 6 Habits of Happiness Worth Cultivating, and I think it has great applications for marriage as well. Cultivate these 6 habits for a happier life and a happier marriage.

  1. Practice Kindness. Yes, it’s an important life habit, but it also makes you feel good. “Altrustic acts light up the same pleasure centers in the brain as food and sex,” according to GGSC. Many people stop there, but they end up being kinder to the checker at the grocery store than to their spouse at home. Or at least we would never say things to our friends that we are willing to say in anger to our spouse. Ouch. Kindness will pay great dividends in the long run. Say “please” and “thank you” for starters. Offer to help, especially when your spouse is stressed. Give an extra hug and kiss, just because.
  2. Drop Grudges. As I wrote in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, forgiveness is just as much a gift for the giver as the receiver. Offering forgiveness to those who have wronged us takes away the bitterness that can rob us of health and wellbeing. This goes double in a marriage, when grudges are very detrimental. If a past hurt from our spouse is important, discuss how you feel hurt and explain what would make you feel better. But figure out how to get past it.
  3. Get Moving. GGSC reports that “regular exercise increases self-esteem, reduces anxiety and stress, and may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.” Why not do something active with your spouse? You’ll both benefit from the increased oxytocin release, you’ll both be doing something good for your health, and you’ll be spending quality time together.
  4. Give Thanks. Lots of research has shown the benefits of living with gratitude, and I’ve written a good deal about it. “Regular expressions of gratitude promote optimism, better health, and greater satisfaction with life,” says GGSC. Research also shows that couples who express gratitude toward one another and who spending time being thankful for their spouse and thinking positively about him or her are also more satisfied with their relationship. Read “Two words that have improved my marriage.”
  5. Keep Friends Close. “Make time for those closest to you,” says GGSC. That means regular, dedicated, uninterrupted face time with your spouse. No excuses. Remember that your spouse can’t meet all your emotional needs, so spend time with close friends as a way to boost your happiness and bring a brighter you to your marriage.
  6. Pay Attention. The idea of being more mindful as a means of boosting immunity and reducing anxiety is not one commonly discussed. But in our world of multitasking and ubiquitous social media, it’s so key. How many minutes a day to we spend completely engaged with our spouse, listening or discussing meaningful issues in our lives?

What are the most important habits you feel cultivates your personal happiness and your relationship happiness?

Order in time for Valentine’s Day: First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage , which tells the stories of a dozen amazing couples who used adversity to improve their marriage. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Sony, Nook or PDF. If you already have the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Why Your Brain and Your Marriage Need Vacations

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Recently, I read a story of a miserable couple preparing to go on vacation. The wife was planning to file for divorce upon their return, but decided to proceed with their European trip. Their life was overrun with deadlines and expectations that neither of them enjoyed, and the outlook was grim. Upon arriving at their foreign locale, their eyes were opened to experiencing pleasure at the sights, sounds, flavors and interesting cultural marvels. They fell in love with the city. They even thought they might love each other. Realizing it was their life they didn’t love, not each other, they quit their former life, sold their home and moved to this new city with their children. Yes, it’s drastic, but I think a very interesting result of changing what their brain was regularly experiencing in their relationship.

CNN published an article recently on why your brain needs vacations. Here are some of the cited reasons a vacation can benefit your mind from Adam Galinsky, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University:

  • Detaching from a familiar environment can help gain new perspectives on everyday life.
  • Many people experience epiphanies when they travel, because they can view their life back home from a more detached, outsider’s view (similar to the couple above). I have experienced these epiphanies and made life-changing decisions as a result of gaining that detached perspective.
  • Being unplugged from work and in a natural or unusual setting can change the way your brain thinks and can increase creativity.
  • Immersing yourself in a different culture, along with its differing social norms and customs, reminds you that there’s more than one way of doing something.
  • Traveling abroad gives you a more nuanced understanding of yourselves.
  • Even eating at a new restaurant can jolt new ways of thinking.
  • To improve creativity, Galinsky found stronger effects among people who were living abroad than for those traveling for shorter periods. You may also get the benefits by working to understand the world through locals’ perspectives.
  • Harvard University professor, Ellen Langer, suggests you can have a mindfulness vacation without leaving home: taking note of new people, objects and events around you and getting out of your normal routine, being present and observant in a nonjudgmental way.

Marriages are often in need of creative solutions to new or old problems. Boosting your brain power with a real or virtual vacation could get your mind thinking in new ways. In addition, vacations can get your mind off the problems of your marriage and allow you to enjoy the person you chose to marry. It’s easier to love someone next to you when you have removed the stress and replaced it with beautiful settings and tasty food.

Langer suggests the key is to bring that new attitude and mindfulness back to your regular life, where everything is interesting, and enthusiasm is increased.

What new experiences do you have planned with your spouse this summer? What benefits do you hope for by getting away or taking a mindfulness vacation?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

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

Resurrect Romance in Your Relationship

 “Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Romance is a state of mind. If you have the right mindset, you can make cleaning the bathroom romantic; if you have the wrong mindset, you can turn a moonlit stroll on the beach into a fight.”

I couldn’t agree with Gregory Godek more than this intro to 1001 Ways to Be Romantic. When we consider how to keep the romantic fires of marriage burning, we may be looking for a quick fix or a list of three things to do. And with the right attitude, those three things might make a big difference, but the key is the heart we put into our actions. I’ve shared hundreds of tips on this blog, but the tips themselves aren’t the secret, it’s what you put into the tips that can elevate your love to new heights.

If a man brings home flowers once a month because his wife convinced him that this is an obligation of marriage, the romance may not be present. If a husband brings home wildflowers cut from a field or a book from his wife’s favorite author because he was thinking about her and wanted to do something special, then she will feel the romance.

Even so, Godek says some obligatory romantic gestures should always be followed by spouses—celebrating his or her birthday, getting a gift for Christmas (if you celebrate that holiday), and remembering and celebrating your anniversary and Valentine’s Day. He says these are important must-dos and should be overlooked. Just because they are obligatory doesn’t mean we can’t do them with love!

The fun “optional” romance includes everything else you might do—big or little surprises, candlelit dinners, sharing a bottle of wine on the deck and making a toast to your future, planning a getaway together, sending a card, giving a massage, writing a love note (sticky note or long love letter), buying flowers just because, drawing a bubble bath for two, lighting candles and cooking a special meal, greeting each other at the door each day as if you’ve been apart for months, or any other sweet gesture you can think of.

Romance is a balance of two concepts, says Godek: 1) Actions speak louder than words. 2) It’s the thought that counts. These are two sides of the same coin.

Romance is worth the effort because it will improve your relationship. It will make you feel more loved and secure, and it will make your spouse feel more loved and secure.

Read Celebrate each day in your own way for more on living with an attitude of celebration and romance.

We are one-fourth of the way through the year. How are you doing with planning romance and celebration into your life and marriage?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

Is Your Relationship Better than Your Friends’ Relationships?

Happy Life, Happy Marriage Series

In the last happy life happy marriage post, we talked about how we humans are naturally dissatisfied with our lives and our mates. We’re not even satisfied in a “perfect” marriage with the “perfect” spouse. Because perfect for us today means tomorrow our expectations change. If we are dissatisfied or unhappy with some aspect of our marriage today, there’s a good chance that there is nothing seriously wrong with our relationship.

Another way in which we doom our chances for happiness in relationships is by comparing our marriages (as well as other aspects of our lives) to other couple’s marriages. On the outside, most everyone’s marriage looks happy and problem-free. We all smile when we’re out with friends. We think we can determine how happy we are by comparing with how happy others appear to be.

This would not be a problem, says Dennis Prager in Happiness is a Serious Problem, if we compared ourselves with most other people.  However, we don’t do this. We compare ourselves with the very few who appear happier than we are. We’re always looking one notch above where we perceive ourselves to be, even if we know very little about their lives. When we think about it, we realize that we can’t know how our lives compare with others behind closed doors. When I was young, I used to look around our church and think “if they only knew how we lived when we weren’t on display.” But to the outside world, I’m sure we appeared to be a well-adjusted family of seven.

“The less we know about the people with whom we compare ourselves, the more dramatic the difference in assumed happiness,” says Prager. “If all of us realized that the people with whom we negatively compare our happiness are plagued by pains and demons of which we know little or nothing, we would stop comparing our happiness with others’.”

It’s similar to that saying you may have heard: If everyone could throw their problems out in a box, and you could choose to take any of them back, most of us would take our own. People seem fairly happy-go-lucky, attractive and successful to many of those around them, but deep down, they and their relationships may be deeply suffering from serious problems. Few people answer truthfully when a casual acquaintance asks how they are.

Prager says this situation would be improved if our close friends and confidants began opening up when things aren’t so perfect. (However, one needs to be very careful about sharing marital problems, particularly with family members.) For example, if you have a good friend whom you can share that you had a disagreement with your husband over which restaurant to go out to, or which route to take, or even that you can hardly tolerate his family, maybe she will offer some positive encouragement and realize you aren’t the perfect couple. She may share that her husband watches sports incessantly and thinks that it’s her job to do all the laundry. It’s not that you don’t respect one another’s marriages, but you also don’t pretend to be imperfect.

In life and in marriage, we are not helped by comparing ourselves with others whom we imagine to have more fun, money, more passion, more talent, more romance, more togetherness, fewer problems, fewer worries. In fact, we can significantly improve our happiness in life and in marriage if we would stop these meaningless comparisons.

This is a tough one. You go first, and let me know how it goes.

Related Links:
Read 10 Tips to Living a Mindful Marriage, by Sean Marshall of Family Rocketship, in a guest post for Simple Marriage. I just found Sean’s cool blog, dedicated to actively chooseing to live the perfect life. He and his wife are starting at home, seeking adventure, and hoping to change the world.

Photo credit: ©Dmitri Mlkitenko/PhotoXpress.com