Tag Archives: improving happiness

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 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

Are Too Many Choices Leading to Unhappiness?

In the post, “We all married the wrong person,” I began to discuss the effects of having too much choice in our modern Western society. Many of you had such strong reactions to the idea, I promised to provide some more details about The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. If the post intrigues you, check out his book or view a video by Schwartz on YouTube, in which he claims traditional dogmas about freedom and choice are incorrect.

First, let me state up front, that choice can be very good. Without choice in our lives about our careers, our faith, our friends, our homes, our mates, we are doomed to be miserable. We want to be unique, and choice gives us that ability. Schwartz asserts in his book that as the number of choices increases, “the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear.”  

As examples, he talks about the thousands of cereals, salad dressings or electronic stereo systems from which we may choose. Because of the number of choices, our expectations for the product are greatly increased. At some point, increasing the number of choices we have no longer improves our lives. In fact, it has the opposite effect.

In America, where freedom and choice are paramount to many, the idea of too much choice sounds wrong. You can never have enough options, right? We want to keep our options open, so that when new information comes in, we can redirect to a better choice. However, Schwartz says the negative aspects of too much choice escalate until we become overloaded, and at times debilitated. “The fact that some choice is good doesn’t mean that more choice is better,” he says.

I can relate to his points. For example, I mostly shop at only one clothing store. I can choose to shop at thousands of stores, but I don’t have the time or desire to sift through racks or web sites with endless items that probably won’t fit me and I may not like. So limiting my choice to a favorite store that has clothes that fit me well with styles I like and has enough variety makes my life better by saving me time and frustration.

The anxiety of choosing well increases as we select more important things in our lives. My husband and I are currently looking to buy a new family car, which we usually keep for 10 years or more. Since he is a research-driven person who nearly always has some aspect of buyer’s remorse, he is checking out every car type that meets our specifications, and evaluating costs and benefits of every feature. For many, the process is so overwhelming, they avoid it for as long as possible and may never be happy with their final decision.

Then there are more important decisions, such as the choice of mate. Whom you choose as a spouse will dramatically affect every aspect of your entire life. The decision should be made with utmost care. But the decision can indeed be made. I’m sure you, like me, know someone who has such fears of marriage “buyer’s remorse” that he or she moves from relationship to relationship, hoping to find the perfect person, or at least the person who is a bit more perfect than the last one. Some people find a great mate with whom they share passion and children, but they still keep their eyes open at work or social gatherings to make sure they don’t miss out on someone better. Once they get to know that new person, or enter into a long-term relationship with him or her, they learn that person also has faults, just different ones.

“Clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction—even to clinical depression,” says Schwartz, who suggests at least part of the boom in depression rates may be due to choice overload.

“Many modern Americans are feeling less and less satisfied even as their freedom of choice expands,” he explains. “We do ourselves no favor when we equate liberty too directly with choice. The feelings that may result when we have too many options include regret, feeling of missed opportunities, raised expectations, and feelings of inadequacy. If we have enough of those, we may indeed become depressed.

Schwartz says we need to make good choices about things that matter (yes, marriage is in that category), while having less concern about the things that don’t. He also recommends multiple strategies in his book about how best to deal with potentially overwhelming choices in modern Western society. One of his suggestions is that it would be better for us to embrace certain “voluntary restraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them.” Does that sound un-American to you, or can you see the wisdom in his thought process? The other point he makes is that we would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible. Bingo. Stop questioning your choice of mate; instead make the most of what you have. And stop paying attention to what you think others around you have, because you don’t have any idea what goes on behind closed doors.  

What’s your take on the matter? Do you feel like you can ever have too many options? Do you want to be “free” to change any decision at any point, in hopes that you can continually improve your life? Or do you think that constantly questioning your decisions decreases your satisfaction?

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