Tag Archives: News

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.

Arnold’s Last Marriage Lesson?

“Keeping the Sparks Alive” Series

Part of keeping the sparks kindled in your own marriage means keeping the wrong sparks out of your marriage—the ones that can engulf you into an affair.

It turns out there was another lesson (Read Part I) to learn from the troubled marriage of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger: Don’t think you can live a double life of lies and infidelity without eventually facing the consequences.

I would imagine it was much easier for Schwarzenegger to apologize to the nameless, faceless cameras and masses than it was to admit to his transgressions to his own wife and to each of his children. In Monday’s post, I wished his children could be spared the devastation that a divorce would bring, but that wish was too late. Their public humiliation may be Arnold’s worst punishment. His son, Patrick, changed his last name on Twitter to Shriver within days of Arnold’s announcement, a clear sign of his displeasure with this father. The fact that the woman with whom he had an affair worked for the family for two decades likely makes the situation even harder to bear for all those involved.

Unfortunately, infidelity is a relatively common marriage problem. Social scientists have been unable to pin down an accurate estimate of the number of couples affected, because they don’t know who is telling the truth. CNN suggests some estimate 15 to 18 percent of marriages are affected by affairs, while others place the number closer to 40 percent or more for those affected by emotional or physical affairs.

I’ve interviewed both couples who have overcome infidelity and experts who say it is a situation that can be healed. However, no one will deny the difficulty of the situation (particularly one with a 10-year-old child born out of wedlock) and question whether the trust can be rebuilt. If serial philandering is involved, obviously that will make the situation tougher and will likely reduce the desire by the scorned spouse to rebuild the marriage. For example, did anyone really think Tiger Woods’ wife, Elin, could effectively rebuild their marriage, or that she would wish to?

Time Magazine and CNN revealed a study set to be published in Psychological Science found that the higher an individual rises in a business hierarchy, the more likely they were to consider or commit adultery. “With power comes both opportunity and confidence, the authors argue, and with confidence comes a sense of sexual entitlement.”

If we hope to live in lifelong marriages, we can expect to be tempted by someone with whom we feel an emotional or physical connection. The error is in thinking it can’t happen in your marriage. Even those in strong, loving marriages may sometimes feel an attraction to another person. We may even have opportunities to act on those temptations. Those with higher profiles or certain careers may have more opportunities to cheat than others. Don’t kid yourself by thinking no one will find out, even if you have people to lie and cover for you.

Just picture yourself having to come clean to your spouse, your parents, and especially to your children. Realize that children will likely view infidelity with their parent as if you cheated on them, too. If you hope to leave a legacy of love and trust, infidelity is the wrong road.

Read What Happens After Infidelity at CNN for more on how healing may be achieved after infidelity. For those who struggle with temptation, a classic book to help prevent infidelity is His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Dr. William Harley Jr. There are also many newer books found by searching “How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage.”

Do you think your marriage is protected from a possible affair–why or why not? Do you think marriages can overcome infidelity, or do you agree with “once a cheater, always a cheater”?

New Divorce Reform Initiative Launched

Some (like the Huffington Post) are calling it The Most Pioneering Divorce Reform Effort in 40 Years. I agree, and I’m happy to be involved in this initiative. If you support marriage, please read and follow the links, and share your thoughts with me.

Why Divorce Reform?
Those who advocate divorce reform have one goal in mind: to reduce the number of unnecessary divorces in the United States. Since two-thirds of our nation’s divorces are from low-conflict marriages, there are many marriages that can and should be saved.

Many of you may ask, “Why we should put our noses in other people’s business?” The most important reason is that we know from decades of research that divorce is very harmful to children, and unnecessary divorces unnecessarily harms them in the short- and long-term. During the 70s, when no-fault divorce was enacted, experts believed children would be resilient if their parents followed their hearts and divided the family. We now know even “good” divorces negatively affect children’s physical, psychological and social health for their lifetime. The negative effects are longer and stronger than anyone predicted, and our society is paying a heavy price.

The second reason is financial. Each year tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on the divorce-associated fallout, not including the millions spent on individual legal fees to obtain divorces. That’s money we can’t afford as a society to waste. (This pdf offers an overview by Georgia Family Council and the American for Family Values on the financial costs of family breakdown.)

The final reason I’ll bring up today is that we deserve much better. As adults, we deserve higher quality relationships and a stronger understanding of the benefits a committed marriage brings to us as individuals and to the greater society. Heartbreak and anguish can be assuaged if marriages can be improved and divorces are no longer needed for us as individuals and couples to feel whole and fulfilled. We can be better parents and better spouses by learning how to strengthen marriages and families.

What is the Coalition for Divorce Reform?
The Coalition for Divorce Reform (CDR) is a non-partisan coalition of divorce reform leaders, marriage educators, domestic violence experts, scholars and concerned citizens dedicated to efforts to reduce unnecessary divorce and promote healthy marriages. It was initiated by Chris Gersten, a former high ranking official in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responsible for launching the Federal government’s Healthy Marriage Initiative.

Chris worked with divorce attorneys, domestic violence experts and victims of divorce to craft the Parental Divorce Reduction Act (“PDRA”). After the Act was drafted, Chris formed a 17-member advisory board that includes the nation’s leading marriage educators, scholars, attorneys, political leaders and other concerned citizens. It’s bi-partisan and includes people from left to right. The coalition has also reached out to hundreds of community activists and state leaders. Divorce Reform Advisory Committee Chair, Beverly Willett, announced the formation of the coalition as well as its new web site, at Huffington Post yesterday and interviews Chris about its chances for success. The article also provides some reasons on why this initiative is different from other divorce reform efforts of the recent past.

You can find out exactly what the act involves by following this link but in brief, the act applies only to married parents of minor children and exempts victims of domestic violence, spouses of felons and sex offenders, spouses who have been abandoned for 18 months, and spouses of alcoholics and drug addicts who refuse rehabilitation. The act’s purpose is to reduce unnecessary divorce, decrease parental conflict and litigation surrounding divorce, and educate parents regarding the impact of divorce on families. Research shows at least one-third of couples planning to divorce are open to reconciliation. The act would require some educational sessions and an eight-month waiting period prior to filing for divorce. (As a comparison, couples in Britain or France who want a no-fault divorce that is opposed by a spouse must live apart for five or six years, respectively, allowing time for reconciliation. The U.S. has no-fault divorce in every state with no waiting period.)

How You Can Support Divorce Reform
Nine bloggers initially launched the Divorce Reform web site that supports the coalition. I was honored to be a part of this initiative as one of its first bloggers. The blog offers an honest look at the effects of divorce as well as possible solutions. We invite your participation in the dialogue.

Hop on over to the blog and read some insightful posts. For example, read “Confessions of an unabashed marriage saver” by Michele Weiner-Davis; “Why is America’s divorce rate the highest in the world?” by Mike McManus;  “Denial: the price of our children’s best interests” by Kevin Senich. You can also read my post among others and learn why being a child of divorce is a risk for early death.

Please share the blog with your friends and family, with pro-marriage organizations and bloggers, and with anyone who cares about marriage and family.

What do you think about the potential for this kind of legislation? What are your thoughts about the impact of divorce on adults and children? What suggestions do you have? If you live outside the U.S., how does divorce compare in your country?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com