Tag Archives: psychology research

Why More Americans are Happy, Yet Unsatisfied

winter by Michal  Marcol freedigitalphotos.netAccording to recent Gallup polls, American levels of happiness are at a four-year high, with 60 percent of all Americans reporting they feel happy without a lot of stress or worry. Books about happiness are selling in record numbers. So why don’t Americans seem more satisfied?

One reason is, as I have written in a previous post, “There’s more to life and marriage than happiness.” Another reason is that 40 percent of Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Having a clear purpose and meaning for your life has been shown in research to increase your life satisfaction, improve your physical and mental health, and decrease the chances of depression. It is very possible to be both relatively happy and yet still live an unsatisfied life.

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness,” conclude researchers. Yes, pursuing happiness and pleasure can actually hinder you from having a meaningful, satisfying life as an individual and as a married couple.

A new study to be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology examined the attitudes of 400 Americans over a month and found that while a meaningful life and a happy life overlap in some ways, they were very different. Researchers determined that leading a “happy life” was associated with being a “taker” who at times appeared shallow, selfish or self-absorbed, but with satisfied demands. These happy individuals might be healthy and have plenty of income for what they needed or wanted, as well as few worries.

A meaningful life, on the other hand, was associated with being a “giver.” The participants in this category derived meaning from sacrifices. They actively looked for meaning in their activities, even when they knew the action might decrease their happiness or require them to give something up for themselves. Examples might be a parent who takes time to care for their children, a person who buys a present for a friend to cheer her up, or a spouse who offers to help around the house.

Finding meaning can even involve extreme sacrifices, such as the one made by the Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl in Vienna in September 1942. Read about his fascinating story and more about the research in this article from The Atlantic called “There’s more to life than being happy.” Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, later wrote the best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning. After working on suicide prevention for teens earlier in his career, he helped two suicidal inmates in the camps find meaning for their lives and gave them something to live for. Don’t we all need something to live for?

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy,’” wrote Frankl. He also wrote the enduring words: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.”

This last quote brings me to the point of this post. To find meaning in life and certainly in our marriages, we need to direct our attention away from our desire for happiness of the moment and toward others. By loving our spouse and family more fully, we can find greater fulfillment and satisfaction.

Researchers say happy people derive joy from receiving benefits from others, while people leading more meaningful lives derive a great deal of joy from giving to others.

Why is finding a deeper meaning for your life and marriage more important than seeking happiness for your family? Because it affects every choice you will make.  When one spouse reaches a turning point in their life, such as a mid-life crisis, someone focused on personal happiness might assess what they are getting from others and who is making them happy. They may say things like “life is short” and “you only live once” to justify behavior focused on personal pleasure. On the contrary, someone focused on meaning might assess what memories and values they are giving to their loved ones and how they have improved the lives of others. They will wonder what legacy they are leaving and how they can strengthen that legacy.

The idea that we are responsible for something greater than ourselves is contrary to the value of freedom above all.  Are these values at odds in your mind?

Please share how you find meaning in your life and in your marriage.

If you are interested in more on this topic, here are other happiness-related posts:

Is your family seeking pleasure, happiness, or joy?

Happiness comes before success in life, not after

The formula for unhappiness is revealed

Are too many choices leading to unhappiness?

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 all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Cheerfulness & Positive Reactions Contribute to Marital Happiness

Every couple has problems. But when it comes to problem solving within a marriage, remaining cheerful and pleasant in your outlook is crucial. Research suggests that even when your cheerfulness is combined with imperfect communication skills, it’s “far more predictive of keeping your partner happy than being a grump who somehow manages to say or do the right thing.” (From an article entitled “Will you be there for me when things go right? Social support for positive event disclosure” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.)

The problem is, it’s tough to remain cheerful with the person with whom you can most “be yourself.” I used to see my hubby’s number on the caller ID and sometimes answer the phone in a stressed out or rushed voice if I was feeling that way. (However, if a client called I always answered in a cheerful voice.) At some point in recent years, I realized that error and began to make an attempt to answer his calls with a cheerful comment instead, which set the tone for a nicer conversation, even when I needed to express a stressful day at a later point in our talk.

It’s even more challenging to remain cheerful or positive when you’re trying to work out a problem, but I can see how staying upbeat would be more beneficial than choosing the perfect wording to state my point.

The study described in the article cited above focused on positive events and emotions, and concluded our response to our partner’s good news is more important than our support during tough times or with negative news. Read Celebrate Good Times for a previous post on this topic. When romantic partners are supportive of positive disclosures (sharing something positive in your day), couples report being closer and more bonded. The effects are independent of the health of the relationship.

Reactions to good news should be active and constructive, conveying both confirmation of the event’s importance to your spouse and demonstrating your support. In other words, you validate them and show you know what is important to them. When you react in a passive or destructive manner, you demonstrate a lack of understanding for what is important to your spouse as well as a lack of caring.

The report’s conclusion gave me new insight on the importance of this issue. It suggests that because so many studies have focused on negative emotional experiences, such as conflict and jealousy, researchers have until now not realized how important positive emotional experiences are to a relationship.

The results of the present study indicate that feeling that your partner is there for you when things go right and that your partner actually being there for you when things go right play important roles in the health of relationships. Moreover, because our previous research has shown that individuals share news of positive events with close others at a very high rate, capitalization processes likely play a central role in relationship formation and maintenance. Indeed, positive emotional exchanges may serve as a foundation on which stable and satisfying relationships rest.

How do you respond to your partner’s report of their day? How is your attitude when you’re solving problems together? Being engaged and positive can enhance your relationship.

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