Tag Archives: relationship research

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.

Genes May Contribute to Relationship Empathy

A new study out just this month that appeared in the online journal Emotion, published by the American Psychological Association, suggests that our genes may determine how inclined we are toward empathy. This means that the level of connection we have toward our spouse’s negative emotional state may have more to do with their biological makeup than with how much they care.

Researchers suggest that our genetic makeup may make some people more responsive to their partner’s emotional states and others less so. Their theory is that the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR might play a role in making us either less or more responsive to our spouses’ emotions.

The study involved data from 172 couples who remained married after 11 years. Researchers found some people have one variant of the gene, while others have a second variant. Depending on which variant you or your spouse has, your emotions may be more or less connected to your partner’s emotions. The gene appears to control how long your reaction lasts, and how responsive you are to your spouse’s emotional cues.

While we can’t blame our actions on our biology, Bradbury says we do need to realize that who we are is in large part a makeup of our biology, and that our reactions are sometimes outside our control. However, researcher Tom Bradbury says, “It’s much more complex than a single gene.”

The reason this understanding is important, say the psychologists, is not so that we can explain away our own behavior, but instead that we learn to be more forgiving of our spouse. “This research may imply that we should be forgiving of the behavior of a loved one and not demand that a spouse change her or his behavior,” said the psychologists.

  “Who you are and how you respond to me has a lot to do with things that are totally outside your control,” said Bradbury. “My partner’s biology is invisible to me; I have no clue about that. The more I can appreciate that the connection between who I am and who my partner is may be biologically mediated leads me to be much more appreciative of invisible forces that constrain our behavior,” he added.

Researchers believe multiple genes are at play in helping to contribute to our reactions. They say that if you realize how hard it is to change yourself, you may see that your partner can’t control this aspect of him or herself either.

There’s much more to the full research study that I’ll write about later, but this biological component is important to helping understand why we need to have a forgiving bent within marriage. It’s difficult at times to see things the way our spouse seems them, and at times we would like them to be more emotionally understanding of where we are. However, this may be harder than you realize for your partner to accomplish.

From my own experience, I believe my husband to be very empathic with others, but I don’t believe we are always emotionally on the same page. So, this research helps remind me that we have a different makeup and that he can’t always choose to be where I am emotionally. It doesn’t mean that he can’t understand my emotions, but rather that we may have to work harder to maintain emotional connection and understanding.

Do you find these results interesting or enlightening—or dull and unhelpful? Does it help you view your spouse’s reactions in a new light? Or, do you think individuals can exercise much more control and choice over the way they respond, and shouldn’t rely on biological excuses?

Photo by Photostock courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. The book tells the true stories that demonstrate that marriage can thrive even in the most difficult circumstances. Learn from 12 inspiring couples who experienced child loss, infidelity, drug addiction, cancer, financial crises, brain injury, stranger rape, military service, infertility, opposing religions, unsupportive families, interracial relationships, raising special-needs children, and much more. These couples found the pressures of life didn’t destroy them; instead, they crystallized their commitment to each other.

Do Spouses Become More Alike Over Time?

We’ve all seen the pictures of married couples who, like owners and their dogs, begin to look alike over the years. Scary isn’t it? There’s even a prevalent theory out there that if you live with your mate for long enough, you’ll start to act alike and share more common traits. Is this theory true? Not exactly. It seems we tend to pair up with others who have similar fundamental personality traits, but we don’t grow more alike over time.

Psychologists at Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota studied 1,296 couples who were married for an average of 19.8 years. They found that couples who were married as long as 39 years were “no more alike in fundamental personality traits than newlyweds.” For couples who were similar, it was likely due to traits they sought out during courtship, not something that developed over time. Read the study details as reported by ABC News.

The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, focused on 198 factors and personality traits: extroversion/introversion, social disposition, and other aspects, which, unlike hobbies, tend to remain the same during one’s life.

Researchers were surprised at how similar couples were in fundamental personality traits. They surmise that rather than attracting opposites, many of us look for partners who are similar to us. Most couples in the study shared some traits. Regardless of how long a couple was married, researchers didn’t find the similarities diminished or grew over the years—with the exception of one trait, aggression. One partner’s aggressive responses are likely to lead to aggression in the other partner.

So if you are worried about looking and acting more like your spouse every day, fear not, except that aggressive behavior leads to more of the same. While marriage does mean joining two people together, each person gets to retain their individual personality, even after many decades together. The jury is still out, however, on whether you will begin to look more like your dog.

Do you and your partner share many personality traits, or are you rather dissimilar? Read Oh no, I married an extrovert! for my take on personality differences.

Photo ©Cheri/PhotoXpress.com

How To Combat These 3 Libido Killers

Relationships Web site YourTango published my article today, “How To Combat These 3 Libido Killers–three simple ways to combat technology addiction for better sex.” Here’s a little teaser on the content:

What if you could have twice as much sex with one small change? Researchers say you can. Technology may be robbing you of a toe-curling sex life. You haven’t noticed the silent alarm, but chances are you’re getting robbed each and every night…

Zip on over to read the article, which includes great tips on enhancing the use of technology in our lives to maximize sexual pleasure in  marriage. Before you go, read the giveaway info below.

As an added bonus for my regular readers or for new readers from YourTango, I’m offering a sexy giveaway that has been very popular in the past–A Private Affair, The Erotic Game of Secrets, Plans and Promises for Couples. I will hold a drawing next Friday for the game. The drawing is open to all LifeGems4Marriage subscribers (new or existing) who comment on the article either here or on the YourTango post. If you are just too shy to leave a comment (we’re really nice here, don’t be scared!), you can order your own game here.

As a gift for all readers, whether you decide to subscribe or not, feel free to read, download, share, or comment on the free e-book, “Marriage Gems: 10 Secrets for Marital Success.” What’s your #1 secret to happiness in marriage?

If you’re new to this blog, welcome! You can read a little about me and link to some of the top posts here. Or just browse around and check out some recent posts, and chime in with your thoughts or questions.

FYI, this article for YourTango is a part of a “31-Day Challenge” for Better Sex. You’ll find articles every day geared to this topic during the month of October.

Photo credit: ©huaxiadragon/Photoxpress.com

Men More Vulnerable to Relationship Ups & Downs

Women are often thought to have more intense emotional feelings in their love lives than men. At least this is how we are often portrayed in movies and on television. Meanwhile, men are often shown to be insensitive or less feeling with regard to their romantic partners. But a study featured in HealthDay News says men’s emotions are more vulnerable to love’s ups and downs.

The study was conducted by Robin Simon, sociology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Anne Barrett, associate professor of sociology at Florida State University in Tallahassee. It was published in the Journal of Health & Social Behavior. Researchers found men benefit more than women from the good parts of the relationship, and they are more harmed by the bad parts.

Women were found to experience depression when a relationship ended and benefited more from being a couple. But regarding the mental health benefits, men received greater emotional benefits and were more disturbed emotionally during rocky patches in the relationship. The reason may be because women tend to have other important sources of emotional connection and support, while men are more dependent on their girlfriends and wives for emotional support.

The findings are important to both men and women, because it helps us understand that we are both emotionally invested in our relationships, albeit in slightly different ways. It does little good to define women in our culture as emotional basket cases, or men as stoic sex hounds. We should also remember that emotions are positive for both sexes.

It’s also a healthy reminder to men that they should have a broader network of social support, including friends or relatives with whom they feel a strong connection. When men and women have dependable friends who support their marriage, it benefits the relationship.

Do you agree with the findings that men are more vulnerable to the roller coaster of relationship ups and downs?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.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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