Tag Archives: satisfaction

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.

Avoid these 5 regrets by living and loving to the fullest

As you set plans and goals for this year, perhaps you seek inspiration about the kind of life you hope to live—one filled with passion and purpose. Let’s hope that life includes a life with awesome relationships to boot.

A palliative care nurse named Bronnie Ware recently wrote about the top five regrets people make on their deathbeds. (See her post here.) They are keen reminders of what’s important, and they have great applications to marriage.

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected.” Bronnie says this was the most common regret. Have you been honest with yourself about the life you want to lead and the dreams you want to pursue? Talk to your spouse about these dreams, including your dreams for your marriage and family life. Live out your personal values, not those of the culture around you. For example, if travel is important to you, figure out how to scale back your lifestyle to provide more funds and time for adventures, or look for a job abroad so you can travel while getting paid. Follow your dreams while you are still healthy enough to do so.
  2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” Bronnie says all the older men spoke of missing their children’s youth, and men and women also talked of missing their partner’s companionship due to work. We often fall into the trap that work is what we have to do, and family life gets squeezed into the space that is left. But Bronnie suggests, “By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do…you become happier and more open to new opportunities.

 I would add that in addition to simplifying, learning to say no to some things (or even most things) opens doors for the important things. I watched a short interview today by John Acuff (while I was “wasting time” on Facebook) in which he explains why it’s important to let some people down in order to not let down the important ones in our lives. If you don’t have time to pursue all the great things you want to in live, I strongly encourage you to watch it on ABC News.

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” The way to have true and meaningful relationships is to be ourselves.
  2. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Married and single people can benefit greatly by keeping strong friendships. Research says social interactions increase our happiness and longevity. Caroline says many of the dying didn’t realize the value in their friendships until their dying weeks when the friendships were lost. What friendships are important for you to cultivate? How do you invest your time and energy into these relationships?  All that remains in the final weeks is love and relationships, says Caroline.
  3. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” While she explains many people on their deathbeds realized too late that happiness was a choice, I think that is equally true for marriage. We can focus on our partner’s great qualities or the things that annoy us. We can think about unmet needs or express gratitude for what we receive in love. We can choose to be happy together, or we can focus on the imperfections that are always a part of human life and love.

What are the choices you are making with your time and your attitude this year? I’ve always thought regrets are the worst possible emotion. What do you hope to feel as you look back on your life, and what are the regrets you hope to avoid?

If you enjoyed this post, sign up for free updates at MarriageGems.com. For information about Lori’s book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, visit Amazon.com or LoriDLowe.com.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

We “Can’t Get No” Satisfaction

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

One of the biggest obstacles to our becoming happy is our inability to be satisfied, says Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem. In case you didn’t notice, human nature is insatiable. We are never completely satisfied with ourselves, our partner, our income, our homes, our children, our jobs, our sex lives, or our bodies. We’re never completely satisfied with our entire lives, and due to our human nature, we may never be.

That is not to say that we cannot learn to be content. However, it doesn’t serve us well to pretend the outside world is always to blame for our dissatisfaction, when truly, the world couldn’t really satisfy us if it tried. Therefore, working on our inner thoughts is part of our journey to become happier.

“We must be able, in effect, to tell our nature that although we hear it and respect it, our mind, not our nature, will determine whether we are satisfied,” says Prager.

This ability to choose happiness is why we see individuals living in poverty across the world who are much happier than some truly wealthy westerners. While we may be dissatisfied, we can still choose happiness. We can work on reducing the causes of our dissatisfaction while also deciding that we are going to choose to be happy. Even in a world that includes evil, we can still find happiness. (Read How Can We Be Happy with Tragedy & Evil in the World?)

Some of humankind’s inability to be satisfied is positive. Dissatisfaction motivates us to change, improve, create, accomplish. If it weren’t for feeling dissatisfied, we as humans wouldn’t seek innovation and improvement in ourselves and in our world. It’s a critical piece to our humanity. I’m thankful for this type of dissatisfaction, because it does drive me to improve in so many ways.

Prager distinguishes between necessary (or positive) dissatisfaction and unnecessary dissatisfaction. All creative types have a necessary dissatisfaction with their work that causes them to strive to improve it. Much of the necessary dissatisfaction in our lives leads us to make crucial changes. If we were satisfied with dating losers, we would have no incentive to find a suitable mate. When couples are dissatisfied with their level of intimacy, this feeling can lead them to make improvements in communication and connection.

Unnecessary dissatisfaction relates to items that are either not important (inability to find the perfect boots) or not within our control (who your parents are). “Your dissatisfaction may be an entirely valid one, but if its cause cannot be changed, it only increases unhappiness,” says Prager. “Only when you have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change will you recognize that the dissatisfaction you feel over them is indeed unnecessary.”

So, there you have it. We will always be dissatisfied. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have happiness. It’s something we have to work out in our own minds.

How satisfied are you with yourself, your mate, your life? Does your dissatisfaction impede your happiness level?

Related Link:

“We have 225 studies [that say] that once you’re a happy person, you’re more likelyto make your marriage work, says Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, in an interesting article called “Perk Up” for Spirit Magazine. “You’re more likely to be creative, productive, to be healthier, to have stronger immune function.” The article gives some advice on measuring and evaluating your happiness level. Thanks to The Generous Wife for the link.

Photo credit: ©Cynthia Skaar/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?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Love Is Important, but Not the Main Reason People Stay Together

What can be more important than love in keeping a couple together? It’s not a rhetorical question. In fact, a couple of other factors are more important, according to a study of premarital relationship development by the American Psychological Association.

With the passage of time, love does indeed grow in relationships. However, love is not enough to keep many couples from breaking up. The study, lead by psychologist Susan Sprecher, PhD, of Illinois State University, concludes, “Couples break up because of decreased levels of satisfaction in the relationship—not because they stop loving each other. “

Sprecher says in her four-year study of 101 Midwestern, heterosexual couples, satisfaction and commitment were as important–or more important—than love in deciding whether to stay together.  For couples who remained together, love, satisfaction and commitment levels all increased. The largest increase was in commitment levels.

For couples who ended their relationship, love was unchanged (did not grow or decline), but satisfaction and commitment both declined. The researcher suggests dissatisfaction may cause love to stop growing.

What do I think we learn from this?

1)      It’s not enough to keep the status quo. If your love is not growing, you are moving backward in your relationship, putting it at risk. Complacency can be a relationship killer.

2)      Perhaps more importantly, both partners need to recommit themselves and work toward meeting the needs of one another. Is your partner satisfied? Why or why not? (If one or both of you is not satisfied or has unrealistic expectations, counseling is recommended.)

Commitment, satisfaction and love are three critical factors in your relationship. What are you doing to encourage their growth? Are you putting your hobbies, job demands or child rearing responsibilities above your spouses’ needs? Or are you working daily to cultivate these important traits?