Tag Archives: what makes us happy?

There’s More to Life and Marriage Than Happiness

Happy Life:  Happy Marriage Series

Despite the headline, I’m not suggesting that people live unhappy lives or in unhappy marriages. However, I do think people misunderstand what true happiness is and what it involves.

Is happiness overrated? Happiness is too often confused with feeling good, says Martin Seligman, author of Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Rather than just feeling good, he says leading a good, happy life entails more than creating positive emotions. We need five critical elements to flourish in life: positive emotions, engagement (i.e., feeling lost in a task), relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

To flourish, we can’t just feel good in our own heads, we must have something good to show for it. This is a theme I have returned to occasionally (such as in this post on the difference between pleasure, happiness and joy), because I think our modern culture encourages us to seek immediate pleasure without regard for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us. Sacrifice and service to others are valued far less than freedom, independence, and display of material wealth.

If we reflect back on an older person’s life, we often admire the times of hard work, sacrifice, integrity, productivity and innovation. We connect how they contributed to others with a life well lived. I wonder if enough of us measure our own lives in the same manner, asking how fruitful and helpful we are rather than merely how happy we are in a particular moment. The same goes for how we raise the next generation. Are we focused on helping our children achieving great academic and athletic prowess and collecting impressive achievements that they can use for the next stage of life, or are we also guiding them on how they can build healthy relationships, engage with others, find meaning in their work, and contribute to a better world?

Whom do you admire? How do you define a life well lived? What role models do you have for achieving a happy life and/or a happy marriage?

When you ask yourself how happy you are in your marriage right now, are you also factoring in what you are contributing to the marriage, how fruitful you are being in the marriage, how engaged you are with your spouse on a daily basis, etc.? Or, are you asking yourself what you are “getting” from the marriage right now? Imagine yourself and your spouse in your “golden years” looking back at your current life. What are the things you would be glad you accomplished or invested time in? What are the passions you would be happy to know you participated in together? Who are the people you will be glad you helped? What are the regrets you might have if you don’t change course? Are you spending too much time or not enough time in an area of your life?

Living a happy, fulfilling life is a worthwhile aim as long as we understand what we’re working toward. What are you working toward in your life in your quest for happiness?

Related posts:
Why does our experience with pleasure fade?
An eye-opening post by Jane Devin explaining why unhappiness is not a disease and the tyranny of positive thinking.


If you, your spouse, or someone you know is unemployed and married, you can assist a researcher who is preparing his dissertation research on the impact of unemployment on marital relationships in the current economy.  Go to this survey page, and share the link with others who may be willing to help  Andrew Bland in his work. The survey is anonymous. As you know, I’m a fan of research that can help us in our relationships. And in order to get that useful research, the researchers need participants willing to provide their experiences. Thanks in advance.

Photo ©Lori Lowe

Is seeking success keeping you from a happy life and marriage?

Happy Life: Happy  Marriage Series

“If you equate happiness with success, you will never achieve the amount of success necessary to make you happy.” –Dennis Prager

The above quote from Happiness is a Serious Problem stood out to me as a major challenge in today’s society. Many of us are focused on achieving an ideal lifestyle to make us happy. In other words, living in a certain home that is well decorated, having an attractive spouse and children, working in a challenging and well-paying career—these things become prerequisites to happiness, not additional blessings to enjoy.

Prager says this is one of the most common obstacles to achieving happiness in our lives. I would add that it is also an obstacle to achieving happiness in our marriages, because our relationship happiness is so heavily influenced by happiness (or unhappiness) in other areas of our life.

Are there goals (either subconscious or conscious) you are seeking—specific areas of success that you can write down? Jot them down and imagine how your life would change if you achieved these items. Most of us will realize that 1) our life wouldn’t change that significantly if we achieved them and 2) we would then become focused on new goals that would then be required to make us happy.

“Identifying success with happiness is like moving the goalposts back 10 yards every time your football team has a first down—your team may be more and more successful, but the goalposts will always remain unreachable,” says Prager. The solution is to decide today that you are successful. This doesn’t mean you must stop seeking new goals and challenging yourself, but rather that the additional success isn’t required for your happiness.

There are plenty of people who are not successful by the world’s standards who are very happy, and the converse is also true. (“Unhappy poor people at least have the fantasy that money will make them happy, unhappy rich people don’t even have that,” says Prager.) So we should realize that seeking a worldly view of success doesn’t guarantee any increase in our happiness. Success on its own is not bad. For instance, achieving career goals and providing financially for your family can be quite positive and rewarding, but negative when ever-increasing amounts of money, recognition, fame, or ego-boosting are necessary to feel fulfilled. The pursuit of financial success is not necessarily destructive to happiness; it is destructive when engaged in for its own sake and not for reasons that increase happiness, explains Prager.

Prager suggests we ask ourselves “why” we want to be successful. For some, their parents loved them when they were successful academically or with certain career choices. Others may have a fear of financial failure. Many individuals are driven by demons that no amount of success can assuage, says Prager.

On the flipside, when our work is joyful and meaningful, success at work can certainly bring about increased happiness. This is why unpaid volunteers can derive more joy from their work than the highest paid professionals. What would you do if money weren’t a driving force in your life? If success gives you peace of mind, helps you give of your time and money to worthwhile causes, then it is likely building happiness.

For example, I derive satisfaction and enjoyment from researching and writing about marriage, an endeavor I have been working on for three years without compensation. I have another job that supports me financially. On balance, I feel my career is rewarding and adds to my happiness. I believe investing in my personal relationships adds even more to my happiness.

Where else do you seek success?
Since you have read this far, you are likely focused on marriage improvement and self-improvement as well. These are areas in which success can be equated with increased happiness: success in love, in relationships, in child rearing, in gaining wisdom, in doing good, in spiritual growth, and in learning about oneself. Seeking worldly success can be more likely to bring unhappiness than happiness, as it detracts us from the areas that will ultimately bring us happiness.

What success are you seeking in your life, and in your marriage relationship?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com/Stormcab