What Keeps Us From Being Happy?

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Post 2

Recently we discussed whether “We” or “Me” is more important in marriage; the conclusion I made was that both are clearly important. Growing individually, and sharing that growth, can help us grow in our marriage. However, I’ve known people who grew so much individually that they felt they “outgrew” their partner or “grew apart.” (That is another discussion. I’ll just say that is a warning about the feelings that can occur if you don’t spend enough time in sharing and connecting during your “self-expansion”.)

This quest for self-expansion really ties into the issue of our search for happiness. After all, searching for meaning and purpose and growing as a person are part of that search for happiness. You may want to read Post 1 Why Personal Happiness is Important to Marital Happiness before moving on in this series. It discussed why we have an obligation to ourselves and to our spouses to be as happy as we can be.

In the last post, I cited Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem, saying much of our happiness is within our control. I will add a caveat here that sometimes individuals face serious challenges—such as depression or grief—that may require professional intervention, and sometimes even medication. The wrong therapist can be more harmful than helpful, so it’s critical to find someone who is experienced and skilled in both the art and science of psychotherapy.

Honestly, though, most of us do not have a clinical issue that is keeping us from finding happiness. Our own thoughts and decisions keep us from being happy. If happiness is a battle to be waged inside ourselves, how do we begin?

Prager says many of us mistakenly believe happiness is a feeling. (This sounds a lot like our discussion Is Love a Decision or a Feeling?) As such, they make most choices in their lives based around whether the action will cause happiness or unhappiness. In the end, many of their choices lead to pleasure, but not long-term happiness. In fact, the choices that lead to short-term pleasure may decrease our happiness. For example, I may choose to go out with my friends each weekend, but if my spouse is home with the kids and resents my lack of attention to the family, the decision for fun will probably not bring me long-term happiness.

“Happiness is a battle to be waged and not a feeling to be awaited,” says Prager. I know it’s kind of a bummer that both happy lives and happy marriages require work. Because, after all, work isn’t fun, so how could it bring happiness? But happiness doesn’t just drop onto us like fairy dust, and it’s not something that falls only to those who are lucky in life.

Using our minds is crucial to finding happiness. This doesn’t mean most people aren’t intelligent enough to find it. No, I think you’ll agree there are lots of highly intelligent, yet supremely unhappy, individuals in the world. (Just as we know money doesn’t bring happiness because of all the rich, miserable folks out there.) Prager says we lack three things:

  1. The awareness that what will make us happy demands a great deal of thought
  2. The self-discipline to overcome the natural inclination to do what is most pleasurable at the moment rather than what is most happiness-inducing
  3. The wisdom to consistently answer the question “Will this make me happier or unhappier”

If this all sounds too deep, rest assured that he breaks it down further into reasonable steps you can achieve. 

First, I think we need to decide if it’s worth the effort to be happy. Do you deserve to be happy? Do you know what you think happiness is? Do you think you can be happy living in such an imperfect world? I don’t mean can we fake a cheerful attitude, but rather can we find a way to be happy?

Next Wednesday I’ll share some research about what it would take to satisfy us, and how we can justify our choice to be happy even with so much tragedy in the world. I know these are issues I struggle with. I can be easily weighed down by news of an evil act or a disaster affecting innocent people. I struggle with even small things like the daily to-do list, or the headache I have while writing this, and I know many people have very real challenges regarding their health, safety or finances. But I think each of us can learn to avoid certain traps and mistakes and move toward a happier place in our lives and our marriages. And yes, fun and pleasure are also important parts of a happy life.

Do you think you have a happy life? A happy marriage? Do you want to become happier? What do you most struggle with to become or stay happy?

Photo: ©Pavel Losevsky, PhotoXpress.com

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