Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series
Entire philosophies and religions have been built upon the idea that by changing our mind, we can change our lives—that the secret to a more prosperous life is just being open to greater prosperity. That believing you have a great marriage will help you get there.
We are inundated with messages from popular psychology telling us how to achieve success without action, but with a new way of thinking (sometimes called New Age thinking). Various books offer new prescriptions. “Pull a few psychic levers, believe the best about yourself, assert yourself, and happiness will be yours,” says the tongue-in-cheek David Myers, PhD, in The Pursuit of Happiness. In fact, just today, I read a post from a counselor stating that we can indeed change our lives using the power of our minds.
I would say we can control our perception of life, and we can even make our lives considerably happier. Our minds, and even our spirits, are powerful. However, we can’t prevent disease and earthquakes or erase evil from the planet.
I would also mention that I disagree with philosophies and religious that suggest the “individual as God” mentality in which we can control the world around us. For people of faith, that is unbiblical. And for people of science, it’s unproven. Certain celebrities promote this way of thinking, and I think it’s tempting for many to think they can gain wealth and influence and achieve their dreams by sitting in their bathrooms and thinking positive thoughts. I do believe we can achieve our dreams, but we have to use our minds and our actions as well as positive thoughts.
We do know the mind can affect our bodies, sometimes dramatically. For example, the placebo effect is well-known: if people think they are taking an effective treatment, their body is more likely to heal, even if they are taking a sugar pill. If doctors can make patients believe they will become well, some of them will become well as a result, even with no other treatment. In addition, optimists have been shown to heal faster after surgery and to respond to stress better than pessimists (responding with smaller blood pressure increases). We know that relaxation, meditation and optimism promote healing, says Myers.
But research has been unable to prove that we can change the world around us with positive thinking (and draw those millions of dollars that we deserve to us)—just as we can’t change our spouse with positive thinking. However, I think that focusing on feelings of gratitude and expressing positive thoughts, while also attempting to act in a more positive manner, can indeed affect those around us, including our spouse. In other words, by “positive acting” not just positive thinking, we can start to change the world around us.
As an example, a friend recently decided to participate in a challenge called 29 Gifts, started by Cami Walker, author of the book by the same name. Each day, my friend gave some kind of gift or act of love to someone she knew, with no expectation of anything in return. You can read about her experience here in Is it Really Better to Give than to Receive? I know about this only because I was one of the recipients of a thoughtful gift and kind note that made my day. Within a month, her decision to act in a positive, loving manner had far-reaching effects for those around her, many of whom were inspired to act similarly.
My point (in life and marriage) is if we become too self-focused, we lose the point of loving those around us. It’s all well and good to try to be more positive, calm, and grateful on our own. But by expressing gratitude (in writing or verbally, or in prayer), or by giving a hug, or by taking a positive action to help our partner with something, or to just be there to listen while he or she talks, we can make a real impact and demonstrate real love. I believe this positive impact will increase our own happiness as well as the happiness of those around us.
Try it for a few days. Do something nice for someone you know, and pay attention to how it makes you feel before and after. Then do something nice for your spouse for a few days and see how it affects your relationship.
Next week, I’ll talk about how the images of how our lives and marriages “should be” can impact our happiness levels.
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