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

7 responses to “There’s More to Life and Marriage Than Happiness

  1. Lori,
    I love it when the Lord is speaking the same message on all the blogs I read. Your’s is a perfect example of how God is highlighting the importance of being who we say we are for His glory alone. It is true we can do the wrong things or the right things for the wrong reason – they’re both wrong! Thank you for sharing this study with us. I can always count on you to make me think and ultimately thank God for what He has done in my life. Left to myself, I would still be looking to only be happy in the moment with no regard for how I will end my life. At almost 52 that seems closer to me now than it did when I was in my 30’s.
    I loved this post – thank you!

    • I’m so glad the post was meaningful to you. It’s likely that it created warm feelings for you because you have sought true happiness rather than momentary pleasures. When you do this for 52 years, I’m sure you agree that the rewards of a life well lived are much more fulfilling than memories of brief pleasures along the way. So congrats to you!

  2. Having left an unhappy marriage four years ago (one where my husband was only concerned with what he was ‘getting’ from the marriage) I am now looking forward to a new beginning. While I enjoy being single, I do look forward to meeting someone with whom I can build an intimate relationship which will support us both through our lives. I’d rather be happy alone than in a relationship with the ‘wrong’ person. I will only accept a deep relationship that adds to my already happy life.

    Live Life Happy!

    • I agree that being happily single can be easier than being in a negative relationship. I wrote a post called “We all married the wrong person” you might want to read for my perspective on that issue. Super glad you found a happy life!

  3. I really appreciate this post. Happiness can be an attitude we create, not just a fleeting feeling we have. Focus on whether I’m happy in the moment is not an accurate measure of my life-it’s a momentary snapshot that I have the power to change. Your description reminds me of the scene at the Pyramids in “The Bucket List” when Morgan Freeman defines the two most important questions: Have you found joy in your life? Have you brought joy into the lives of others? I think the same applies to happiness.

  4. Thanks for your feedback. Sounds like I will have to see that movie!

  5. Pingback: Happy Hour | The Romantic Vineyard

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