Category Archives: Happiness

Longest study of human development shows what men need to live happy lives

oldtime photo morguefile2If you want to be happy for the rest of your life … Harvard has the answers, at least for men.

Harvard University conducted the longest-running longitudinal study of human development, beginning in 1938 with 268 male undergraduates. Researchers studied an enormous range of psychological, physical and lifestyle traits of  over a 75-year period—everything from IQ to drinking habits, marriages and much more. The men are now in their 90s and have provided intriguing data over the decades.

George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than 30 years, published his findings in the book Triumphs of Experience. The factor Vaillant discovered was most critical, and which he refers to most often, is “the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and health and happiness in later years.”

The quality of relationships and the capacity to form intimate relationships was far more important to wellbeing than dozens of factors, including body type, birth order, social class, or income, the latter of which often receives a vast amount more of our attention in life.

The most important finding from study, according to Vaillant, is this …  “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion:  Happiness is love. Full stop.

Researchers returned to these particular findings from 2009 to 2013 to ensure this importance on relationships was warranted. In further study, Vaillant not only confirmed it, but placed even more importance on warm relationships than previously.

What other factors were important for men to live a happy life?

  1. Alcoholism was found to be the single strongest cause of divorce between the study men and their wives. Alcoholism was also found to be strongly associated with neurosis and depression. Combined with cigarette smoking, alcoholism was the number-one cause of death.
  2. In addition to being linked with improved wellbeing, warm relationships affected income. The 58 men who scored the highest on measurements of warm relationships earned an average of $140,000 a year more during their peak salary years (ages 55 to 60) than the 31 men who scored lowest on this factor.
  3. Memories of a happy childhood were a source of lifelong strength. However, recovery from negative childhoods can and did occur. One loving friend, mentor or relative can have a powerful effect to negate the effects of a difficult childhood.
  4. The men’s relationships with their mothers was significant to their long-term wellbeing. Men with warm childhood relationships with their mother earned more and were more effective at work later in their professional lives. Men with poor childhood maternal relationships were more likely to suffer from dementia in old age.
  5. Men who had warm childhood relationships with their father were associated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased life satisfaction at age 75.
  6. The men who did well in old age didn’t necessarily do so well in midlife, and the reverse was also true.
  7. Marriages brought much more contentment after age 70.
  8. How the study participants aged after age 80 was determined much more by habits formed before age 50 than by heredity. (Your habits determine how you age more than your genetics do.)
  9. Persistence, discipline and dependability, combined with capacity for intimacy was a winning combination for happy lives.

The welcome news for old age is that our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before. If you’d like more details from the study, you can find Triumphs of Experience on Amazon.

Source: “75 Years in the Making

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Feel like your marriage needs a big change?

woman walking morguefileOne prominent family law firm reports the third Monday of January is the busiest day for divorce lawyers. However, they say that many couples see a lawyer in hopes of trying to salvage the relationship.

I’d rather see those people marching off to marriage counselors, but it begs the question: Why the end of January?

Things have settled down after the holidays. Expectations for those holidays may not have been met. Many people drink more during the holiday season. Cold weather may create cabin fever or winter blues. Visits with extended family can add additional stress. The New Year causes us to reevaluate our lives and ask if we are achieving or receiving all that we could be. (It’s a rather consumer-oriented perspective, but we often can’t help ourselves.)

All of these factors and more can contribute to a feeling of malaise. Many of these factors cause stress but are not directly related to a “bad marriage.” It’s just hard to have a good marriage if one or more of the spouses are depressed or stressed out. A spouse may get the blame for not “doing enough” to help us out or to make us happy.

Still, even people who visit a marriage counselor, or worse, a divorce lawyer, often don’t want a divorce. They just want a change. There are many possible solutions or changes that can improve one’s outlook on life while keeping the marriage intact.

Do you want more time with your spouse? Do you despise your job or the city you live in? Do you need firmer boundaries with your in-laws, or wish for a quick getaway to a warm climate? Or are there deeper issues that a therapist might help you overcome?

Feeling like your marriage needs a complete overhaul? Check the calendar, and realize it might be time to seriously consider a number of changes. But keep your spouse.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Take a Hike—With Your Spouse

boat nature morguefileIf you are looking for ways to increase your happiness level individually or as a couple, getting out into nature may give you a boost. Growing research connects being in nature and wellbeing.

A UK study that tracked more than 20,000 participants with more than a million responses concluded that people were significantly happier in natural environments as compared with urban environments.

Have a picnic in the park, take a hike, go kayaking, watch a sunset, or simply sit in a green space during your workday. These are all ways you could relax your body and mind. Doing them with your partner can help you connect outside of the usual stresses and electronic interruptions. It’s hard to worry about the laundry when you’re taking in an incredible view.

I’ve found even when I resist going on a wooded hike or boat ride, my spirit is boosted by the beauty of nature. The winter hikes this year were memorable as well. If you’re really resistant to the outdoors, bring some flowers and greenery indoors, or sit near a window with a view of nature.

Schedule a nature break; you may find it boosts your productivity as well as your wellbeing.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Are Society’s Standards Hurting Your Marriage?

cruise ship morguefileI recently read about a family’s decision to leave an expensive city lifestyle and move to a rural, laid back community to reduce stress and have more time together. It was a reminder that our lives are full of choices, and that our lifestyle is not a permanent decision. Societal standards for most Americans are putting an immense strain on families and marriages; many couples are too exhausted for physical and emotional intimacy.

The pressure to live in a large home filled with expensive furniture, to wear fashionable clothes, to send children to the best schools with private lessons, and to take nice vacations and drive new cars contributes to a perceived need to work longer hours and attain promotions. Many couples believe they can’t live on one salary, even when one of the salaries is quite high. High-end desires are promoted by the culture (through advertising, movies, Facebook, etc.) and lead to either debt or the need to earn more. The result: increased stress, and less time.

Families with children have to face additional societal pressures to join artistic, educational, and athletic teams and activities. A generation ago, a baseball team would practice perhaps one day a week in addition to a weekend game. Today’s sports teams often require daily practices and most of the weekend. Many kids I know practice before and after school every day, plus weekends. Ballet, piano, swim, French, band, soccer—the options are endless and costly, and the pressure to join starts very early. Family time suffers, and budgets are strained. Parents often divide on weekends to cover all the activities, making weekends as much work as the weekday.

Where does the marriage fit in when you haven’t had time to connect during the week or the weekend? Resentment can build when one or both spouses feel they are doing more (of the childcare, of the chores, or earning the money).

If only one spouse is working, he or she may feel compelled to focus on work to fulfill the family’s needs and wants. A lack of connection can develop if not enough time is spent with one’s spouse and family, hurting the relationship and getting in the way of a good sex life.

Millennials are starting to pave the way with prioritizing work/life balance above climbing the corporate ladder. Building balance into our lives allows us to nurture our relationships.

There’s nothing wrong with living in a nice home, driving a nice car, and taking your kids to soccer practice. However, if societal pressures are preventing a quality family life, consider what changes could be made. Are you willing to live in a smaller house to have more time together? Could you drop out of some activities and have more free time together?

When my family found ourselves spread too thin and separating for sporting activities on the weekend, we pulled my son out of the travel soccer team. Instead, we found ourselves enjoying relaxing Saturdays as a family, and able to go to church at our regular time on Sunday. We adjusted our lives so that I could work part-time, allowing me to do much of the shopping, laundry and chores during the week.

I don’t think we have won the battle against all of society’s expectations. One struggle we often have is the high volume of homework and studying our kids complete each night, sometimes requiring our support. The pressure to help our kids succeed is high and time consuming. This stress can also bleed into the marriage relationship and keep us from having time to relax as a couple.

We are blessed to have our children at home, and we also look forward to different phases of our lives. To be successful and have a happy marriage once our children are gone, we need to make time and space for one another now. We make frequent changes to try to achieve better balance, and at least question the activities in which we are involved. Balance is a moving target.

If you think your marriage is getting put on the back burner, sit down individually and as a couple to determine what changes are possible to give you more of the life you want.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Avoid Cognitive Traps for a Happy Life and Marriage

memory morguefileBeing happy in your life and being happy with your life are two different things. The former has to do with the actual experience, and the latter equates to the memory or conclusion of events. For example, most women aren’t happy during childbirth, but they are very happy having given birth.

We can become confused between these “cognitive traps” according to Daniel Kahneman. (Check out his TED Talk here if you like.) He calls confusion between the events and our memories of them a “focusing illusion”. Experiencing 20 minutes of a glorious symphony that ends on a dreadful note can distort our memory of the night.

I can relate to focusing illusion, because a few years ago I had an amazing vacation with the ladies in my family at a resort in Mexico. The week after we returned home, the resort violently exploded from a gas leak, killing many (newlyweds, children, employees, and more) who stood right where we had stood. So, the memory of that trip is now marred for me, but the experience was a good one.

In the same way, we can overlook a good evening with our spouse with a small argument at the end of the night. Our negative emotions are stronger and more likely to overshadow the positive ones. A nice dinner out can be ruined by a sarcastic remark or offhanded comment. Our memory of the event overtakes the experience.

Kahneman explains that the difference between experiencing suffering and the memory of that suffering is how things end. I interviewed a husband who spent years overcoming his drug addiction. He was separated from his wife and son and suffered greatly, as did they. However, after getting clean and rebuilding his marriage he says everything he went through got him to where they are today. So their memory of the suffering is tempered by their happy reconciliation.

Time certainly affects our memory of experiences. We make decisions about the future based on these distorted memories. When we think about the future, we often think in terms of anticipated memories, for example what it will feel like to be retired or have grandchildren.

Conflict can exist between the “remembering self” and the “experiencing self”. I recall having a great time in Rome last summer, but I experienced a great deal of exhaustion and some ill health during my trip. My memories fade the negatives away based on the photos and stories we tell. Kahneman asks, if you were told after a two-week vacation that all of your photos would be destroyed and your memories would be deleted, would you choose a different vacation? Would your spouse? If so then there’s the conflict or rub.

How pleased and satisfied you are with your overall life is much more important than how happy you are during each minute of your daily life—meaning vs. pleasure. People rate their happiness much higher when they have greater meaning in their life.

Other things that affect your happiness:
1. Spend time with the people you love and like. This has a high contributor to happiness according to researchers. Of course, spending more time with your spouse will also help you have a better marriage, and that will help you be happier as well!
2. Climate is not very important to happiness (even though I complain about the cold incessantly). Interestingly, people often move to find a better climate, then recalling the terrible winters where they used to live, they rate their current happiness level higher.
3. More money doesn’t buy more happiness. Incomes below $60,000 are related to lower happiness levels. However, higher income levels don’t equate to higher happiness levels.
4. Recall happy memories with your spouse—your engagement, dating life, wedding day, children’s births, celebrations and holidays. By focusing on these positive emotions, you can balance out those small negative things that can happen in your day, like forgetting to run an errand.
5. Remember the meaning and purpose in your life. Changing diapers may not be fun, but being a parent brings tremendous long-term joy. Sacrificing for your spouse may not be easy, but building a great marriage is very rewarding.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Will men helping with chores lead to more action in bedroom?

vacuum morguefileResearch shows that when men do their share of the chores, divorce rates are lower, their partners are happier and less depressed, the relationship has fewer conflicts, and they tend to have more sex. The last point seems to be the most written about, as in “help with the laundry to get more sex.” More on that in a bit.

Being an active, involved father has its own share of benefits, both for men and their children. Participating in childcare helps to make Dads more patient and empathic, and it reduces rates of substance abuse in men. Fatherhood is correlated with lower blood pressure and less cardiovascular disease. Active fathers in Fortune 500 companies have higher job satisfaction. (See NYT article below.)

Benefits to children of involved fathers are numerous: fewer behavioral problems, more likely to succeed, happier kids. Dads who do an equal share of housework demonstrate to daughters that they shouldn’t limit themselves to stereotypically female jobs. “For a girl to see that she has the same opportunities as boys, it makes a big difference to see Dad doing the dishes,” say Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in the New York Times article “How men can succeed in the boardroom and the bedroom.”

With all these advantages, it’s a wonder that husbands everywhere aren’t tripping over themselves to load the dishwasher and vacuum the family room. However, it’s the talk of “choreplay” that leads some women feeling a little less than, umm, satisfied.

The latest high-profile conversations are telling men that helping out in the kitchen will lead to greater action in the bedroom. And maybe it will. But probably not if they are looking at it in a quid-pro-quo fashion.

Jessica Valenti explains the rub in her article “Women don’t need ‘choreplay’. They need men to do some chores.” She explains,” My husband does not do laundry because he wants to have sex. He does the laundry for the same reason I imagine most people do: because the clothes are dirty.”

Men should be involved in the home and promoting domestic equality because it’s the right thing to do—not as an incentive for sex, she explains. While the laundry-for-sex campaign is meant to be cute, Valenti says “in a culture where men are already taught to feel entitled to women sexually, I don’t find it cute in the least.” In addition, it creates a transactional view of sex within the relationship. (Should women also provide sex for new furniture?) It also communicates that the responsibility for all the chores was on the woman in the first place.

The truth about what women want is closer to this: women don’t want to be so exhausted with work and home responsibilities that they no longer have energy for sex. They are turned on by loving men who view them as equals and want to be helpful at home and supportive of their efforts outside the home.

So, yeah, husbands should help in the kitchen. But not as an exchange for sex in the bedroom. Helping with the kids and in the home is the responsibility of both partners. Men who do their share of chores will have happier wives, fewer conflicts, lower rates of divorce, and yeah, probably more sex. Go forth and vacuum.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Researchers find a huge advantage to friendship in marriage

happy young couple morguefileMore benefits to being married have been revealed, especially if you’re married to your best friend. The National Bureau of Economic Research has found more reasons to get and stay married—and they don’t all have to do with economics.

Their findings suggest that marrying your best friend can give you greater life satisfaction and help you navigate the stresses of life, cushioning the difficult periods. The economists controlled for pre-marriage happiness levels to separate the issues of whether marrying actually makes people happier or whether happier people are more likely to marry. They found the former was true.

People who are married are happier and more satisfied with their lives on average than are people who stay single. This is especially true during times of stress, such as during a midlife crisis.

They confirmed that college educated individuals with higher incomes are more likely to get and stay married (we knew that). Researchers further added that married couples gain family stability, financial stability, higher happiness levels and lower stress.

Happiness levels were maintained long-term, not just immediately after the marriage, particularly when couples found friendship as well as love in their marriage. As marriage has changed in recent decades, spouses have broadened their roles from merely economic and social partnerships and have become friends and companions as well as lovers. The researchers found the benefits of marital friendship were greatest during middle age, when demands of career and family are high and life satisfaction tends to ebb.

Some interesting conclusions:
*Individuals who consider their spouse to be their best friend get about twice as much life satisfaction from marriage as others.

*Women benefit more from being married to their best friend, but men are more likely to call their wife their best friend.

Being married to your best friend may be a wonderful way to keep life’s stressors at bay for the long haul. Positive long-term relationships, especially marriage, can help buoy us in troubled times. Unfortunately those for whom marriage seems out of reach (financially or culturally) may be at an even greater disadvantage in life, making the bumps in the road feel that much harder. The economists wrote that those whose lives are the most difficult would benefit the most from marriage.

Read more in the New York Times: “Study Finds More Reasons to Get and Stay Married.”

Cultivate not just the love in your marriage, but also your friendship with your spouse as you grow older together. And if you’re married to your best friend, count yourself fortunate and give your spouse a big thank-you today.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.