Category Archives: Happiness

Invest in experiences, not more stuff

They like signposts at Rum Point!

Find your next adventure.

Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays and other gift-giving holidays often have us wondering, “What would our spouse most want to receive?” At least within our budget. Sadly, most of us can’t recall the vast majority of gifts we have given or received. Ads bombard us with the message that the more we buy, the happier we will be. But there’s a better way. Research shows that spending on experiences rather than on things brings the most happiness.

The gift of travel is a great way to make lasting memories. My memories of fancy dinners in expensive restaurants pale in comparison to a long-ago simple Parisian picnic with my husband featuring baguettes, cheese and wine. Beach memories are another favorite. Having toes in the sand seems to lower stress levels and increase playfulness. I smile when I think of our beach rental houses with kids and not much on the agenda. Although it was more than 20 years ago, lounging in a hammock in Hawaii is the image I conjure when I need to relax.

Many people think they can’t afford to travel. Yet they spend hundreds of dollars each holiday on gifts that are soon forgotten. Many airlines offer credit cards that allow you to gain frequent flyer miles for spending a minimum amount. We have used them to take two overseas adventures for four people. Adventures can also be found much closer to home, such as in state parks where lodging and camping are very reasonable.

Travel allows us to try new things together—food, cultures, activities, adventures. Experiencing new things has been shown in research to be good for keeping our marriages strong.Whether your idea of fun is a pub crawl or foodie tour, learning to surf, reading a new book together, or taking dance classes, find something you’re willing to try.

Things don’t always go as planned when traveling, but these hiccups create challenges we can overcome together and become part of the memories we can laugh at later, like the very “rustic” lodge we stayed in while white water rafting with friends, or the seafood beach picnic that attracted hundreds of seagulls. Vacations (with kids or as a couple) allow us to have large chunks of time to focus on one another and away from our many screens and devices. Travel helps us experience nature in new ways and relax our minds and bodies away from the daily stresses of life.

Planning a trip takes time and effort, but from looking forward to the trip to the positive memories left behind, it’s worth the effort and creates more lasting happiness than buying more things. Forbes magazine suggests investing in experiences, such as dining out, a trip to the spa, or buying things for other people are a better investment in long-term happiness than buying things for ourselves.  Going to a concert instead of buying a new outfit, or choosing to rent a boat instead of buying one are examples of investing well in experiences.

“Nine times out of 10 you’re much better spending money on experiences and other people than on yourself. You’re much more likely to have genuine, fulfilling happiness as a result.”–Forbes contributor Ilya Pozin

What are the trips or experiences do you remember most with your spouse? What is your favorite travel memory?

This bracelet helps me remember my trip to Maui with sand from the Hawaiian island!
bracelet

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’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

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Can a math formula offer secret to lasting love?

I’m a “word person” more than a “math person”, so I was surprised that a mathematical formula can help us be successful in love.

The brains behind the formula is mathematician Dr. Hannah Fry who works at the UCL Center for Advanced Spacial Analysis in London. She used her unique expertise to explain in a TED Talk and book of the same name “The Mathematics of Love.” In short, Fry explains that the best predictor of long-lasting relationships is the level of positive and negative experiences with one another. She analyzed data from psychologist marriage expert John Gottman, who observed couples for many years in conversations with their partners.

As many of us know through our own experiences, happier couples have more positive interactions with one another. Couples who are less happy and at higher risk of breakup have fewer positive interactions. But there’s more to it. One of the reasons how they deal with negative situations is important is that couples with lots of positivity give one another the benefit of the doubt when their partner is negative. They dismiss a negative comment or action as unusual and may attribute it to fatigue or stress at work. Those in more negative relationships tend to do the reverse. A negative comment is considered “typical” or “normal” and the actions are attributed to the person. For example, a grumpy comment may reinforce the thought that the partner is selfish or unkind. The negativity then can spiral downward.

We may not realize our daily reactions and interactions with our spouse can influence our relationship so much. A spouse who agrees or encourages in response to a comment is likely to receive a positive response back. A spouse who interrupts, dismisses or ignores is likely to receive a negative response back, and perhaps start a spiral down to more frustration or anger. One of the largest predictors of divorce was therefore related to positive or negative reactions, with more positive couples having a low risk of divorce and more negative couples having a high risk of divorce.

The surprising twist is that Fry surmised that the best relationships would have a “high negativity threshold” bringing up issues only if they were very important. The opposite was true. “The most successful relationships are the ones with really low negativity threshold,” Fry writes. They constantly repair the tiny issues between them, not allowing any to grow and fester. So while they have more positive interactions, they are not afraid to have a negative interaction if it means repairing part of the relationship that needs to be fixed. Perhaps they have a more positive or gentler way of addressing those issues if positivity is their more frequent pattern.

Fry’s formula also factors in the wife’s or husband’s mood when alone and with their spouse. If you want the formula and its explanation, check out her Ted Talk. It’s in the last third of the talk, following math tips for online dating and how to pick the perfect partner. Incidentally, she says the formula works the same for two spouses as it does for two countries in an arms race.

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.