Category Archives: Personal Growth

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.

Are you guilty of these common spouse complaints?

sleeping manThe three most frequent marriage complaints from husbands who are in marriage counseling, according to several surveyed psychotherapists include:

  1. My wife expects me to be a mind reader.
  2. Late night arguments are getting out of hand.
  3. My wife doesn’t appreciate me.

As a wife, I’m often guilty of thinking my husband should know what I want after 20 years of marriage. Wives may expect their husbands to know how they are feeling or thinking. If he guesses wrong, he’s the bad guy. Wives need to learn to directly express themselves or realize their cues may be misinterpreted. And husbands should ask their spouse to speak more clearly what she wants.

For anyone who has to get up early, having a spouse bring up a conflict just before going to sleep is a problem, particularly if it happens frequently or drags on. According to the therapists, men often find this late night discussion the least appealing time. Wives, on the other hand, may feel they can’t sleep without addressing the problem. Their advice is to schedule 10 minutes after work or right after dinner to talk so you can both give the time and energy needed.

Third, men in counseling often say they are fairly low on their wife’s priority list. In addition, they don’t hear words of appreciation as often as they need. Some wives think expressing gratitude may keep their husband from doing more to please them, but men are often energized by feeling appreciated. (They may want to help you more if you say thank you.)

A few of the top concerns that women vocalize to their marriage counselors include:

  1. My husband criticizes me.
  2. I feel a lack of fairness in our marriage.
  3. We have too much personality conflict.

The not-so-funny joke is … if you want to kill your marriage, have an affair, but if you want it to bleed to death slowly by a thousand cuts, use criticism. Rather than bringing about desired change, critical words can make us defensive or angry. Asking nicely for something is different than complaining that it is “never” done right. Name calling is a definite no-no under this category, as is any language that suggests your wife is less than smart. (This is not obvious to some men.)

Issues of fairness for wives often deal with the division of household labor and childcare. They may also involve how money and free time are spent, especially where vacations or holidays are spent. Do you take turns deciding on vacations or holidays, or does one person choose? All of these factors contribute to how valued one feels in the relationship.

Personality conflict is something all marriages have to some degree, even all people who live in close quarters. You like it warm; your spouse likes it cool. You like to socialize and entertain; your spouse likes to have a quiet night at home. You like to staycation; your spouse wants to travel the world. It’s more than fine that you are different from your spouse. Marriage is an adventure that requires compromise, communication, and growth.

For more insight read How can married couples overcome gridlock.

Sources: Guystuffcounseling.com and Huffingtonpost.com.

Visit: heraspiration.com for relationship advice for women.

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.

Top 15 Sources of Relationship Conflict

back of couple morguefileIt helps to acknowledge a problem before we can begin to address it. And it helps to know where the potential pitfalls are if we hope not to end up in one. The following top 15 sources of conflict in a relationship are a starting point to pinpointing potential relationship problems. Think of your own behavior first, rather than on your spouse’s behavior.

If you need to address one or more of these items with your partner, avoid sentences that begin with “you always” or other blaming words. Consider a friend or counselor to assist with serious concerns.

Researcher Dr. Gary Lewandowski of Science of Relationships cited the following as the most common sources of conflict, from most commonly mentioned to least. He says being aware of trouble spots may help you both attempt to avoid them.

Your partner is…
1) Condescending (i.e., treats you as stupid or inferior, acts like he/she is better than you
2) Possessive, jealous, and/or dependent (i.e., demands too much attention or time; generally acts jealous/possessive/dependent)
3) Neglecting, rejecting, and/or unreliable (i.e., ignores your feelings, doesn’t call, doesn’t say they love you, etc.)
4) Abusive (i.e., slaps, spits, hits, calls names or is verbally abusive)
5) Unfaithful (i.e., had sex with another person, saw someone intimately, or went out with another partner)
6) Inconsiderate (i.e., doesn’t help clean up, burps in your face, leaves toilet seat up or down!, etc.)
7) Physically self¬-absorbed (i.e., worries too much about appearance, focuses too much on hair or face, spends too much on clothes, etc.)
8) Moody (i.e., moody, emotionally unstable, or bitchy)
9) Sexually withholding or rejecting (i.e., refuses to have sex, doesn’t act interested, or is a sexual tease…but not in a playful way)
10) Quick to sexualize others (i.e., talks about attractiveness of others, talks about others as sex objects, idolizes someone on TV, etc.)
11) Abusive with alcohol and/or is emotionally constricted (i.e., drinks too much, smokes too much, or hides emotions in order to appear tough)
12) Disheveled (i.e., doesn’t dress well, doesn’t groom well, and doesn’t take care of his/her appearance)
13) Insulting toward your appearance (i.e., says you’re ugly or insults aspects your appearance)
14) Sexually aggressive (i.e., uses you for sex or forces sex on you)
15) Self-centered (i.e., selfish or always thinks of him/herself first)

What surprised you about the list? I was surprised that condescension was so much more commonly mentioned than self-centeredness, but condescending words or attitudes easily stir up anger and resentment and may come to mind easily.

Read the list again and try to thinking about how you can do or be the opposite of these. For example, how to be considerate, kind, faithful, etc. to your spouse.

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.

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.

Looking for happiness in all the wrong places

dancing couple morguefileWhat are you looking for in your life and marriage to make you happy? Researchers have done a lot of work analyzing particular kinds of goals and whether they led people to happiness. They found that those with “intrinsic goals” (i.e. deep relationships, personal growth) tended to be happier than those with “extrinsic goals” (i.e. wealth, fame). It appears Americans are looking for happiness in all the wrong places.

Arthur Brooks detailed multiple studies in his article for the New York Times called “Love People, Not Pleasure.” For example, psychologists have concluded through many studies that people who rate materialistic goals like wealth as a top priority are significantly more likely to be anxious, more depressed, and frequent drug users, as well as to have more physical ailments than those who are seeking intrinsic goals.

A 2009 study by the University of Rochester looked at 147 graduates’ success in reaching their stated goals. They found graduates who were pursuing extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear, as well as more physical maladies. Whether it’s popularity on social media, or to become famous or rich, their goals ended up making the subjects less happy rather than making them feel fulfilled. Career success, power, or self-promotion are other common extrinsic goals. Graduates who were seeking intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives.

After finding that neither fame nor materialistic success fulfilled people and made them happy, Brooks assessed whether lust might do the trick. Does experiencing a variety of sexual pleasure make people happy? Brooks cites a 2004 study in which economists analyzed whether more sexual variety led to greater well-being. Data included 16,000 Americans who were asked confidentially how many sex partners they had in the previous year, as well as their happiness levels. For both women and men, researchers concluded the optimal number of partners to experience happiness is one. In other words, the happiest people had only one sex partner in the previous year. (This is certainly contrary to our culture’s and media’s messages.)

So why do we as a society pursue lust, materialism, power and fame if they don’t lead to happiness? Brooks suggests that just because something feels good doesn’t mean it will fulfill you. Many of those instincts may only be residual desires based on our need to pass on DNA. “If you conflate intergenerational survival with well-being, that’s your problem,” he says.

“If it feels good, do it,” is bad advice from idiots in society, he adds. It may lead you to pass on your genetic material, but it won’t lead to a feeling of long-term well-being.

But there’s more to our longings. We are dissatisfied; want more from life. We aren’t sure what the problem or the solution may be. “Without a great deal of reflection and spiritual hard work, the likely candidates seem to be material things, physical pleasures or favor among friends and strangers,” says Brooks. But it is never enough.

This leads us to Brooks’ formulas for life: To love things and use people—this is a deadly formula too often attempted in the search for happiness. “You know in your heart that it is morally disordered and a likely road to misery,” says Brooks. An example is using people to find a better job, a bigger house, or greater influence.

Invert that advice to find the virtuous formula: Love people, use things. This means placing love above pride, only denying love to things that are actually objects; condemning materialism; and being skeptical of our own desires. It means using things to express your love rather than to fill an emptiness. It means seeking spiritual and emotional maturity so that we can have mature, meaningful relationships.

Apply this formula to your marriage and your life to find deeper fulfillment.

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

Can you be simultaneously happy and unhappy? Yep.

smile-face-wallpaper morguefileI write a lot about happiness and unhappiness, because many people think if you’re unhappy it may be time for a divorce. But it turns out happiness and unhappiness are complicated, and the blame for unhappiness is often misplaced (on a situation or a person, like your spouse).

A New York Times piece by Arthur Brooks called “Love People, Not Pleasure” sheds more light on the topic of unhappiness and how we often seek it by following our “natural desires”—which paradoxically does not lead to happiness.

“What is unhappiness?” Brooks asks. “Your intuition might be that it is simply the opposite of happiness, just as darkness is the absence of light. That is not correct.” While the two are related, a person can be both happier than average and unhappier than average. It’s not a sum game but rather a collection of feelings (happy feelings and unhappy feelings). You might feel a larger than average amount of both, depending on the day or moment.

Most unhappy people will blame their circumstances, and often they are justified. For example, poverty, physical ailments and feeling oppressed (as with racism) are linked with unhappiness. Twenty percent of Americans blame loneliness as their major source of unhappiness. (I hope that reminds you to reach out to older relatives and neighbors or others who may be lonely.) Regular daily activities can also make you feel unhappy, such as meeting with your boss—the number-one unhappiness-causing event in a typical day.

Sometimes these circumstantial causes of unhappiness (don’t like your job, boss, neighborhood, kids are unruly, etc.) get internalized and may cause you to think you’re unhappy with your relationships as well. Or at a minimum, they can make you feel stressed and tired and looking for a scapegoat. If he/she could just help out a little more you wouldn’t be so unhappy, right?

In the next few posts, I will explore some of the ways Brooks says we go seeking happiness and how they usually backfire. But today, I’m thinking about how when we are feeling unhappy, it doesn’t mean we aren’t also happy. (Weird, huh?) And, yes, we can have a stressful day but also curl up on the couch with our sweetheart and just be glad for the companionship, glad that we are not alone in this world, glad that when we are having a down day, we have someone with whom to commiserate. When you feel the weight of the world pressing against you, think of your spouse as the one on your team rather than another one against you.

How are you feeling right now? Happy? Unhappy? A little bit of both? Chances are you have a certain longing within you and even a certain loneliness inside you. That’s part of our collective human experience and not something to blame on those closest to us. Learning to share those deepest parts of ourselves can deepen our marital intimacy.

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

Words that can make or break your marriage

brain morguefileWhich words do you use in communicating with your spouse that make the discussion worse, and which words cause you both to calm down? Researchers have the answers.

Some words increase your stress level, and can even heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Other words and phrases can actually reduce your stress and calm your body down, allowing your brain to think more rationally instead of in anger.

One study revealed that couples who used the words “think,” “reason,” “because,” “understand,” “why” and other analytical words during an argument lowered the body’s stress. When using these words, they experienced lower levels of proteins that help aid the body’s immune system. Research led by Jennifer Graham, PhD, from Penn State University was published in Health Psychology.

Men experienced a greater benefit than women, but women tended to use more of these analytical words and phrases. (Isn’t that interesting, when women are thought to be the more emotive gender?)

The reason these words can help reduce stress and diffuse anger, is they cause us to think rather than relying on our anger or first response, often the fight-or-flight response.

Experts suggest two other phrases to use during a discussion/argument. The first is “I wonder…” which allows you both to consider the issue or problem rather than placing blame. The second is simply “Hmmm…” which allows you both to be uncritical in that moment. It can often shift the energy to a more positive one, helping you consider possibilities and solutions.

Trigger words to AVOID include: “You always…” or “Your never…” and “There you go again.”

In addition to words, consider your non-verbal communication. Are your arms crossed, are you glaring? Do you use sarcasm or express contempt, or roll your eyes? Do you have aggressive gestures, such as arm waving or raised voice? Or are you calm, sitting next to, maybe touching gently?

When you feel the disagreement escalating, breathe deeply and slowly from your belly. Quicker breaths from the chest are more common when we are upset, and this helps calm you down. And practice better communication. These are skills that can be learned.

Each day, practice gratitude and try to avoid complaining. “Thanks” is always a welcome word to express your spouse.

Are there words you have learned to avoid with your spouse? Or words that help you calm down?

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