Tag Archives: finding happiness in marriage

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.

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

Celebrate Each Day With Your Loved Ones

I want to wish a Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate. As we reach the holiday season again, I’m reminded that I haven’t lived up to my aim to celebrate each day of 2011 in my own way. Many days, I was caught up with the to-do list and didn’t have my heart leaning into celebration. I’m re-reading those tips and trying to take them more to heart. I hope you will, too.

My friend Debi Walter recently wrote about the famous Jim Croce song, Time in a Bottle here at The Romantic Vineyard. The lyrics that struck me were: “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things we want to do once you find them. I’ve looked around enough to know that you’re the one I want to go through time with.” Listen to the song, and let it remind you that we can’t save time in a bottle and spend them again with those we love. We just get the one shot, and before we know it, another year has passed. 

When I was young, my mother and I used to watch the soap opera, Days of our Lives, which always began, “Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” Thankfully, I gave up soaps long ago! But I think of those words as I look at the hourglass in my son’s room. Please share your ideas for making each day really count, both as we finish up 2011 and as we make plans for 2012. Blessings to you.

Online florists offer flower delivery to help people show loved ones they care.

What If Today Were Your Last Day with Your Spouse?

Patty Newbold

Twenty-five years ago, Patty Newbold was so frustrated with her husband that she made a list of all the things she wasn’t getting from her marriage and all the things he wasn’t doing that she wanted him to do. She told him she wanted out of the relationship. “I want a divorce,” she said. It was the last meaningful conversation they had. The following day, while she was at work, he dropped dead from a freak side effect of his illness and his medications.

At 34 years old, she was a widow with a nine-year-old son. Some would say she was fortunate, as compared with a hostile divorce, to receive 100 percent of the marital assets and full custody of their son. But losing her husband did not make anything better; it only worsened her situation. “The morning after he died, I woke up and relived the shock, realizing it hadn’t been a dream,” says Patty. She thought of the list. “I still had to do all the things on the list. It occurred to me that my perspective on marriage was warped.”

If she had wanted more help with the chores, she now had to do 100% of them. If she wanted more companionship, she now had none. She realized that expecting certain actions had sabotaged her relationship. “It was not what I wanted. We think we want a divorce, but what we really want is the person back that we fell in love with and to solve more of our life problems.”

Patty says that marriage with her first husband should have been very easy, and it was at the beginning. “I married a great guy,” she says. They had so much in common, including similar families, similar personalities, and both being middle children. Relocating to a new city, demanding job schedules and a long commute, the stress of building a new home, and health problems for each of them caused a steep nosedive in their marriage. While Patty wanted to connect with dance lessons or camping trips, her husband wasn’t eager. Patty also believed he should do more chores and errands, since he worked closer to home.

“I sat there thinking about the list and realized all the reasons I had wanted out were invalid. I could suddenly see all the things he did for me and all the ways he had loved me. I saw all the reasons I wanted to have him in my life,” says Patty. But it was too late. Grief took hold of her life. She thought, “There’s no do-over. You got your shot, and you blew it.”

Lessons Learned?
If that wasn’t a tough enough lesson to learn overnight, Patty found that living as a single mother taught her many other reasons why having her husband with her would have been the better choice, for instance providing physical touch. She said it’s easy for single women to get caught up in dating people they would really not want to spend their life with or have children with—simply because of the need for physical touch. Patty took up country western dancing so that she could be held by men “without getting sucked into a lousy situation.”

She learned to look for a third alternative when she had a conflict. For example, she and her husband had argued about the things she was unable to do because of her long job commute. (Side note: research shows a long job commute increases your odds of a breakup.) After his death, Patty realized she couldn’t be an hour and 45 minutes away from her son’s school. She told her boss that she would either have to relocate the office she managed closer to home or find new employment. The boss allowed the move, which also helped the other employees. As a result Patty had much more time at home to get her needed chores and errands done. Ironically, the new office was within walking distance of her husband’s old office. Patty and her husband could have met for lunch and enjoyed time together during the day—if she had only considered alternatives like this earlier.

Similarly, when a client needed to send her to Washington, D.C., for six weeks, she knew she couldn’t leave her son for that length of time. She came up with a third alternative. She insisted on her son and au pair accompanying her. While her son visited national monuments and completed school assignments with the au pair, she handled her work. Then they enjoyed family time in the evenings and weekends. She says if more people searched for the third alternative, they would be much happier in their marriages.

Patty says many people learn from her story and see that if they look at their marriage differently, they won’t have to end up where she did. “We often have expectations that are out of line. The only expectation you should bring to the marriage is the expectation that you will be loved,” says Patty. “Any way that you choose to define what love looks like limits your opportunities.” For example, if a wife says, “If you loved me, you would do this,” she is robbing herself of marital happiness, explains Patty.

She also learned how to seek ideas from unlikely places. She hosted idea parties, an approach she learned from author Barbara Sher, and hung invitations at local coffee houses and pizza joints. Everyone who attends brings a wish and an obstacle. The group brainstorms solutions to help everyone get past the obstacle to achieve their wish, whether it’s a new job or a personal goal. She said bringing diverse groups together enhances the creative ideas.  I’d love to try this out and encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just with a group of friends.

A Brighter Future
Eleven years after losing her first husband, she met her current husband at a Mensa gathering in Alabama. They had many friends in common, and didn’t live far apart but had never been introduced. “If we had met in our 20s, we would have had the world’s worst marriage, because we had so little in common,” says Patty. But they had each sorted things out in life and had matured. She says their actions are unpredictable to each other because of their differences, which is why it’s always important to assume the other person is not out to hurt them. “Husbands do some weird things,” jokes Patty. For example, a husband she knows took his two young boys to get buzz haircuts without their mother’s knowledge, knowing she loved their hairstyles. The wife was so inflamed she considered leaving him. (Patty says when we are angry, our brains get flooded with chemicals that make us unable to focus on anything except the perceived threat. Then we think of all the reasons he is a jerk.) Patty talked to the wife about possible reasons he might have done this—other than because he wanted to hurt her. Suddenly, she had an aha-moment when she understood the relationship between his childhood experiences and his current actions.

Patty has taken on the role of encouraging many of her friends’ and family’s marriages, but it wasn’t until 20 years after her husband died that she started developing professional resources for marriages. She now writes the blog Assume Love, and she is preparing to release web-based marriage tools with a multimedia approach.

Patty also encourages individuals and couples to find their character strengths and then participate in activities that use one of your top strengths. (To evaluate your character strengths, you can take the free VIA Survey of Character Strengths at AuthenticHappiness.com.) For example, if one of you has love of learning as a top strength, and the other has social intelligence, then take a trip to visit a museum with a group or learn a language together.

One of Patty’s greatest strengths is perspective, one that has given her great pleasure since childhood, but one she never had a name for until recently. She hopes to convey that perspective to others so they can enjoy the happiness that can come with marriage, as long as we check our expectations at the door.  She also reminds people that marriages have high and low cycles, but if you stick with it during the low cycle, chances are you will be much happier than if you separate. As evidence, she cites a 16-year national study where almost 80 percent of people who rate their marriages in the bottom two categories on a seven-point scale and remain married rate them in the top three categories five years later.

We can help bring our marriages higher in the satisfaction cycle by appreciating how our spouse chooses to love us. For instance, Patty loves getting gifts, but her husband has a terrible time understanding and finding gifts that she would enjoy. One year, he brought her a package of toilet paper with a bow on her birthday, saying, “I finally found something I know you can use!” Instead of getting upset, she recognized the sense of humor and joy that he always brings to their marriage and enjoyed the gift.

What expectations do you have for your spouse? Do you think any of your expectations could be sabotaging your happiness? How is your spouse showing love for you that you perhaps don’t notice or acknowledge? If today were your last day with your spouse, what would you do or say differently? Treat each day as if it could be your last together.

How Important is Love to Happiness?

Four in five adults of all ages rate love as important to their happiness. And it turns out those in loving relationships do enjoy greater wellbeing than those who are single. (This despite our culture glorifying the endless positives of remaining unattached.) Fewer than 25 percent of unmarried adults say they are “very happy” but 40 percent of married adults say they are.

David Myers, PhD, in The Pursuit of Happiness, cites the above research and says even more important than being married is the marriage’s quality.  While women suffer more emotional disturbances in a stressed marriage than do their husbands, wives also report slightly greater happiness across all marriages. Researchers suspect this is because women find more joy in positive, close relationships than men do.

Further, most married people say their marriages are happy. Myers says three out of four in the U.S. say their spouse is their best friend. (This seems high to me, but I’d agree with it in my marriage.) And this relationship happiness carries over into their overall life happiness.

Why are married people happier? Marriage is likely to provide an enduring supportive relationship, and married people are less likely to suffer loneliness. Those who parent together may experience additional stresses, yet also receive additional rewards from their roles as parents.

While I completely agree that my marriage has made me a happier person, I also strongly believe that we as individuals control most of our happiness. When we are happy on our own, that happiness tends to bleed into our relationship. We’re more interesting to be with, more supportive and more engaging when we have a life we enjoy.

A National Opinion Research Center study found that nearly six in ten Americans who rate their marriage as very happy also rate their life as very happy.  And among those NOT in a happy marriage, only one in ten say their overall life is very happy. A bad marriage is worse than no marriage, and loneliness within marriage can be the loneliest feeling of all.

 When we are unhappy as individuals, we tend to project on our partners that they aren’t supportive enough or don’t understand our needs. But the truth may be that we are in a life transition, or have lost a loved one, or in one way or another are struggling with our life or identity. Our marriage or spouse shouldn’t have the burden of “making us happy”. Instead, we can enrich and enjoy our lives more fully because of the close, intimate relationship we share.

If you think you are unhappy in your relationship, consider that you may need to make improvements in your own individual life to improve happiness. For example, a person who feels overworked and underappreciated in their job may bring those feelings into their home and feel taken advantage of across the board.

Myers says to avoid two mistakes in thinking if you aim to have a happy marriage. First, even if you’re newlyweds, don’t take a successful marriage for granted. “Unless nurtured carefully, the relationship you counted on for love and happiness may leave you crushed, lonely, feeling like a failure, or trudging hopelessly along, resigned to your despair.” (Ouch.) Conversely, don’t be overly pessimistic saying marriages seldom last, so why should I commit, invest and work on my marriage? A positive attitude channeled by a wariness of real dangers offers the best chance at a happy relationship, he concludes.

So, is this a chicken and the egg question? “Which comes first personal or marital happiness?” I think they feed on each other, but the personal happiness ideally comes first. What do you think?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

Traits of Happy (and Happily Married) People

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

Unhappy people are less happy after marriage than happy people who marry. It’s not marriage that makes us happy or unhappy. What inner traits lead to increased happiness?

David Myers, PhD, author of The Pursuit of Happiness, says there are four inner traits (based on dozens of studies) that predispose positive mental attitudes and lead to more happiness and feelings of wellbeing. These traits are self-esteem, sense of personal control, optimism, and extraversion.

  1. Self-Esteem. Prisons are full of individuals who have high self-esteem, as the saying goes, and many of us have focused too much on building self-esteem in children at the expense of helping them build character. However, one’s level of self-esteem is important to wellbeing. Importantly, having low self-esteem is linked with psychological disorders, such as depression. Individuals with low self-esteem may feel unlovable, untalented, or unworthy of a great life. Clearly these feelings will not assist us on our road to happy lives and happy marriages. Having high self-esteem is linked with wellbeing. A University of Michigan study showed “the best predictor of general life satisfaction is not satisfaction with family life, or income, but satisfaction with self.

Too much self-esteem or self-bias can be a problem. Myers says experiments show must of us accept more responsibility for our good deeds than for bad, and for successes more than failures. We credit outside forces to our failures and our own merits for our successes. This is also true for marital successes and failures. “Compared to happily married people, unhappy couples exhibit far greater self-serving bias by blaming the partner when problems arise.” Divorcing people are 10 times more likely to blame the spouse for the breakup than to blame themselves.

We all have insecurities. As spouses, we have great power to either build our partners up or make them feel weak and insecure. Still, most people have a reasonably high opinion of themselves. The healthiest self-esteem is “positive, yet realistic” and includes feeling accepted.

  1. Personal Control. When people feel more in control of their destiny, they tend to be happier and more satisfied with life, and vice versa. Those who feel they influence the direction of their lives tend to achieve more in school, cope better with stress, and live more happily. Increasing people’s control, for example, making decisions about health care, environment or personal decisions, can improve their health and wellbeing, says Myers.  

Within our marriages, it’s important that both spouses understand we influence the relationship quality through how we act and react. It’s when people decide they have no power to make things better that they give up on the marriage. Setting personal and professional goals and using our time effectively helps give us a sense of control and accomplishment.

  1. Optimism. Optimists are healthier and have stronger immune defenses. They are happier, too. If we internalize bad events and display pessimism, we are more prone to illness. Studies have shown that those who are most pessimistic are more prone to colds, sore throats and flu, and that optimists recover more quickly from cancer and heart surgery.

When optimists have setbacks, they try another approach to find success. I would guess that married optimists are more successful, then, if they are using new approaches rather than blaming themselves or their partner. Optimistic people have hope that things will improve. However, with too-high expectations, optimists can be disappointed while pessimists with too-low expectations can be pleasantly surprised. Complicated? Not really.

Pollyannaish optimism goes too far, with people feeling invulnerable and taking too many risks. In addition, we must avoid blaming people for getting sick or having failures “because they weren’t thinking positively enough.” The best combination, says Myers, is to have “ample optimism to provide hope, with a dash of pessimism to prevent complacency, and enough realism to discriminate those things we can control from those we cannot.” (Think: Serenity Prayer)

  1. Extraversion. As an introverted person married to an extrovert, I wanted to learn more about this one. Studies show sociable, outgoing people report greater happiness and satisfaction with life. They are more likely to get married, find good jobs, make close friends, and have more social ties.

I know from reading other research that social ties are a key to wellness as we age. So whether we are married or single, outgoing or introverted, we need improve and increase our ties to others if we want to be happier and healthier. Joining a book club or a church group or socializing with other married people can improve our personal and marital happiness.

You may be wondering if you can control these four internal traits or if you are primarily born the way you are. Researchers find we do tend to have basic dispositions that we carry through our lives. Angry children are more likely to become angry adults, for example. But there are plenty of examples of unhappy, troubled children who grow into successful, conscientious, happy adults.

“We may be products of our past, but we also are architects of our future,” says Myers, who adds that personality is NOT programmed like eye color. We can even use behavior to help change our attitudes if we are proactive and thoughtful. “Don’t worry that you don’t feel like it. Fake it. Pretend self-esteem. Feign optimism. Simulate outgoingness,” he says. It sounds like being phony, but research shows the phoniness subsides and the new behaviors and attitudes become more comfortable and internalized.

When you’re in a sour mood and the phone rings, you often fake a cheerful greeting and talk to your friend. After the call, you actually feel better. Act as if you’re wildly in love with your spouse, and you just might start feeling that way.

Which of these traits do you possess? Do you think they influence your happiness level?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

The Formula for Unhappiness is Revealed: U = I – R

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

The images we have created from our earliest memories regarding how our lives and our marriages should be have incredible bearing on our happiness, or rather our unhappiness.

Dennis Prager, author of Happiness is a Serious Problem, says these images are so powerful “that you can almost measure your unhappiness by the difference between your images and your reality.”  U = I – R  (Amount of unhappiness equals images minus reality.)

This is a useful concept whether we are comparing our ideal career with what we currently have, our ideal body with our current body, our ideal spouse with our current spouse, our ideal family with our current family, or our ideal income with our current income.

It’s curious where and when our ideal images were constructed. Many of them may be based on childhood notions, fiction (fairytale love stories in books and movies or TV), or simply dreamed up in our own little noggins.

What is the solution to this problematic formula? Prager suggests “unhappiness can be reduced by either dropping your images and celebrating your reality or keeping your images and changing your reality.” That seems easier said than done, and neither is recommended more than the other. In fact, both may be needed. Certainly, if our reality is a positive one and we realize our expectations and ideal images are not at all realistic, then we ought to try to revise our images. On the other hand, if our reality really bites, then attempts to change that would be the better course. Many times, there may be elements of our reality we’d like to improve, but certain images that we really need to scrap.

Prager offers a poignant example from his own life, sharing that when he was growing up there were no examples of divorce, so when he married, he married for life, believing that he would achieve his image of a loving family with four children around the dinner table. When his own marriage imploded after five years, and he became a divorced father of a three-year-old child, he viewed his life as complete failure. He also failed to achieve his ideal family with four children. In time, he learned to celebrate (not just accept) his new family after remarrying and becoming a step-father to another child, and later having a third child. He was able to do this only by removing the images that he had previously held onto as mandatory for happiness.

Many of us seem to rotate our ideal images. One day we think being a successful career mom is ideal, and the next we think staying home with the children would be perfect. One day we want to be at the top of the corporate ladder, and the next we want to be successful entrepreneurs. Media and cultural influences have also shaped what we think our own bodies should look like, and what our partner should look like. Sometimes we are motivated by these images to make healthy choices toward proper diet and exercise, and sometimes we are driven to self-loathing or to point out our partner’s minor flaws.

Images are not necessarily harmful. Although I was a child of divorce, I created images for an intact, healthy family life that helped me find a mate and build my own family. Others may be inspired by positive role models in movies, books or in real life.

I think it’s helpful to ask, “Do your images help you achieve happiness, or do they ensure your unhappiness?” The answer to that question will reveal whether your images are helping or hurting you. Are they driving you to a better life, or are they making it impossible for you to be satisfied?

We may not even realize the expectations we have are incongruent. For example, I confess I don’t watch the Bachelor, but I read an article in which the current bachelor was being criticized for saying he was looking for an independent career-oriented woman, but then selecting only women who would relocate to his city and be a traditional wife. Are there men who want a wife at home cooking and cleaning, but also want her to be a working professional and bring in a good income? Sure. Are there women who want a strong, take-charge, high-level businessman, but then become upset when he’s not available to travel frequently and spend as much time at home? When our mate isn’t living up to one or more of our ideal images, we tend to think maybe they aren’t right for us after all. (Read We all married the wrong person.)

Sometimes it’s our images and expectations that may be far enough from our reality that we are preventing our happiness. Maybe our job isn’t what we would love right now, but it’s allowing us to have the kind of family life we want. Or maybe our house isn’t always spotless, but with two working parents, we realize we have to live with an occasional mess. Or maybe we realize our spouse is imperfect, just as we are. Instead of looking for the perfect marriage, maybe we should try to create some perfect moments, some perfect experiences, and some perfect memories. If we can appreciate our spouses for who they are and not who we fantasize them to be, we have a better chance of making those perfect memories.

Are there images that you’ve been holding onto that have either helped you in life or kept you from being as happy as you could be?

Photo Credit: ©Tina A./PhotoXpress.com

Are Older or Younger People Happier? Men or Women? What Stage of Life is Best?

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

Do you dread certain stages of life, like old age or menopause? Are there different stages of life when we tend to be happier in life and marriage?

I’ve shared information about the U-shaped marriage, in which the active parenting years cause a decline in marital satisfaction, but an increase after the kids leave the nest.  Maggie Scarf, author of September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years encourages couples to get through the rough patches together so they can enjoy the other peak of their marriage.

But what about overall happiness and wellness—is there a certain time of life where we are more likely to be happy or distraught? For example, I’ve heard some stories about menopause being difficult on husbands and wives. We’ve also all heard stories midlife crises caused by the terrible distress of men in their 40s. Some couples spend a solid decade worrying about these impending events.

While there are certainly anecdotes that show these are real issues for some people, David Myers, PhD, says people of all ages report similar feelings of wellbeing. That includes people in middle and old age. Truthfully, he reports in his book The Pursuit of Happiness, more women view the post-menopausal and empty-nest period as a time of freedom and enjoyment of life than a time of sadness and depression. Surveys of empty nester women report greater happiness and greater enjoyment in their marriages. They even talk of a “post-launch honeymoon”. This is good news for all those dreading that time of life.

Regarding cases of midlife crises, two studies involving nearly 10,000 men and women showed “not the slightest evidence” that distress peaks anywhere in the midlife age range. Perhaps we just hear stories of things people do—buying an expensive car or going off with a younger woman—and attribute the decision to reaching a certain age. Apparently research isn’t very supportive of this conclusion. Note, the research is a bit dated, but it was done over a long period of time.

Researchers did find some age-related differences in wellbeing. They found that (not surprisingly) teens have frequent ups and downs in their emotions, even within the same hour. When they are down, everyone and everything around them seems bleak. When they’re up, even their parents become admirable. “Adult moods are less extreme but far more enduring,” says Myers. And older adults are more calm, less easily rattled, and generally have less stress and fewer demands. This means older adults may be more content, and just as happy, as their middle-aged counterparts even though health concerns may become more common. Surveys in various countries show older people report just as much happiness and satisfaction as younger people.

Divorces occur more frequently with younger adults than older adults. By middle and older ages, couples tend to not focus on changing their partner or fighting so much over control in the relationship. They can often be more content and enjoy one another.

One major predictor of happiness is health and fitness. Not surprisingly, chronic pain or ill health undermines our wellbeing. However, good health doesn’t guarantee happiness any more than a full bank account does.

Studies show those who learn how to slow down, relax, smile more, and laugh more enjoy better quality of life. (Couples who enjoy a great sense of humor have a leg up here.) Of course, there are all those recommendations about eating well and exercising, but talking about laughing more sounds a lot more fun. When will we find a study that shows eating crème brulee once a week leads to a long, happy life? In truth, the book explains exercise has been shown to dramatically improve depression. Even a short walk raises energy levels and lowers tension. Aerobic exercise is quite effective at elevating mood.

As far as whether men or women enjoy greater wellbeing, multiple studies show gender accounts for less than 1 percent of people’s differing wellbeing. Men and women are equally likely to report being “very happy” and “satisfied or very satisfied” with life. However, women are much more likely to suffer from depression. Women are more likely to feel anxiety as well as joy. Our gender feels the highs and lows more strongly, particularly in relationships. (Our husbands might have noticed we tend to be more emotional.) We are also the more empathetic gender. On the other hand, men are more likely to suffer from alcohol addictions and to commit suicide.

Do these insights dispel any myths you had about happiness as it relates to age or gender?  Do you have any guesses regarding whether education or race plays a major part in happiness levels? Is there a phase of life that you dread?

Interesting Links:
One way you might improve your energy level, attitude and happiness is to get more sleep. Concert violinists say the only thing that improves their performance more than practice is getting adequate sleep. This Huffington Post article convinces us that it’s more important than food.

The always educational Michele Weiner-Davis teaches us How to Make Your Spouse Want to Change.

The always super-entertaining Alisa Bowman teaches us that we don’t always have to follow someone else’s marriage recipe in her FaceBook post: What Lentil Soup Taught Me About Marriage.

Thanks so much to Jennifer Gill Rosier for naming this blog as one of her 10 Favorite Marriage Blogs at Jen’s Love Lessons. Read about the other nine!

Interesting new fact: 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. met using social media!

Photo credit: ©ril/PhotoXpress.com

Why is Personal Happiness Important to Marital Happiness?

Many children have an innate ability to embrace joy and happiness in everyday experiences.

This is the first in my new Wednesday series of posts on the topic of “Happy Life, Happy Marriage.” Happiness is an elusive topic, one that has been heavily researched, yet seldom understood with much depth. I’d like to shed some light on what is known about achieving happiness, and share my own insights and findings as well.

I’ve had an interest in “happiness” for years, and wrote a post here explaining the difference between seeking pleasure, happiness or joy. Making the quest for happiness the top priority in your life will not be likely to succeed unless you understand that sometimes a little pain or discomfort is necessary to achieve it.  For example, we can’t lead our children to happiness by shielding them from working hard or failure. What I’m really striving for in my life is true joy, but most people call it happiness.

“The only thing Joy has in common with (Happiness and Pleasure) is that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” Where Joy differs, he continues, is that anyone who has tasted joy would never exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. “But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”– C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy

Why is happiness important to marriage? Dennis Prager, in his book Happiness is a Serious Problem, asserts that we have a moral obligation to ourselves and our partners, as well as to our children and friends to be has happy as we can be. “This does not mean acting unreal, and it certainly does not mean refraining from honest and intimate expressions of our feelings to those closest to us. But it does mean that we owe it to others to work on our happiness.”

We treat others better when we are happier. We treat ourselves better, too. Will a marriage benefit from two people treating themselves and one another better? Of course.

Some aspects of happiness are within our control, and some are not. I’ll be sharing some of Prager’s suggestions on how to incorporate greater happiness into your life. By focusing on activities that can lead to lasting happiness and joy, you will also benefit your marriage. I encourage you to discuss the ideas with your spouse and share your experiences and feedback with one another and with other readers here.

The first point to understand about happiness is that we take the easy road when we allow ourselves to be unhappy.  It takes no effort to complain and be miserable. It takes great effort to be happy. You’ve been told that the narrow, right path is not the easy way. It’s easy to go with the flow and go the wrong way. It’s more in our nature to be dissatisfied and unhappy than to be happy. “Happiness is a battle to be waged and not a feeling to be awaited,” says Prager.  While not all happiness is within our control, much—even most—of it is, he adds. But it will require hard work and a concerted effort to change our mindset.

I think it’s doable if we take it in small chunks and incorporate pieces into our lives. Each of us has the capacity to improve our happiness, even if we feel today that we may never be happy.

I wish you a truly happy and joyful New Year!

Photo ©Ming Lowe

Is Your Family Seeking Pleasure, Happiness or Joy?

What do you want most for your children? Really think about it for a minute…(Are you thinking?) I’ve heard a lot of parents say what they really want more than anything is for their children to be happy. To that response, I ask, really? Is the pursuit of personal happiness really the best and highest calling for your child? What are you seeking for yourself—pleasure, happiness, maybe joy? What do these even mean?

Of course I don’t want my children to be unhappy, but to be honest, sometimes a little unhappiness is necessary for them to understand a lesson and to grow as people. The same goes for me, unfortunately. I don’t think we should expect to be happy all the time. Stress, illness and death are part of life. Work and sacrifice can be good qualities, but aren’t particularly pleasant. If we teach our children to pursue only happiness, why would they want to help others when it is inconvenient? Why would they strive to impact the world in a positive fashion? That just takes their focus off of their goal of happiness.

Interestingly, the happiest couples I have interviewed have been the ones who are truly seeking to make their spouse happy before themselves. It’s a cycle and a process that continues to reward each of them.

Pleasure is often a good thing—enjoying the scent of the flowering trees as you drive by, tasting the grilled salmon that you craved for dinner, touching your spouse or children lovingly, hearing the sound of the birds outside your kitchen window. Opening our senses to feel and truly experience pleasure is wonderful.

Pleasure can also be very self-serving. A popular web site (whose name I won’t promote) calls itself “the world’s premier discreet dating service” and has a trademarked tag line: “Life is short. Have an affair.” They promise, “Join free, and change your life today. Guaranteed!” Yes, your life will be changed, but not for the better. Their invitation to “Sleep with someone else’s wife tonight,” may entice those whose ultimate goal is personal pleasure. But will these exclusive members experience happiness or joy?

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis, describes joy as a “technical term that must be sharply distinguished from both Happiness and Pleasure.” He says, “The only thing Joy has in common with the others is that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” Where Joy differs, he continues, is that anyone who has tasted joy would never exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. “But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” Yes, there’s the rub, joy we have to wait for, and pleasure (and even happiness to some extent) we can go in search of.

Joy, I think, is a much deeper satisfaction, bliss, the opposite of misery and regret, a connection to the divine. It’s not really within our power, but I think it can result from a multitude of right choices, even of self-sacrifice and love for others. It seems sort of counter-intuitive that by not prioritizing your own pleasure, you can achieve a deeper enjoyment, but I think it’s true. That’s not to say pleasure can’t still be a part of your life, but there are higher priorities.

In your marriage, in your financial decisions, in how you raise and instruct your children, what do you think is most important for them to learn? Where do you hope to lead your spouse and family, and what example will you show? I wish you Joy.