Tag Archives: finding happiness in marriage

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.