Tag Archives: fulfillment

Why More Americans are Happy, Yet Unsatisfied

winter by Michal  Marcol freedigitalphotos.netAccording to recent Gallup polls, American levels of happiness are at a four-year high, with 60 percent of all Americans reporting they feel happy without a lot of stress or worry. Books about happiness are selling in record numbers. So why don’t Americans seem more satisfied?

One reason is, as I have written in a previous post, “There’s more to life and marriage than happiness.” Another reason is that 40 percent of Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Having a clear purpose and meaning for your life has been shown in research to increase your life satisfaction, improve your physical and mental health, and decrease the chances of depression. It is very possible to be both relatively happy and yet still live an unsatisfied life.

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness,” conclude researchers. Yes, pursuing happiness and pleasure can actually hinder you from having a meaningful, satisfying life as an individual and as a married couple.

A new study to be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology examined the attitudes of 400 Americans over a month and found that while a meaningful life and a happy life overlap in some ways, they were very different. Researchers determined that leading a “happy life” was associated with being a “taker” who at times appeared shallow, selfish or self-absorbed, but with satisfied demands. These happy individuals might be healthy and have plenty of income for what they needed or wanted, as well as few worries.

A meaningful life, on the other hand, was associated with being a “giver.” The participants in this category derived meaning from sacrifices. They actively looked for meaning in their activities, even when they knew the action might decrease their happiness or require them to give something up for themselves. Examples might be a parent who takes time to care for their children, a person who buys a present for a friend to cheer her up, or a spouse who offers to help around the house.

Finding meaning can even involve extreme sacrifices, such as the one made by the Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl in Vienna in September 1942. Read about his fascinating story and more about the research in this article from The Atlantic called “There’s more to life than being happy.” Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, later wrote the best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning. After working on suicide prevention for teens earlier in his career, he helped two suicidal inmates in the camps find meaning for their lives and gave them something to live for. Don’t we all need something to live for?

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy,’” wrote Frankl. He also wrote the enduring words: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.”

This last quote brings me to the point of this post. To find meaning in life and certainly in our marriages, we need to direct our attention away from our desire for happiness of the moment and toward others. By loving our spouse and family more fully, we can find greater fulfillment and satisfaction.

Researchers say happy people derive joy from receiving benefits from others, while people leading more meaningful lives derive a great deal of joy from giving to others.

Why is finding a deeper meaning for your life and marriage more important than seeking happiness for your family? Because it affects every choice you will make.  When one spouse reaches a turning point in their life, such as a mid-life crisis, someone focused on personal happiness might assess what they are getting from others and who is making them happy. They may say things like “life is short” and “you only live once” to justify behavior focused on personal pleasure. On the contrary, someone focused on meaning might assess what memories and values they are giving to their loved ones and how they have improved the lives of others. They will wonder what legacy they are leaving and how they can strengthen that legacy.

The idea that we are responsible for something greater than ourselves is contrary to the value of freedom above all.  Are these values at odds in your mind?

Please share how you find meaning in your life and in your marriage.

If you are interested in more on this topic, here are other happiness-related posts:

Is your family seeking pleasure, happiness, or joy?

Happiness comes before success in life, not after

The formula for unhappiness is revealed

Are too many choices leading to unhappiness?

Lori Lowe 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, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Where is the Treasure of Your Heart?

The universe conspired to teach me about seeking and finding treasure three times last week while on vacation. I thought I should listen. I am reminded that we all seek some kind of treasure, that we all face formidable obstacles, but that only some of us succeed. I promise, this does have application to marriage, but you’ll have to stay with me…

The first lesson came from a museum in Kansas that featured the recent excavation of a riverboat from 1836. Five untrained men set out on a wild-goose chase, researched and located The Arabia deep under a farmer’s field. (The Missouri River has changed its path significantly since the 1800s.) They had four months during the cold winter to excavate and search for the treasure they hoped would be inside, because come springtime, the farmer needed to plant his crops. One lucky day, they unearthed truckloads of brand new artifacts from the 1800s that were heading west to help new frontiersmen with setting up their new homes—priceless china, heaps of woodworking tools, clothing, jewelry, textiles and more.  Most of the men and their wives doubted they would ever find the steamboat (others had tried), but one day they were drinking from a champagne bottle more than 130 years old. They now run a museum and have published several books about their achievement. Lesson:  Believe that you can succeed even where others have failed.

A few days later, I went on a geode hunting adventure with friends and family at the Fox River in Missouri, hunting for geological treasure. This particular site is renowned for its plentiful 350-million-year-old Keokuk geodes. (If you’re not familiar with geodes, they have a grey, cauliflower exterior and look like regular rocks, but when you cut them open, they have crystalized interiors.) We ran into a geologist and teacher on our trek, searching for fossils in the limestone river walls. My son immediately found a rare fossil—something the geologist had driven 3 ½ hours hoping to find; he eagerly traded my son a geode for it. In a couple of hours, we located more than 50 geodes, including three boulder-sized rocks, and a second coral fossil. We lugged the large buckets and rocks home, and opened our treasures, revealing the sparkling interiors—each one unique. Lesson:  Treasure is there for those who seek it.

On the morning of the geode hunt, our group stopped at a library book sale in Iowa seeking literary treasures. (At $2 for an entire grocery bag of books, you couldn’t go wrong.) One book, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, caught my eye; I felt a compulsion to begin reading it immediately–while the other books got thrown in a bag. The book has sold more than 35 million copies in 67 languages and is a beautiful story of a Spanish shepherd boy who seeks—you guessed it—hidden treasure. Adventure, suspense, and travel are combined with great truths about how humans seek our life’s purpose, how we often give up just short of our goal, how we face innumerable obstacles as we are tested, and how we may ultimately succeed or fail. I loved the story, as well as the lessons.

At one point in the book, readers are tempted to think the protagonist has found romantic love, and that this is his treasure. But the story reminds us that we have a greater life purpose than finding love (although yes, romantic love is a treasure, to be sure).  Love should encourage our life purpose, not hinder it. The story also teaches that treasure is found where you least expect it, but is found only after you complete your personal journey. And it reminded me that where your treasure is, your heart will also be (a biblical reference from the book of Matthew). We must keep our heart focused on what is good and pure and on what helps us fulfill our purpose. Greedy or wandering hearts will not find fulfillment. Fearful or stubborn hearts won’t either.

What does all this philosophical mumbo jumbo have to do with marriage? Good question; I think I may have rambled on a bit. The obvious conclusion is that you and your spouse should encourage and support one another to allow you each to fulfill your life’s purpose. Without this generosity of spirit, we may over time become resentful or feel unfulfilled despite having found love. This anger or resentment or feeling of failure may lead to drifting apart and a loss of intimacy.

As we seek our personal goal or purpose, I am reminded that we all have a long and twisted path, wrought with struggle and pain and, sometimes, even happiness. Yet, each bend or dip in our journey is ultimately necessary to end up at that unexpected place of previously hidden treasure. That’s true in life as it is in marriage, where we often find rocky periods and dark valleys. Many give up just one step before finding success. Others are rewarded, never anticipating the joy that becomes theirs after many decades together. They learn lessons at each point of struggle, and use those lessons to improve and ultimately to succeed. What lessons have you learned that helped you reach your goal or purpose?

What are you seeking out of marriage and life? Do you find it difficult to discern and/or fulfill your purpose? Do you have a goal/vision for your life, or do you find yourself like so many, spinning your wheels and feeling unfulfilled?

(While I recommend The Alchemist, particularly if you are struggling with fulfilling your purpose, I receive no compensation for this recommendation. You can follow the author on Twitter @PauloCoelho.)

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