Tag Archives: improve marriage

Happiness Comes Before Success in Life, Not After

Happy Life; Happy Marriage

I have been bombarded in the last weeks with information leading to the same conclusion; that is, if we want to be successful (in things like work, parenting and yes, even marriage), we have to figure out how to be more happy and positive first. This is because increased happiness is correlated with more success, not the other way around. Most cultural messages switch that around to say if you are successful, then you can find happiness, but for reasons I will try to explain, our brains just don’t work that way.

Maybe you know people who are both happy and successful, and it never dawned on you that they were happy first, which helped them achieve success. But studies show that happiness fosters achievement and success. On the flip side, striving for success doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find happiness. In fact, there are good reasons your brain can’t make that leap.

Shawn Anchor, a Harvard psychologist who was recently profiled in this Inc. article called Happiness Makes Your Brain Work Better, explains his theory very well (and in an entertaining fashion) in this TEDx Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work. If you’re at all interested in success or happiness, I’d recommend watching it. Today, I’ll address how this theory relates not only to work, but to our personal lives and relationships as well.

Here’s the fallacy with us using success as a means to become happy:  Every time we set a goal then achieve it, we change our benchmark for success rather than becoming happy with our success. Since your brain changes your view of success, you can’t reach the happiness that comes on the other side. That’s why you often see people who seem successful from the outside who are anything but happy, even if they achieved the lofty goals they set.

How can we boost our happiness, especially if our life isn’t ideal right now? Happiness is much more under our control than you may think. Only 10 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by our circumstances, say experts, while 90 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes the world. By adjusting the lens through which you view the world, you can not only increase your happiness, you can also improve your outcomes. This theory applies to whatever outcomes you want to improve in your life or goals you want to reach.

If you’re following the logic, you probably want to know… how (and why) can we improve the way our brain processes the world, thereby increasing our happiness? The answer is that we can actively increase the positivity in our lives and alter our brain functioning. Our brain performs significantly better when it is focused on positive things than at neutral or negative stress levels, says Anchor. Our levels of intelligence, creativity and energy rise, and we become more productive. This allows us to reach our goals and be more successful. The positivity in our brains also causes the release of the feel-good chemical, dopamine. All of these things can lead to more happiness and success.

Do you believe some people have a happier, more positive bent than others, that maybe you’re born with a certain disposition and can’t change your genetic inclination? Anchor is quoted in Inc. as saying, “Happiness comes easier to some people, but happiness is a possibility for all if we change our behavior and our mindset.”

4 Ways to Boost Positivity

Anchor says we can train our brains to be more positive in just two minutes a day. Select one of the following actions to do for 21 days in a row, and you can help rewire your brain and retain more positivity:

  1. Write down three things you are grateful for, and select new ones each day.
  2. Write in your journal about one positive experience you have had in the last 24 hours.
  3. Exercise—This can help alter your behavior.
  4. Meditate—This allows you to focus on just one task at a time.
  5. Perform a Random Act of Kindness, such as emailing one person to praise him or her, or writing a kind note to someone.

Boosting Marital and Family Happiness

My thought is if your goal is to increase positivity into your relationships, try focusing 1,2, and 5 on your mate. For instance, write down three things about your partner for which you are grateful. We know through the research that focusing on gratitude increases marital satisfaction.

In this excerpt from this week’s Washington Post, Christine Carter, a sociologist with the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, comes to the same exact conclusion as Archer does. She says “studies are finding that achievement does not necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness is what fosters achievement. She points to an analysis of 225 studies on achievement, success and happiness by three psychologists that found that happy people — those who are … comfortable in their own skin — are more likely to have ‘fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health, and a long life.'”

Hopefully you caught that part about how happier people have more fulfilling marriages and relationships. It’s also key to those of us who are parents in how we raise the next generation and how we conduct our lives as parents.

“We tell our kids to work hard now so that success, then later happiness, can follow,” Carter explains. ‘The underlying American assumption is, if our kids get into a great college, they’ll get a great job, then they’ll be happy,” Carter said. “Our cortex of fear is around achievement. So, in order for our kids to get into a great college, get a great job and be happy, we get them piano lessons, after-school Mandarin class, we think more, more, more, more, more is better. And it blossoms into such pressure that by the time the kids get to college, about a quarter are on some kind of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Our hovering and insecurity as parents breeds insecurity in our kids by teaching them that they can’t handle discomfort or challenge.”

“What we need to be parenting for,” Carter said, “is not achievement first, then happiness — but happiness first.” To do that, she advises parents, when they can, to lose the self-sacrifice and take care of themselves; expect effort and enjoyment, not perfection; savor the present moment; and do simple things together such as have a family dinner. “When our children are happy, when their brains are filled with positive emotions like engagement, confidence and gratitude, we know from science that they are more likely to be successful and fulfill their potential,” Carter said.

That’s really a lot of words to explain what we said at the beginning—if you want to be successful in your marriage, in your parenting or in your work, figure out how to increase your happiness first, don’t look for those things/people to give you happiness. What we focus on, we become.

Lori Lowe is a marriage blogger at MarriageGems.com. Her book First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available on Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.  Lori and her husband of 16 years live in Indianapolis with their two children.

Photo by Photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Strategies for Manly Married Men

Lots of men seem to be looking for a magic button of sorts to satisfy their partners in bed. I’m guessing that is why there are so many magazines and books focused on various sexual techniques, finding the elusive “g-spot” and other tips for men.

Notwithstanding the fact that women can be a bit complicated, when I read the following paragraph from Tom Basson’s blog, I thought it might just be the best sexual advice I’ve read for husbands to always remember. The article is called This one goes out to all the manly men, and he offers very good advice on how to create the love story in your life you’ve always wanted.

“Husbands, make love to your wife’s heart, not just her body. As ferociously as possible, find that woman’s heart and connect with it. Learn everything about her and connect with her in as many ways as possible. Understand her story and care about her past. Then her body will respond in ways she never thought humanly possible, and, for that matter, so will yours.”

The advice isn’t only intended to satisfy a mate sexually, but to build a better connection between both partners and satisfy a deep longing in both of them. Husbands and wives have a deep desire for connection, and the pace and technological influences of our day don’t help us meet that desire. Instead, they create obstacles that impede us in our drive for true connection, because they take our eye off the ball with many distractions.

What can you do to move your love story forward, and to bring you and your spouse closer together? How can you truly connect this week, understand your mate’s cares, desires and longings? How can you help stay connected despite your many obligations? How can you remove distractions that get in the way of your focus on your spouse? If it seems like too much of a challenge, read on.

How much time are you spending a day together?

Here’s one possible way to get a jump start. Dustin Reichmann at Engaged Marriage blog has a 10-minute test drive, with eight short things you can do with only 10-15 minutes of time to spend each day with your spouse. He nicely did the math for us, and explained that if we spend just 15 minutes a day connecting with our spouse, we will spend more than 91 hours together in a year. And this type of daily connection is more important than an annual vacation, especially if you are neglecting the rest of the year.

So check out the 100-minute challenge (10 days, 10 minutes) and you’ll see the steps are not at all daunting. For instance, day 5 is relaxing with your favorite dessert or drink together while sharing three things about your day, and day 6 is sharing a foot or back massage. Days 1 and 10 involve rating your marriage to see if you have made a difference in just 10 days. I think these bite-size challenges are a great way to infuse a little extra connection into your day.

What other ideas do you have to help you build a daily connection? Discuss your ideas with your spouse, and feel free to share your ideas here!

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. The book tells the true stories that demonstrate that marriage can thrive even in the most difficult circumstances. Learn from 12 inspiring couples who experienced child loss, infidelity, drug addiction, cancer, financial crises, brain injury, stranger rape, military service, infertility, opposing religions, unsupportive families, interracial relationships, raising special-needs children, and much more. These couples found the pressures of life didn’t destroy them; instead, they crystallized their commitment to each other. Available from Amazon.com or at your favorite e-book retailer.

Photo by Ambro courtesty of freedigitalphotos.net.

Is Low Body Image Harming Your Marriage?

Most of you do not like your bodies, according to a new poll that surveyed men and women. Is your dislike getting in the way of intimacy with your spouse?

Fitness Magazine and Yahoo! surveyed 1,500 American men and women aged 18 to 64 and found 57 percent of women think they look fat naked, and 81 percent of adults have a body part they hate.

It may not be surprising given that approximately 68 percent of adults are overweight (with men being more likely to be overweight than women). However, women’s body confidence issues were more likely to be with certain body parts rather than their overall weight.

Thighs were the “most hated body party” among women and men (14 percent), followed by arms rears, with 11 percent each.

Men appear to have a higher body confidence, with 48 percent of the men reporting that they think they look good when they glance in the mirror. The full results are in Fitness Magazine’s February issue.

I’ve written about body image before (see Improve Sexual Sparks with Better Body Image) but this new research is a reminder that our self-image related to our bodies is not getting any better. In fact, advertising is well known for using editing software to make models look thinner and to change features to fit with a “cultural ideal.” What we look at we begin to see as normal and acceptable. For this reason, be careful about the media you consume and the images that get entrenched in your mind. The cultural ideal changes with the fashion and the time. We can’t all be expected to fit a random ideal, nor would we want to have everyone looking the same. (I just saw on CNN that one of the current top models for female fashion is actually a tall, thin male with no curves. If you don’t believe me, here are his runway looks.)

Boost Body Image

Men and women need to compliment their spouse’s physical attractiveness on a regular basis. Be honest, but find features that you love and be vocal about your appreciation. It’s important for both men and women to hear compliments. However, for women it may be more important to have a positive body image if they are to relax and enjoy sexual intimacy with their husbands. It may even be a reason why the wife doesn’t initiate more if she is embarrassed to be naked, or if she spends her mental energy worried about how she looks.

Remember that confidence is one of the most attractive features we have. Men are visual and appreciate the female body.  I have heard from a few readers about husbands who denigrate or put down their wives for their bodies, which is so harmful to self-esteem and only creates a downward cycle. Never put down your spouse, even if you are trying to encourage a positive change.

If weight loss is a goal, try to work as a family and adopt healthier eating and lifestyle habits. Go for a walk instead of watching TV, or make small lifestyle changes that you can continue. Be encouraging and complimentary of progress your partner makes. I find that even if my body stays the same, I feel more confident and energetic when I’m on a regular exercise program. My husband also feels better about himself when he’s eating right and exercising. (He needs fewer reminders than I do.)

On the whole, though, I hear from men who say they love their wife’s body as it is, even if it has changed over time or after childbirth. They wish they could convince their wife of this. Women should appreciate more the power of their body’s capabilities and accentuate their strengths. Find clothing and lingerie you feel good in. Wives should be willing to hear their husbands out and let their message of love sink into their hearts and under their skin.

Your homework:

  1. Compliment your spouse’s body at some point today. “You look great in those jeans,” or “I love the way you take care of your body,” or “I love to see you naked” are a few examples.
  2. Compliment yourself. Don’t let negative self-talk bring you down. Focus on your positive features, and celebrate your strength.

With spring break around the corner, many of you are thinking about whether to plan a vacation or where to go. This post from Simple Marriage offers great insights into Why Vacations Make the Best Dates!

To read about 12 inspiring couples who used adversity to improve their marriage, check out First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. Details at www.LoriDLowe.com. Or, go to Amazon.com or your favorite e-reader site.

Photo by imagerymajestic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

6 Habits for Happy Lives & Marriages

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

I came across this awesome visual from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) on 6 Habits of Happiness Worth Cultivating, and I think it has great applications for marriage as well. Cultivate these 6 habits for a happier life and a happier marriage.

  1. Practice Kindness. Yes, it’s an important life habit, but it also makes you feel good. “Altrustic acts light up the same pleasure centers in the brain as food and sex,” according to GGSC. Many people stop there, but they end up being kinder to the checker at the grocery store than to their spouse at home. Or at least we would never say things to our friends that we are willing to say in anger to our spouse. Ouch. Kindness will pay great dividends in the long run. Say “please” and “thank you” for starters. Offer to help, especially when your spouse is stressed. Give an extra hug and kiss, just because.
  2. Drop Grudges. As I wrote in First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, forgiveness is just as much a gift for the giver as the receiver. Offering forgiveness to those who have wronged us takes away the bitterness that can rob us of health and wellbeing. This goes double in a marriage, when grudges are very detrimental. If a past hurt from our spouse is important, discuss how you feel hurt and explain what would make you feel better. But figure out how to get past it.
  3. Get Moving. GGSC reports that “regular exercise increases self-esteem, reduces anxiety and stress, and may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.” Why not do something active with your spouse? You’ll both benefit from the increased oxytocin release, you’ll both be doing something good for your health, and you’ll be spending quality time together.
  4. Give Thanks. Lots of research has shown the benefits of living with gratitude, and I’ve written a good deal about it. “Regular expressions of gratitude promote optimism, better health, and greater satisfaction with life,” says GGSC. Research also shows that couples who express gratitude toward one another and who spending time being thankful for their spouse and thinking positively about him or her are also more satisfied with their relationship. Read “Two words that have improved my marriage.”
  5. Keep Friends Close. “Make time for those closest to you,” says GGSC. That means regular, dedicated, uninterrupted face time with your spouse. No excuses. Remember that your spouse can’t meet all your emotional needs, so spend time with close friends as a way to boost your happiness and bring a brighter you to your marriage.
  6. Pay Attention. The idea of being more mindful as a means of boosting immunity and reducing anxiety is not one commonly discussed. But in our world of multitasking and ubiquitous social media, it’s so key. How many minutes a day to we spend completely engaged with our spouse, listening or discussing meaningful issues in our lives?

What are the most important habits you feel cultivates your personal happiness and your relationship happiness?

Order in time for Valentine’s Day: First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage , which tells the stories of a dozen amazing couples who used adversity to improve their marriage. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Sony, Nook or PDF. If you already have the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Great Sources for Marriage Tips

If you haven’t had the chance to check out The Long Haul Project, it’s a great blog for marriage insights. It’s a husband and wife team of Tom (the Brit) and Melissa (the Yank), who are on a journey to save their marriage by meeting married couples in cities around the globe and asking them to share their secrets. Recently, they were kind enough to interview me about First Kiss to Lasting Bliss and the insights I had gained in my research for my own marriage. Read the interview here.

Another great source for marriage insights is Gina Parris of Winning at Romance. Gina doesn’t mince words and shares LOTS of romantic insights to make your marriage sizzling. She recently asked me to write about Making Long-Distance Love Work, something I know a bit about as the wife of a pilot. I share insights from a military couple who was separated during war time. Gina has lots of audio programs, articles and podcasts to improve the intimacy in your marriage, so check it out.

One more link for you, Beverly Willett from Huffington Post recently interviewed me on the topic of “Is Lasting Bliss Really Possible?” With all the year’s headlines about marriage being obsolete, it’s a valid question to ask. Add your opinions, whether you agree with my take or not.

I’ll be sharing more good blogs for you as we enter the new year. There are lots on my blogroll if you’re looking for other great sites to help you keep your marriage solid and growing. If you’re not growing, you’re drifting.

NOTE:
My new book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Sony, Nook or PDF. If you’ve already bought the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Does Your Marriage Have Areas for Improvement?

If you are hoping to improve or even maintain your relationship in 2012, it may help to know what the major sources of conflict are. What do couples fight most about, and can you assess your personal behavior in these areas to ensure you are not contributing to that conflict?

The Science of Relationships provides the Top 15 Sources of Conflict in Relationships with a brief explanation of each that I think is very helpful. It includes everything from being inconsiderate to poor grooming. First, ask yourself what the most common conflict topics are in your relationship, then check the list. Be honest about an area in which you might be able to improve. This isn’t the time to blame your partner, but rather to look a way you might take some responsibility for a bit of self-improvement. Personally, I hope to improve my daily efforts toward generosity this year.

For some additional helpful reading, The Generous Husband’s Paul Byerly has done a good job dissecting The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America 2011—research completed by the National Marriage Project. This is the research I wrote about recently in which generosity in marriage is said to be the best indicator of a very happy marriage. There’s much more to the study. Paul explains the findings on Money and Housework, which show happier husbands and wives are part of couples for which household chores are shared equally. In addition, the study showed that financial pressure and debt decrease our marital happiness. No matter what our income, increased consumer debt is a hindrance to a happy marriage, particularly for women. He also reports on the impact of family and friends in marriage, which reminds us we should be connecting with those who support our marriage, and preferably spend time with others who have strong marriages. Finally, this is an interesting bit about the importance of shared faith within a marriage. If these reports are interesting to you, check out the full study results. (See link at beginning of paragraph.)

What area of your marriage could use some tweaking—or a complete overhaul—this coming year? Perhaps how you communicate, how you manage your finances, how you share your faith, how you share housework or raise your children, how you manage your time or your home, how you show affection, your sexual satisfaction with one another, making time to spend each day with each other? The options are nearly endless, but discuss one area with your partner in which you both will make an effort to improve, will seek out tools for improvement, and will provide honest and productive feedback with each other. If you have particular topics you would like more information about, please message me or leave it in the comments and I will provide expert insights and research-based tips for you.

For all those who celebrate the Christmas holiday this coming week, I wish you all the blessings and joy of the season. I hope for you a holiday with minimal stress and abounding love. And I wish peace and joy to all of you and to your families and friends. Thank you for allowing me into your lives.

NOTE:
My new book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage is now available. Go here for links to Amazon print version or e-books for Kindle, iTunes, Nook or e-book. If you’ve already bought the book, don’t forget to email me for your 7 free marriage improvement gifts, including everything from an e-book to improve your sex-life to date night suggestions, an iPhone app with daily marriage tips, a marriage refresher workbook, a video to hone your communication skills, and tips for how to connect on a daily basis with your spouse in just 15 minutes a day.

Photo by Arvydas Kriuksta courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

First Kiss to Lasting Bliss Interview

Thanks to Mrs. Levine of Whispered Between Women for interviewing me about my upcoming book, FIRST KISS TO LASTING BLISS: Hope & Inspiration for Your  Marriage. You can visit her lovely site and read the full interview here. I am re-posting the highlights here at her suggestion, with a link to the full interview:

Mrs. Levine: I’ve been following Lori Lowe’s blog Marriage Gems for a couple of years and find her advice on marriage truly wonderful and inspiring. I took the opportunity to ask her some of my burning questions on how to help a marriage last a lifetime.

Mrs. Levine: Is avoiding lifestyle traps one of the best ways of helping a marriage flourish over decades?

Lori Lowe: I do think avoiding today’s lifestyle traps can help a marriage flourish. For example, the ever-changing desires for more material goods, nicer cars, bigger houses, great vacations, and the like, can cause financial stress. Research shows couples who are more focused on material goods have less strong marriages. The truth is that material goods never really satisfy our deepest longings. If we spent the time and effort focusing on trying to please each other and doing something great in the world that is bigger than ourselves, we find much greater happiness.

 
Mrs. Levine: When illness or an accident changes the marriage so that one spouse is a care provider and the other is a care receiver, how does a couple maintain an equal emotional balance in the relationship?

Lori Lowe: One couple in the book experienced a brain injury at a young age, and the wife has become a caregiver. Due to his slow awakening from a coma, it’s almost as if he fell in love with his wife a second time. He asked her to marry him before he understood that he was already married to her. She remained at his side and committed to his recovery, and works daily to help him regain his mobility. Just because one person has physical limitations doesn’t mean that any part of the love dies away. At some point (hopefully much later in life), most of us as couples will face some physical limits either in ourselves or in our spouse. While it’s not pleasant to think about, it may help you prepare for the future.

Mrs. Levine: What is your best piece of advice to couples for a marriage that lasts a lifetime?

Lori Lowe: If I have to limit the advice to one thing, I’d say focus on pleasing each other. It creates a virtuous cycle of giving and loving. If you are willing to go first and be the one who acts in love and generosity, you can start that cycle. What is something that would please your spouse today? More sex or touching during the day? Grocery shopping or cooking dinner? Spending time together? Saying thank you instead of complaining?  Do what you know will please your spouse, and if you don’t know, be sure to ask.

If I can add one other thing, I’d say don’t expect your spouse to fill your every need. If we each learn to be interesting and fulfilled people individually, we bring more to the marriage, and we hopefully won’t have as many unrealistic expectations of each other.

Read More for the rest of the Q&A.

Receive book information at www.LoriDLowe.com, and check out the Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss. First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage will be available Dec. 8, 2011.