Tag Archives: increasing happiness

Is Your Relationship Better than Your Friends’ Relationships?

Happy Life, Happy Marriage Series

In the last happy life happy marriage post, we talked about how we humans are naturally dissatisfied with our lives and our mates. We’re not even satisfied in a “perfect” marriage with the “perfect” spouse. Because perfect for us today means tomorrow our expectations change. If we are dissatisfied or unhappy with some aspect of our marriage today, there’s a good chance that there is nothing seriously wrong with our relationship.

Another way in which we doom our chances for happiness in relationships is by comparing our marriages (as well as other aspects of our lives) to other couple’s marriages. On the outside, most everyone’s marriage looks happy and problem-free. We all smile when we’re out with friends. We think we can determine how happy we are by comparing with how happy others appear to be.

This would not be a problem, says Dennis Prager in Happiness is a Serious Problem, if we compared ourselves with most other people.  However, we don’t do this. We compare ourselves with the very few who appear happier than we are. We’re always looking one notch above where we perceive ourselves to be, even if we know very little about their lives. When we think about it, we realize that we can’t know how our lives compare with others behind closed doors. When I was young, I used to look around our church and think “if they only knew how we lived when we weren’t on display.” But to the outside world, I’m sure we appeared to be a well-adjusted family of seven.

“The less we know about the people with whom we compare ourselves, the more dramatic the difference in assumed happiness,” says Prager. “If all of us realized that the people with whom we negatively compare our happiness are plagued by pains and demons of which we know little or nothing, we would stop comparing our happiness with others’.”

It’s similar to that saying you may have heard: If everyone could throw their problems out in a box, and you could choose to take any of them back, most of us would take our own. People seem fairly happy-go-lucky, attractive and successful to many of those around them, but deep down, they and their relationships may be deeply suffering from serious problems. Few people answer truthfully when a casual acquaintance asks how they are.

Prager says this situation would be improved if our close friends and confidants began opening up when things aren’t so perfect. (However, one needs to be very careful about sharing marital problems, particularly with family members.) For example, if you have a good friend whom you can share that you had a disagreement with your husband over which restaurant to go out to, or which route to take, or even that you can hardly tolerate his family, maybe she will offer some positive encouragement and realize you aren’t the perfect couple. She may share that her husband watches sports incessantly and thinks that it’s her job to do all the laundry. It’s not that you don’t respect one another’s marriages, but you also don’t pretend to be imperfect.

In life and in marriage, we are not helped by comparing ourselves with others whom we imagine to have more fun, money, more passion, more talent, more romance, more togetherness, fewer problems, fewer worries. In fact, we can significantly improve our happiness in life and in marriage if we would stop these meaningless comparisons.

This is a tough one. You go first, and let me know how it goes.

Related Links:
Read 10 Tips to Living a Mindful Marriage, by Sean Marshall of Family Rocketship, in a guest post for Simple Marriage. I just found Sean’s cool blog, dedicated to actively chooseing to live the perfect life. He and his wife are starting at home, seeking adventure, and hoping to change the world.

Photo credit: ©Dmitri Mlkitenko/PhotoXpress.com

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How Does Happiness Spread?

“Come On, Get Happy!” Do you remember this 1970 theme song from the Partridge Family? I guarantee it will put a smile on your face if you spend 30 seconds on YouTube to hear it again. I dare you not to sing along. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40egogo4kcY

It’s what came into my mind as I read recent results of a 20-year study on how our social network impacts our happiness. One highlight is that happy people tend to be connected to other happy people, and geographical closeness is important.

It reports that we are affected by the happiness of others in our network, up to three degrees of separation. So, if our friend’s friend “gets happy” then we are more likely to be as well. Interestingly, the number of happy friends you have affects you more than the number of unhappy friends, so don’t feel like you have to dump all your sad friends to stay happy. Each new happy friend you have increases your likelihood of happiness, but a new unhappy friend has little or no effect.

What I found most interesting is the groups of people who affect us most. When our spouse becomes happier, it increases our odds of becoming happier by only 8%. When our next door neighbor becomes increasingly happy, it increases our odds by 35%. A mutual friend trumps them all when she becomes happier, increasing the probability you’ll be happy by a whopping 63%.  Happiness also seems to spread more readily via the same gender. How happy our coworkers are doesn’t seem to affect us one way or another.

Even though many people spend more time at work with than family, I don’t think they are as invested in those relationships in the way we are with friends. Of course, some people don’t even like their coworkers or are competitive with them, so we may not be pleased when they succeed.  As for the neighbors and friends part, why do you think they affect us more than spouses? I believe we put on a happy face for many of those around us, sharing good news and wishing others well. But when we come home, we don’t always save the best, most joyous part of ourselves for those in our own home. We’re tired. We’ve had a long day. We have a to-do list on which to focus. Our spouses may be used to our ups and downs and may not pay a lot of attention to our feelings or reports of our day.

Perhaps it’s a good reminder for us to really be present for our spouses, family and friends, our neighbors, and yes, even our coworkers. We should share in their joys—and pick them up when they’re down. Sing them a happy tune from the ‘70s. You might make your friend’s friend happy tomorrow.

For study details go to http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/dec04_2/a2338.