Tag Archives: joy

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part II: Stay Positive

In the Part I, we learned how important it is to respond positively to our partner’s good news. We also learned that individuals in successful, happy relationships each experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions than do those in unsuccessful relationships. Positive emotions—even fleeting ones—have the power to help us connect with others.

Having an upbeat outlook enables people to see the big picture and avoid getting hung up on small annoyances,” says psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “This wide-angle view often brings to new light new possibilities and offers solutions to difficult problems, making individuals better at handling adversity in relationships and other parts of life. It also tends to dismantle boundaries between “me” and “you,” creating stronger emotional attachments. (Remember the Power of We in Relationships?)

We’ve heard about Dr. Gottman’s 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in a relationship, but Fredrickson studied positive emotions by each individual and found even when the ratio is 3:1 it helps them become more resilient in life and love.

How can we help boost positive emotions? Try to schedule activities often in places that exude positive energy for you, such as a nature hike or meetings in a restaurant you love. Surround yourself with scents and sounds that make you happy. Keep a collage of photos that make you smile on your desk, next to your bed, or wherever you spend time. Keep upbeat music on your ipod or stereo playing positive lyrics. Spend a few minutes hugging your spouse (and children) at the end of the day. Play with your pet.

Scientific American’s December 2009 article, “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage” provides more details.

What do you do to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude, or is this a struggle for you? I know when I’m not feeling well, or the weather has been cold or dreary for a long time, I struggle to be positive. Music helps change my mood.

Read Part I, Part III and Part IV for the other three secrets.

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part I: Share Joy

Everyone thinks romantic partners are supposed to support you when you’re sick or down, and help you through tough times, but how we treat each other during the good times may matter even more to the relationship. Scientific American’s December 2009 article “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage” delves into how happy couples stay happy and successful. Here are some of key findings from researchers:

  • Couples in stronger relationships react more positively to one another’s good news, while less happy couples respond in a neutral or negative way. Buoying one another’s joy during happy times may help cement feelings of satisfaction and commitment.
  • Individuals in successful, happy relationships each experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions than do those in unsuccessful relationships.

Think back to the last time your spouse told you s/he had a good presentation at work or shared some other tidbit of good news. If you merely nodded your head and said, “That’s nice, honey,” while returning to your email or TV show, it turns out that’s almost as bad as making a negative comment. More positive reactions include expressing enthusiasm, holding eye contact, leaning in, and asking questions. These behaviors show you “get” what makes your partner happy, and it makes you happy, too.

Even if you have reservations, for example about your partner’s job promotion, express positive feedback and save the concerns for a later conversation.

Researchers say positive events happen three times as often as negative ones, so we should be able to get more practice on good days than bad. If that’s not the case for you, you need to engage in more enjoyable activities together—taking a walk in the park or watching a favorite movie or show together.

Read three more proven secrets: Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Time Travel for a Better Life and Love

From Back to the Future to The Time Traveler’s Wife, traveling through time is often an intriguing prospect for writers and movie makers. Even song writers wax poetic about what they would tell their younger teenage selves. It’s kind of a cool concept, but have you ever tried it?

Alas, we can only live forward. We cannot prevent our past mistakes or give self-confidence before it is earned. Still, there is something to be said for the power of traveling in your mind. You might even change your future.

Picture yourself and your life 20 years down the road. What successes mean the most to you? What are your biggest concerns or regrets? Visualize your marriage and your spouse, your children, how you spend your day. Try to be as detailed as you can be.

Now imagine you are looking back at yourself, today, in the room where you are right now. What do you think of the younger (present) self as you look back with the wisdom of years? What do you think of how you are spending your time, your money, your energy, your passion? Are there thoughts or shreds of wisdom you would try to convey? Are the problems you are facing today meaningful 20 years later? If so, seek advice from wise friends or counselors. If you’re focused on inconsequential things, reassess your priorities—not just what you say is most important, but how you are showing its importance. Are you working toward happiness or lasting joy?

One thing is likely, that you will as your older self lament the quick passage of time and wish you had more time to make everything “right.” Take the time today to love, forgive, ask forgiveness, share, enjoy, and cherish your loved ones. Once the day is over, and 2009 is over, you don’t get another shot.

Are you investing time and energy into the relationships that will matter most 20 years down the road? Are you on the verge of making a serious misstep? Will you regret never following your dreams and true calling, only to suck the life out of your children as you try to live through their achievements?

I came across the perfect quote recently by a current author that neatly summarizes my point. It must have been floating in my subconscious, because I only thought of it after writing this post. As a writer who spends so much time revising, it is a thoughtful reminder that we don’t have that luxury in real life.

There are no perfect words, perfect writers, or perfect people. But life is not a first draft – we don’t get to rewrite this script. Figure out in advance how you want to wrap it up and plan accordingly.”  —Karen Spears Zacharias

The Better Half

Most of the women reading this will likely conclude this headline refers to them, and they’d be right. However, it’s not the half that feels better about life. Despite advancements in women’s health, job equality, graduation rates, life expectancy and other areas, female happiness in America is on the decline.

Have you heard the phrase, “When Momma’s happy, everybody’s happy?” The opposite is also true. When wives are miserable, we tend to bring the family down to our level. Ross Douthat of the The New York Times recently reported research from economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers discussing “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” in America and its possible reasons.

I’m interested in your input about why women’s happiness is declining. Do you agree with this trend, and if so, what are the causes?

Current trends are likely only part of the explanation. For instance, the NYT cites the decline of the two-parent family as a likely cause for lower life satisfaction of single mothers. However, declining happiness rates cut across race, class and economic levels. Other reasons discussed may include the increasing female workload; despite more women working outside the home with ever greater responsibilities, they still do the majority of household chores. Yet, the economists show similar workload patterns for men and women.

Douthat says both feminists and traditionalists will find a lot of economic data in the report to help them prove their own claims. However, he urges the two groups to find common ground and join forces. He even suggests some new stigmas may be in order—but unlike what they were a generation ago—that would create a modern “social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the ‘fallen women’ of a more patriarchal age.” He doesn’t expect this to actually occur, calling our current society a “kindler, gentler, more forgiving country than it was 40 years ago” and one unlikely to accept sexual stigmas of any kind.

Do you think the declining happiness rates have everything to do with family structure, or are women seeking the wrong kind of satisfaction? My inclination is to think it’s a combination of factors. Many women strive for the nice house and suburban lifestyle, with pedicures and shopping trips on Saturdays, then once they achieve that lifestyle find it rather unfulfilling. Women of lower socioeconomic groups are working harder than ever to provide for their families with no rest in sight. Decreasing personal connections (which are different from online “friends”) and spreading of extended families also affects how women are able to cope with common stresses of marriage, work and parenting. “Busy” or “stressed” seem to be modern badges of honor.

Even in our chaotic lives and families, there has to be room for joy. (See past post on “Is your family seeking happiness or joy?) Do you see women as fairly unhappy or happy overall? How do you fit into the spectrum? How important is happiness to you?  For men, do you feel happier than the women in your life, or are they just more vocal about life’s challenges?

Link to the NYT article, Liberated and Unhappy.

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.

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.