Tag Archives: pleasure

There’s More to Life and Marriage Than Happiness

Happy Life:  Happy Marriage Series

Despite the headline, I’m not suggesting that people live unhappy lives or in unhappy marriages. However, I do think people misunderstand what true happiness is and what it involves.

Is happiness overrated? Happiness is too often confused with feeling good, says Martin Seligman, author of Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Rather than just feeling good, he says leading a good, happy life entails more than creating positive emotions. We need five critical elements to flourish in life: positive emotions, engagement (i.e., feeling lost in a task), relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

To flourish, we can’t just feel good in our own heads, we must have something good to show for it. This is a theme I have returned to occasionally (such as in this post on the difference between pleasure, happiness and joy), because I think our modern culture encourages us to seek immediate pleasure without regard for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us. Sacrifice and service to others are valued far less than freedom, independence, and display of material wealth.

If we reflect back on an older person’s life, we often admire the times of hard work, sacrifice, integrity, productivity and innovation. We connect how they contributed to others with a life well lived. I wonder if enough of us measure our own lives in the same manner, asking how fruitful and helpful we are rather than merely how happy we are in a particular moment. The same goes for how we raise the next generation. Are we focused on helping our children achieving great academic and athletic prowess and collecting impressive achievements that they can use for the next stage of life, or are we also guiding them on how they can build healthy relationships, engage with others, find meaning in their work, and contribute to a better world?

Whom do you admire? How do you define a life well lived? What role models do you have for achieving a happy life and/or a happy marriage?

When you ask yourself how happy you are in your marriage right now, are you also factoring in what you are contributing to the marriage, how fruitful you are being in the marriage, how engaged you are with your spouse on a daily basis, etc.? Or, are you asking yourself what you are “getting” from the marriage right now? Imagine yourself and your spouse in your “golden years” looking back at your current life. What are the things you would be glad you accomplished or invested time in? What are the passions you would be happy to know you participated in together? Who are the people you will be glad you helped? What are the regrets you might have if you don’t change course? Are you spending too much time or not enough time in an area of your life?

Living a happy, fulfilling life is a worthwhile aim as long as we understand what we’re working toward. What are you working toward in your life in your quest for happiness?

Related posts:
Why does our experience with pleasure fade?
An eye-opening post by Jane Devin explaining why unhappiness is not a disease and the tyranny of positive thinking.


If you, your spouse, or someone you know is unemployed and married, you can assist a researcher who is preparing his dissertation research on the impact of unemployment on marital relationships in the current economy.  Go to this survey page, and share the link with others who may be willing to help  Andrew Bland in his work. The survey is anonymous. As you know, I’m a fan of research that can help us in our relationships. And in order to get that useful research, the researchers need participants willing to provide their experiences. Thanks in advance.

Photo ©Lori Lowe

Why Does Our Experience with Pleasure Fade?

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

Why is it that what makes us happy today may not make us happy a month from today? All of our desirable experiences are transitory, says David Myers, author of The Pursuit of Happiness.

While some people are generally more happy or loving in their relationships than others, even the happiest don’t maintain endless joy. Pleasure wears off as we continue to be satisfied. That totally stinks, doesn’t it? That means the TV we were totally fine with five years ago is not nearly big enough or clear enough for us today.

Even the pleasurable experiences we have with our mates can fade in our minds. The same experiences we once enjoyed immensely probably won’t result in the same high of emotions if we attempt to repeat them. The “in love” feelings also fade and are replaced by different feelings and emotions.

This isn’t meant to be a downer, but rather as a reminder that even when things are the same, we may see them as different and think of ourselves as less satisfied.

Expectations & Comparisons
Our expectations and comparisons also affect how happy we are in the relationship. Myers explains that experiments demonstrate that watching X-rated movies tends to diminish satisfaction with one’s real-world sex life, which may appear less exciting. Even looking at perfect “10” centerfolds causes one’s own partner to look less appealing in experiments. Our minds adapt to what we take in.

The author says the good news is that we have the capacity to adapt even when negative—or tragic—events strike in our lives. Individuals and couples who have gone through a period of crisis often find they are stronger for it.

Managing our expectations in everyday life seems to be important for our overall happiness—in love and in life. A friend recently noted how much happier her husband is because he isn’t trying to “change the world” as she is. Simple desires make for happier people, she noted.

Unrealistic expectations can doom us to failure. Sports stars and movie stars who expect $5 million for a job are miffed when they are offered $4 million. Charlie Sheen won’t be happy until his enemies are licking his feet. We should be a little more careful about the expectations we create.  

Our relationship and life goals should be reasonable. Short-term, doable goals can still lead up to a lofty one. The expectations we place on our spouse should be reasonable as well.               

What Makes Life More Pleasurable?
So, what’s the answer to making everyday life seem better? Should we reminisce about our favorite memories and highest highs? Myers says this strategy backfires. “Despite our enjoyment of happy memories, there is both theory and evidence to suggest that dwelling on the Camelot moments from our past makes the present seem pretty pedestrian,” he says. In fact, if we use our happiest memories as yardsticks, it makes our present seem blah. If we can see these super highs as rare gifts, not as expectations for daily living, we are better off.

It’s also better to be reminded of the darker side. Pangs of loneliness remind us of how much we enjoy time with our spouse. Hunger makes food taste better. Being tired makes sleep feel heavenly. Those who recover after hospitalization find they are happier than before they were ill.

Myers says even self-imposed sacrifices can make us appreciate life and have more gratitude. “The sacrificial bowls of rice during Lent make the roast chicken tastier. The temporary separation from a loved one makes the reunion sweeter, the person less taken for granted.”       

In sum, the following can make our perception of our lives and marriages improved:

  • Restrain unrealistic expectation.
  • Count our blessings.
  • Make goals short-term and doable.
  • Be careful with comparisons.
  • Don’t focus on an idyllic past; make new memories.

Is there a time in your life that you remember as being more perfect? Does it make you feel less happy when you compare your current life to that time?

Photo credit: ©Valery Shanin/PhotoXpress.com

How do Bullies and Abusers Relate to Others?

In a recent post I presented the importance of empathy in marriage and the physiological studies that have proven this. However, all people do not empathize in the same manner. Bullies are one group whose brains differ in how they relate to the emotions and pain of others.

Researchers at the University of Chicago studied empathy in bullies. They performed functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans of boys’ brains aged 16 to 18 while showing the boys videos of people getting accidentally hurt. A control group was tested, along with a group of boys who had been abusive and had been diagnosed with conduct disorders.

Prior to these studies, many surmised that bullies lacked empathic skills and couldn’t connect to the pain they were causing. I’ve heard that said about psychopaths. At least in the case of bullies, the reality is worse than the prediction. According to this study, bullies do not lack empathy; they feel pleasure when others experience pain.

When the bullies’ brains were scanned, “the brains signaled empathy towards the pain, but their brain wiring associated that pain empathy with pleasure, in the reward centers of the brain,” says professor Jane Decety. “Bullies associate the pain of their victims as a positive feeling. These results suggest that the abusive behavior of bullies feeds their brains with a feeling of reward.”

These tests were done on older boys, so it remains to be seen if the results would be the same in adult perpetrators of domestic abuse. If that is how abusers think, it is one more reason why victims should not stick around to try to persuade the abuser to change their ways. Brains that are wired to receive pleasure from causing pain may just be on the lookout for the next person to provide that reward.

If someone you know is in an abusive situation, refer them to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and share these safety tips.

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.