Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Get Happy: Your Marriage Depends on It
A Special Thank You To all our clients, friends, and audience members who have been in our lives this year. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to live our mission of helping you live lives of greater peace and happiness in your families and the world.
The twin research areas of marital happiness and positive psychology have finally begun to study the questions people have always wanted psychologists to answer:
What is love?
What is happiness?
What impact does personal happiness have upon marriage?
In this newsletter we will apply the exciting research findings about personal happiness to how to keep relationships on the Extraordinary Marriages track. There is an incredible synergy of pursuing a happy satisfying life and a happy marriage at the same time. The happier you are with your life, the better a companion you are for your spouse. Also, as a happy person yourself you won't settle for less than high satisfaction in your marriage. Since a marriage cannot be any happier than the happiness level of the two people, who wants to be the weakest link?
It's a Dog's Life
University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Martin Seligman, came to study happiness through a back door. His early research was on unhappiness - specifically dog unhappiness. He and his colleagues found that dogs who experienced painful electric shocks that they could not modify by any of their actions gave up trying. Even when opportunities to turn off the shocks presented themselves, the dogs just sat there enduring the shocks. It seems that once doggie helpless-ness was learned it could seldom be unlearned until the experi-menters offered therapy for the depressed canines to regain their power.
Seligman called the doggy depression, "learned helplessness," and claimed that it was an analog of human depression. Often depressed humans have trouble using current resources if they have been prevented from being resourceful earlier in life. Soon Seligman studied the opposite question: if people (or dogs) learned to be optimistic earlier in life would that attitude carry over even in tough times? Dogs that could modify the shocks early in their training looked for ways to modify other situations. Seligman called this phenomenon, "learned optimism" and has since applied his research to sales success, mental health, and parenting.
- If you learned helplessness in your childhood, you can still
recover and relearn more optimistic, creative response patterns
- If your spouse has not responded to your requests for change, don't get discouraged and give up. A counselor's guidance can be the catalyst for you to increase your skills at making and negotiating requests. Make sure you select a counselor that will hold you both accountable for the changes you agree to.
Managing Moods and Increasing Positive Emotions
A spouse who is preoccupied with negative moods such as anger, crankiness, disappointment, and jealousy is no fun to live with. Happy people take care of themselves. Think of yourself as an instrument of love. How well-tuned is your instrument? Here are some tips for getting more control over your moods.
- Take care of your health habits - sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
- To improve a bad mood, engage in a short term pleasurable but healthy
activity, like listening to music or exercising.
- Stop the "stinkin' thinkin'" and look for alternative explanations
for why your partner's behavior seems so aggravating. One client said
her husband "got up early in the morning looking for ways to annoy me?"
Instead, maybe he did not realize how his behavior affected her or was
forgetful and careless about some details that mattered to her.
- Focus on your partner's strengths. What is right about your partner and your marriage?
An Attitude of Gratitude
Happiness researchers have found that when people learn to think and act happier, they actually become happier.
- Happy people actually take the time to gratefully savor
good moments and success in the present. What good moments in the
past week of your marriage can you savor?
- Happy people tap into past good moments to help solve problems in
the present. What lessons from your past challenges that the two of
you have dealt with successfully can you apply to your current
- Happy people unrealistically overestimate their future happiness - or so it seems. Their focus on those positive expectations become self-fulfilling prophesies. Happy individuals actually do experience more fulfillment, make more money, have more sex, etc. than unhappy individuals. Happy couples report an increase of marital happiness over time.
Work from Strength
Happiness researchers have found that optimistic people know how to work from their strengths, instead of complaining about their short-comings. Happy spouses find ways to join with the strengths of their partners to make fulfilling lives for both.
David and Laura fought bitterly over money. David handled their accounts and accused Laura of being unappreciative of how hard he worked and of being a shopaholic. When the counselor suggested that maybe Laura could take more responsibility for money management by handling the accounts for a while, the couple discovered she had a flare for the task. Magically, receipts were tracked and income was recorded. Laura's "excessive shopping" turned out to be for family food and children's clothes, a small part of their budget compared to David's less frequent but more extravagant purchases of electronic gizmos.
Leaving a Happiness Legacy
While happiness involves the ability to enjoy the pure biological pleasures of ice cream or a spectacular sunset, enduring happiness involves two other levels. According to Seligman, people are happier when they connect their activities to goals and accomplishments. On the 3rd level, the happiest people connect their activities to deeper meaning beyond themselves such as belief in God or acts of altruism.
- Connect to something beyond your own relationship such as your
children, community, charity work, or God.
- If your work is no longer bringing you satisfaction, it might be
because it no longer draws on the best strengths of who you have
become. A career coach can help you either to get realigned to
aspects of your current job or to find a career path that brings
out the best in you.
- If you are a parent, help your children have age-appropriate power by giving them choices like whether they want green beans or broccoli for dinner. To help them learn optimism, ask at the end of the day (or after a family outing or vacation) what they liked best of the day?
Our audiotape series, Secrets of Extraordinary Marriages, covers managing emotions and finding meaning & purpose.
For more tips on how to increase your personal happiness: Martin Seligman. Authentic Happiness
Copyright 2003 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information.