Happiness Myths

There was an interesting op-ed in the Sunday New York Times discussing happiness. Now there’s a topic that everyone can relate to and would like to hear more about. What do you know about what happiness is and what makes one happy? You may be very surprised by what the research says.

There is a test that measure both happiness and unhappiness called the Positive Affectivity and negative Affectivity Schedule test. Not only does it measure both- it demonstrates that a person can be happy, yet unhappy at the same time. This may clear up the confusion for a number of people who have experienced this, but didn’t trust that their self-observations were accurate. Knowing this could also help folks to use their happiness to decrease their unhappiness.

Depending on the individual, there can be a number of stated reasons for unhappiness, but they vary quite a bit and aren’t always significant like living in poverty, having a chronic health issue, or experiencing a significant loss. Actually the number one typical day reason cited for unhappiness is spending time with one’s boss. Take note all you managers. Yes the above cited reasons lead to unhappiness as does loneliness, which is more common in our present culture and especially among those who live alone and/or in large cities.

A surprising finding from a study out of the University of Rochester in 2009 is that graduates who had set “intrinsic’ goals, such as finding a lasting relationship were much happier than those whose goals had to do with making a lot of money or achieving fame. Apparently being rich and/or famous does not make one happier, even if having financial security does contribute to greater happiness for the average person. Yet many people continue to pursue their career goals above all else and put their focus on gaining fame and fortune. How ironic that it can leave them feeling alone, depressed and empty. Think about all the celebrities and politicians embroiled in scandals, in legal trouble due to bad behavior, addicted to substances- and even suicidal.

Of course, there’s always the rest of us. All us normal people who go on reality shows hoping to get noticed, who buy lottery tickets hoping to win the prize that will change our lives for the better and all the folks who put their relationship goals and relationships on hold until they have achieved the right amount of fortune and success.

So what’s the real secret of happiness? Most likely a mixture of security and stability, happy love, close and caring friends, work we love- and the ability to put people and relationships above things and success.

Certainly gives us all something to think about.

Do you know the 10 relationship behaviors of the happiest couples?

Psychology today ran a piece by Doc Barton on what behaviors we typically see in the happiest couples. This is useful information to anyone who is single and hoping for a relationship or anyone in any stage of a relationship. This is so because too many folks say that they don’t know any happy couples or come from homes where their parents were divorced- which leaves them with no positive role models for how to have a successful and lasting union.

Doc Barton’s 10 behaviors are ones that resonate with this psychotherapist and relationship coach- and they are ones that I coach folks to use with their partners, especially when going through a rough patch or dealing with a situation that has them struggling to find a middle ground.

Are any of the following behaviors ones that you display and if not, why not give them a try?

  • Be best friends
    • Be able to laugh at yourself
    • Be open to new ideas and experiences
    • Be willing to be willing
    • Be kind
    • Be able to give all of your attention
    • Be demonstrative
    • Be trustworthy
    • Be available
    • Be Proactive

As you consider these, imagine if your partner employed them liberally in their interaction with you? Does it feel great just to think about that? If so, that could lend some motivation to you to get going on these. It’s all about caring enough to try. Once they become part of your repertoire, you will marvel at how much less work your relationship takes.

Seals and the passion for “real men”

Since the May 1st storming of bin Laden’s compound and subsequent death, all executed by SEAL team 6- there’s a new heartthrob out there- the SEAL. These men are an elite fighting force, the strongest and most fearless warriors in the US- and women everywhere are humming, “I need a hero.”

What is the attraction to a very masculine, strong, and fearless guy? Essentially, it all goes back to biology. Women are programmed to seek out men who can take care of them, protect them- and most of all, protect their young. Think about it- all those romance novels that sell so well, the popularity of the moonlight movies and vampire books, action movies featuring cartoon super heroes, and real-life ones like Harrison Ford, Hugh Jackman, Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Sylvester Stallone. What’s the common denominator? Strong, well-toned bodies, heroic acts in the face of great danger, winning against the evil and dangerous bad guys and always rescuing the woman in distress. It’s enough to make every red blooded woman swoon.

I predict a plethora of books and movies coming out that feature SEALS saving the day, the country, and the woman. Seals will join the ranks of leading men in the fantasies of women everywhere. Move over Arnie, Sylvester, and Hugh- there’s a new breed of hero in town.

The Hard Data Behind Strong Relationships

Featured on the front page of The Washington Post last weekend, was a piece on a recent survey done by the Pew Research Center that included statistical findings on the factors that couples cite as most important to a happy relationship. There were a few surprises…and then, there weren’t…

Faithfulness came out on top- not a surprise -and agreement on politics came in as least important of the variables rated. What is surprising is that overall children came in second to last as important to a happy marriage. Whites came in strongest on their feelings that kids are not essential to happiness, blacks were in between- and Hispanics ranked them as more important than the other two groups. Yet, averaged out- they were still second to last. Maybe this is why divorce continues to be strong even though we have been in a baby boom period for a number of years. Kids don’t hold a marriage together, make it better if it has major flaws- or provide the glue that keeps the family together through all the stress, hard times and distance that can come between two people and the future they had envisioned together. So the notion of having a baby to fix a relationship must be close to extinction by now- or one can only hope,

Things like having a good sexual relationship, sharing chores, an adequate income, good housing and shared religious beliefs all came before children. Another surprise was that shared interests ranked only one above children- or third from last. It seems that so much emphasis has always been placed on a need for sameness in interests as a strong factor in compatibility- yet those in the know say “no,” not so.

As I read between the lines I saw a couple of important things to note from this survey. The first is that compatibility seems to be most determined by lifestyle choices, physical chemistry, mutual support and an ability to work together and share the responsibilities of daily life. I see the need for shared values poking out- as our values dictate our priorities, how we view family roles, responsibilities, how we manage and share money, and overall future goals and direction for our lives.

This study is very useful because the information comes from married people who have a firsthand experience with what has been important/not important to their relationships. Whatever their expectations or beliefs were when they made the decision to marry- this information comes from having been there, in the trenches.

For all of you out there who have yet to marry, take another look at your “mate shopping list.” If shared interests, agreement on politics and desire for kids are at the top- you may want to re think your overall priorities and think about a “real life” in the future- with someone who shares your interests but is doing them alone because you are handling most of the child care and/or household and other chores- and are too exhausted to even think about what you would like to do for yourself- if you had the space and support necessary to do it. In other words, put some extra thought into your vision of that future life and what kind of partner you will want beside you when the inevitable challenges, disappointments and heartaches come. Listen to those who have been there, and allow yourself to learn a little from their experiences.

To view the full study go to: