The first time I heard it said that happiness is something we choose, I thought to myself, “Ha! That’s some refrigerator-magnet BS!” At the time, my health was declining, I was in serious pain most days, and my relationships were a series of short-term, farcical disappointments. Choose happiness, my foot!
Not too long after, I met Sonika at a retreat center founded by the author of the book, Happiness Is A Choice (I kid you not). I now describe said retreat center as a place people go “to get happy”. We were of course happy we met each other there, but it was also the first time I began to entertain the idea that my thoughts and mindset had a lot to do with my level of happiness.
In this post, I’ll share some observations and insights about happiness and how it impacts your relationships. Towards the end, I’ll give you a few ideas you can put into practice right away.
Why learn to be happy?
Obviously, feeling happy is ‘nicer’ than feeling bad. However, feeling good is not the only reason to put some effort into being happy. From a purely pragmatic point of view, being happy is effective. It’s a smart way to conduct our lives and relationships.
Happiness has been shown to have tremendous benefits to our health and productivity; from lower blood pressure to longer life expectancy and higher productivity at work. (For a good overview of studies and the science of happiness, try this one).
Happiness as a relationship lubricant
You don’t have to be a scientist to know that happiness has a positive impact on your marriage and relationships. Not just in measurable terms such as how long you stay married, or how high you score on a marital satisfaction test. To us, perhaps the most interesting impact of being happy is that it works as a generalized lubricant in our relationships. In other words, being happy makes things work!
We have observed this phenomenon in our own marriage as well as our clients’ relationships. When we are generally happy, we …
Find it easier to let go of small infractions.
Move in concert, as a team.
Appreciate the things we have in common.
Accept our differences with more grace.
Respond more kindly to requests.
Are more patient with each other.
Have more sex and intimacy.
Say yes more than no.
Laugh at own our idiosyncrasies.
Play more games.
Engage in more shared activities.
Are more social together with friends.
Are open to new ideas and to exploring new possibilities.
Based on your own experience, would you say these observations have merit? (Or think of it this way: When you’re unhappy, do you laugh at your own foibles? Do you respond kindly to requests? Do you have more sex? Likely not.)
I used the term a ‘generalized lubricant’ (yes, I just coined that term:). Happiness seems to work across the board in our relationships. It’s not just effective for coordinating logistics or working together. It makes everything easier!
Happiness solves conflicts
When things get hard, either in your own life or in a partnership, there’s an extra incentive to prioritize being happy (granted, when things are bad, you might scoff at prioritizing happiness). Being happy contributes significantly to solving problems and resolving conflicts. When we’re happy, a good portion of our problems seem unimportant and not even worth fretting over. When we’re happy, we have access to more creativity in looking for other options and solutions. We see more possibilities, rather than closed doors.
In the first book I ever read on positive psychology, The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, I read this passage:
“Instead of narrowing our actions down to fight or flight as negative emotions do, positive emotions broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative, and open to new ideas. For instance, individuals who are primed to feel either amusement or contentment can think of a larger and wider area of thoughts and ideas than individuals who have been primed to feel either anxiety or anger.”
A fight or intense disagreement is nothing but a fight-or-flight interaction between two people who are NOT being thoughtful or creative. Contrast that to a discussion where partners can stay thoughtful, creative, and open to new ideas … we all know that’s a much better scenario. Those are the exact elements you need to resolve conflicts.
Relationship work can be fun
Take Mia and Alex as an example. When they came to us, they had tried for years to fix their problems. They had endless fights about drinking, keeping agreements, and dwindling intimacy. They’d gone to several types of couples counseling, too. In our class, we didn’t talk about any of that. We focused on how to connect, how to see each other and bring out the best of each other. In other words, elements of happiness.
After being in our class, Mia said, “I’ve been so very tired of talking about our problems. It’s been like walking through darkness for a few years. Today, I realized doing relationship work can be fun! We still have issues to deal with, but I feel happy for the first time in years”. That insight took their relationship work in a new direction. They kept working on it, but now from a vantage point of connection and happiness. This was 10 years ago, and they’re still happily married.
All this brings up a good question: Do you think you need to solve your problems and deal with your issues in order to be happy? Or would you have better results prioritizing happiness first, and then working on your issues?
Chances are you’ve already tried the first approach, because that’s what most of us do by default. So we recommend you at least consider the second one. In our work with couples and individuals, we use both approaches, but we almost always start by high-lighting and building immediate connection, intimacy, and appreciation (i.e. elements of happiness).
Practicing happiness in action
I’ll offer you two suggestions to learn and practice being happy.
First, no matter what your current circumstances are, set your problems and disagreements aside for a week (or a day, if that’s more doable). Deliberately tell yourself/each other, “I’m not going to focus on, or talk about, any of my problems this week. I’m not pretending there isn’t stuff to deal with; I’m simply choosing this week to focus on things that make me happy”. And then do just that. Tell your partner what you love about her/him. Go out to lunch together. Take a spontaneous trip to the beach (an actual suggestion from a couple I worked with yesterday). Sleep in on Saturday. Whatever makes you feel good. After a week (or a day), notice what’s different.
Secondly, take a class to learn tools and insights to be happy. Yes, we have just such a class. It’s a 90-minute mini-workshop, and you can do it from anywhere, by yourself or with your partner. We’ll teach you our best happiness shortcuts and mindsets and you’ll get to practice on the spot. All in a light-hearted and informal environment.
Putting it all together
If we added up all the reasons our clients had for seeking relationship support (infidelity, arguing, loneliness, lack of intimacy, divorce, poor communication, etc.), they could be summed up in three words: They were unhappy! They were seeking support to find methods, tools, and insights to feel happy again, with themselves and in their relationship.
Based on our personal and professional experience we can definitely say that prioritizing happiness is one of the smartest, most effective and loving decisions you’ll ever make
We’d be happy to help!
♥️ Sonika & Christian
LoveWorks: We believe relationships are meant to be an empowering, fun, passionate, safe place to grow, love, and learn. Where we get to be more of who we are, not less. We know it’s not always easy, but it can definitely be easier! With our unique and practical approach to relationship, you learn how to resolve conflicts quickly and enjoy fulfilling intimacy for the rest of your life. To learn more or contact us, visit www.loveworkssolution.com.