By Lauren DelGandio
Given the choice between more happiness or less, it is hard to imagine anyone choosing the latter. Ask the average person how they would go about increasing happiness in their life and you may discover they struggle to answer the question.
Gretchen Rubin’s new book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, recently caught my attention for its attempt at answering that question.
How do we measure happiness? What are the benchmarks we might use to define our happiness level? Rubin readily states that when it comes to our individual “happiness projects,” we are each unique.
Rubin’s personal list offered compelling examples from her own life: “Boost Energy, Remember Love, Aim Higher, Lighten Up, Be Serious About Play, Make Time For Friends.” There were more. For me, a relationship educator and married mother of three beautiful children, I was particularly interested in her observations for the month of February: “Remember Love,” with a commitment to focus on her marriage.
“Working on my marriage was an obvious goal for my happiness project,” Rubin writes, “because a good marriage is one of the factors most strongly associated with happiness…marriage itself also brings happiness because it provides the support and companionship everyone needs.” She seemed to be onto something…
Three years ago, nearly a decade and a half after after tying the knot with my high school sweetheart, I asked myself if marital bliss was possible. Michael and I are both children of divorce. Although deeply committed to our family and staying married, I am not certain we expected to always be “happy.” To tell the truth, we were feeling resigned and, each in our own ways, wanting more. With our three incredible children, house in the suburbs, and dear friends, we wondered to ourselves, “Is this all there is?”
After participating in a PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) marriage education class in our community, I had the answer. There is more! It comes from investing time, attention and skills to intentionally take our relationship to the next level.
One of the first a-ha moments came when we were introduced to the concept of the relationship road map, illustrating that how we experience life – on the happiness or unhappiness side of the map – is determined by whether or not our biological needs are being met. While we may be generally aware of our needs for air, food, water and shelter, we may be less clear about our need for bonding, the ability to be emotionally open and physically close to another human being. The ability to be fully human with each other, surrendering all of our social masks and pretenses, and to be completely seen and embraced, dramatically increases our chances of happiness.
What better vehicle than marriage is there to get our need for bonding met? So how come my husband and I were feeling stuck? After nearly 15 years of marriage, we still did not know how to be truly emotionally open with each other.
When I thought about it more, I understood why. Where would we have learned the skills to succeed in our relationship? Trial and error, founded on our commitment to each other and our family, was our guide for many years. We certainly did the best we could. But we stood at a crossroads in our life where the best we could was simply not enough.
We wanted more!
Through our own experience as participants in a relationship skills class, I saw what was possible in all areas of my life … love, parenting, work, and play. I could not wait to share what I had learned. I have seen participants come to PAIRS classes near despair, disconnected and resigned go on create miracles and breakthroughs in their own lives. Reconnecting, restoring bonds with the people they love most has given them wings. As Karl Menninger said, “When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”