How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People --Their Secrets, Their Stories
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If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody. For it is in giving that we receive — Saint Francis of Assisi.
The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity — Leo Tolstoy. We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give — Winston Churchill. Making money is a happiness; making other people happy is a superhappiness — Nobel Peace Prize receipient Muhammad Yunus. Giving back is as good for you as it is for those you are helping, because giving gives you purpose.
And so we learn early: It is better to give than to receive. The venerable aphorism is drummed into our heads from our first slice of a shared birthday cake. But is there a deeper truth behind the truism?
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The resounding answer is yes. Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it's pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful. The opposite could very well be true: Giving can make us feel depleted and taken advantage of.
Here are some tips to that will help you give not until it hurts, but until it feels great:. Find your passion. Our passion should be the foundation for our giving. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving. It should not be simply a matter of choosing the right thing, but also a matter of choosing what is right for us.
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Give your time. The gift of time is often more valuable to the receiver and more satisfying for the giver than the gift of money. What is working for you and your partner?
The response was overwhelming. Almost 1, people replied, many of whom sent in responses measured in pages, not paragraphs. It took almost two weeks to comb through them all, but I did. And what I found stunned me…. Not to mention, a relief. These were all smart and well-spoken people from all walks of life, from all around the world, all with their own histories, tragedies, mistakes and triumphs….
Which means that those dozen or so things must be pretty damn important… and more importantly, they work. I got married the second time because I was miserable and lonely and thought having a loving wife would fix everything for me. Also wrong. It really is that simple. When I sent out my request to readers for advice, I added a caveat that turned out to be illuminating. I asked people who were on their second or third or fourth marriages what they did wrong.
Where did they mess up? Without that mutual admiration, everything else will unravel. It is something that can be both healthy or unhealthy, helpful or harmful, depending on why and how you love someone else and are loved by someone else. By itself, love is never enough to sustain a relationship.
They go into relationships with these unrealistic expectations. And more importantly, sticking it out is totally worth it, because that, too, will change. It expands and contracts and mellows and deepens. Love is a funny thing. In ancient times, people genuinely considered love a sickness. Parents warned their children against it, and adults quickly arranged marriages before their children were old enough to do something dumb in the name of their emotions. We all know that guy or girl who dropped out of school, sold their car and spent the money to elope on the beaches of Tahiti.
We all also know that that guy or girl ended up sulking back a few years later feeling like a moron, not to mention broke. It generally only lasts for a few years at most. It does for everybody. True love — that is, deep, abiding love that is impervious to emotional whims or fancy — is a choice. That form of love is much harder. But this form of love is also far more satisfying and meaningful.
And, at the end of the day, it brings true happiness, not just another series of highs. Every day you wake up and decide to love your partner and your life — the good, the bad and the ugly. Many people never learn how to breach this deep, unconditional love. Many people are instead addicted to the ups and downs of romantic love. They are in it for the feels, so to speak. And when the feels run out, so do they. Many people get into a relationship as a way to compensate for something they lack or hate within themselves. This is a one-way ticket to a toxic relationship because it makes your love conditional — you will love your partner as long as they help you feel better about yourself.
You will give to them as long as they give to you. You will make them happy as long as they make you happy. That is the truth. But you never want to lose respect for your partner. Once you lose respect you will never get it back. As we scanned through the hundreds of responses we received, my assistant and I began to notice an interesting trend. Talk frequently. Talk openly. Talk about everything, even if it hurts. But we noticed that the thing people with marriages going on 20, 30, or even 40 years talked about most was respect.
My sense is that these people, through sheer quantity of experience, have learned that communication, no matter how open, transparent and disciplined, will always break down at some point. Conflicts are ultimately unavoidable, and feelings will always be hurt. You will judge their choices and encroach on their independence. You will feel the need to hide things from one another for fear of criticism. And this is when the cracks in the edifice begin to appear. Of course, this means showing respect, but that is too superficial. You have to feel it deep within you.
I deeply and genuinely respect him for his work ethic, his patience, his creativity, his intelligence, and his core values. From this respect comes everything else — trust, patience, perseverance because sometimes life is really hard and you both just have to persevere.
I want to enable him to have some free time within our insanely busy lives because I respect his choices of how he spends his time and who he spends time with. And, really, what this mutual respect means is that we feel safe sharing our deepest, most intimate selves with each other. You must also respect yourself. Because without that self-respect, you will not feel worthy of the respect afforded by your partner. You will be unwilling to accept it and you will find ways to undermine it.
You will constantly feel the need to compensate and prove yourself worthy of love, which will just backfire. Respect for your partner and respect for yourself are intertwined. Never talk badly to or about her. You chose her — live up to that choice. Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust.
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And trust is the lifeblood of any relationship romantic or otherwise. Without trust, there can be no sense of intimacy or comfort. Without trust, your partner will become a liability in your mind, something to be avoided and analyzed, not a protective homebase for your heart and your mind. We have so many friends who are in marriages that are not working well and they tell me all about what is wrong. I receive hundreds of emails from readers each week asking for life advice.
A large percentage of these emails involve their struggling romantic relationships. A couple years ago, I discovered that I was answering the vast majority of these relationship emails with the exact same response. Then come back and ask again. This response became so common that I actually put it on my contact form on the site because I was so tired of copying and pasting it. If something bothers you in the relationship, you must be willing to say it.
Saying it builds trust and trust builds intimacy. It may hurt, but you still need to do it. No one else can fix your relationship for you.
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Nor should anyone else. Just as causing pain to your muscles allows them to grow back stronger, often introducing some pain into your relationship through vulnerability is the only way to make the relationship stronger. Behind respect, trust was the most commonly mentioned trait for a healthy relationship. But trust goes much deeper than that. If you ended up with cancer tomorrow, would you trust your partner to stick with you and take care of you?
Would you trust your partner to care for your child for a week by themselves? Do you trust them to handle your money or make sound decisions under pressure? Do you trust them to not turn on you or blame you when you make mistakes?
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These are hard things to do. Trust at the beginning of a relationship is easy. But the deeper the commitment, the more intertwined your lives become, and the more you will have to trust your partner to act in your interest in your absence. What if she is hiding something herself? The key to fostering and maintaining trust in the relationship is for both partners to be completely transparent and vulnerable:. Trust is like a china plate. If you drop it and it breaks, you can put it back together with a lot of work and care. If you drop it and break it a second time, it will split into twice as many pieces and it will require far more time and care to put back together again.
But drop and break it enough times, and it will shatter into so many pieces that you will never be able to put it back together again, no matter what you do. Figure out as individuals what makes you happy as an individual, be happy yourself, then you each bring that to the relationship. You are supposed to keep the relationship happy by consistently sacrificing yourself for your partner and their wants and needs.
There is some truth to that. Every relationship requires each person to consciously choose to give something up at times. Just read that again. That sounds horrible. A healthy and happy relationship requires two healthy and happy individuals. This is the person you chose. It will only backfire and make you both miserable. Have the courage to be who you are, and most importantly, let your partner be who they are. Those are the two people who fell in love with each other in the first place. But how does one do this? What do I mean?
Have your own interests, your own friends, your own support network, and your own hobbies. Overlap where you can, but not being identical should give you something to talk about and expose one another to. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story.
Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time. But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships.
Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. The masters, by contrast, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. Gottman wanted to know more about how the masters created that culture of love and intimacy, and how the disasters squashed it.
In a follow-up study in , he designed a lab on the University of Washington campus to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast retreat. He invited newlywed couples to spend the day at this retreat and watched them as they did what couples normally do on vacation: cook, clean, listen to music, eat, chat, and hang out. And Gottman made a critical discovery in this study—one that gets at the heart of why some relationships thrive while others languish. The wife now has a choice.
Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that. People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy.
By observing these types of interactions, Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility? They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.
Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner's ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships. Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together.