When you’re unhappy, you tend to target those closest to you. When you feel depressed and anxious, it’s easy to conclude that your marriage (or work or the place you live) is undesirable and a failure. The assumption is that “If I were happy in my marriage, I wouldn’t feel so miserable.”
A vicious cycle commences, as unhappiness is terribly contagious. You blame those closest to you for your unhappiness, which causes them to feel defensive. Defensiveness furthers mistrust and misery, making it more difficult to feel loving and happy.
Before wrecking your relationships by blaming those around you, it’s wise to remember that your emotions fluctuate, and are dependent on a large number of factors having nothing to do with your partner. Simply changing your spouse rarely leads to long-term happiness. Moreover, a downcast emotional state rarely motivates a person to make the right changes required for happiness.
What’s needed for improving your happiness is a multifaceted, holistic approach. Research shows that the following key factors are involved in being happy:
1. Eating healthy foods provides the needed vitamins that affect brain chemicals and vitality; those include all the essential amino acids as well as vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine, food, or vitamins. Avoiding excessive sugar, fats, junk, nicotine, and alcohol can have a dramatic effect on happiness levels. People eating high-fat and sugary foods have been shown to be 58 percent more likely to suffer from depression than those who eat a healthy, balanced diet.
2. Exercising frequently increases serotonin, which, at too low a level, has been associated with depression and anxiety. Among other benefits, exercise is key to overcoming a lack of seratonin.
3. Activating positive behavior is one of the principal therapies used for depression. It means putting yourself out there to do the things that are enjoyable for you, even if you don’t feel like it, as well as being optimistic and smiling at others, which is proven to affect one’s state of mind.
4. Seeking inner peace either through meditation, spirituality, or other calming practices has a great affect on one’s happiness.
5. Cultivating good relationships with your partner, family, friends, and community (or having a pet) contributes tremendously to your happiness. Accepting others and feeling accepted, as well as being respectful and loving, are the best ways to enhance your connection with others.
6. Pursuing your passions, whether creative, spiritual, or athletic endeavors, enhances joy and vitality.
7. Meaningful work, particularly contributing to others, if you have time, has been shown to be one of the most life-enhancing activities. There’s nothing like helping a wounded warrior who has lost a limb to practice a new sport for finding connection and joy and forgetting about your own malaise in life.
8. Eliminating negative emotions and thoughts is critical to experiencing purposeful happiness. Once you start implementing the above seven factors toward happiness, it will be easier to eliminate negative emotions such as anger, resentment, and blame. You will also have less time for negative thinking such as perfectionism, black-and-white thinking, and projection – “I’m unhappy, therefore my marriage is terrible.”
In this fast-paced world of impulsive decision-making, many people wreck relationships before working on the multifaceted essentials to meaningful personal happiness.
Of course there are situations when a relationship is in serious trouble, e.g., having a partner who shows no interest in making the relationship work. However, for your own peace of mind, it’s worth the effort to incorporate the many various keys to happiness in your daily life first before making life-changing decisions. You may tap the well to happiness, and thereby change the dynamic of your marriage, because happiness turns out to be contagious too.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD