I had the good fortune of meeting a lovely elderly woman who was celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary. Of course I had to ask:
“What’s the secret to staying happily married as long as you two?”
“Secret?” She laughed. “There’s no secret. A happy marriage is made up of two happy people. We’re just happy people, I guess.”
From the sparkle in her eyes and the laugh lines etched into her skin, I could see the truth of her statement.
As I excused myself to let the lineup of well-wishers behind me have their turn, I smiled to myself at what she’d said. Just be happy. How easy it sounded!
But then the face of a client I’d spoken to earlier in the week flashed before me.
This woman’s face was young and smooth, but her eyes were red from crying. She was desperate to know how to create happiness in her relationship.
“I don’t know what to do to make him happy. I’ve tried and I’ve tried. It would be so different if he made an effort, too. If he tried to make me happy, just a little bit. But I do everything, and he does nothing.”
She believed what most people believe:
That the point of relationships is to make each other happy.
But is it?
What if we’ve got it all wrong?
Research shows the boost in happiness provided by falling in love and getting married doesn’t last. About two years after the wedding, the couple adapts to their new circumstances. They go back to feeling just about as happy as they used to feel.
We’ve all got a baseline level of happiness. That friend of yours who’s always happy will probably wear that smile until the end of her life, even should some misfortune befall her. That friend of yours who’s never happy will probably always be a bit of a grump, even if she wins the lottery.
You can’t shift your baseline level of happiness by winning a fortune or marrying your dream man. It’s a function of your outlook, not your external circumstances.
Or, as I explain it:
Happiness isn’t what you have. Happiness is how you see the world.
So, when a client comes to my office expecting her partner to make her happy—or expecting to be able to make him happy—I have my doubts.
I explain that there’s a better goal than making your partner happy. In fact, if you pursue this goal, you’ll have a happier relationship than if you spent all your time trying to make your partner happy.
Want to know what it is?