Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I watched the PBS show Emotional Life last night. It covered a lot of issues around the subject of love, relationships and happiness. The host of the show, Daniel Gilbert, wrote a book on happiness entitled "Stumbling on Happiness." I haven't read the book but did glean a few points that were brought up last night.

The first was that to be happy, I need to be in a romantic relationship. The caveat to relationship happiness is that in married relationships, satisfaction ebbs over time. (Studies also show that for those divorced, the happiness factor declines markedly). So according to Mr. Gilbert, the day people get married, they're extremely satisfied with the relationship, and it goes downhill from there. That's because relationships take hard work which translates to raising a family, maintaining a household, etc. However, once the children are grown, it appears that happiness increases back to an initial level or close to it.

Even though children are a source of happiness, they tend to crowd out other things that used to make the couple happy. There is less time to do "couple like" things. Less time is spent going out with friends, making love, going on a "date", and relaxing. In short, many of the things that used to be sources of happiness are no longer there (Note: no distinction was made here about people who are in 12 step programs and how they scored on the happiness scale).

So if you're like me and don't have children, then that appears to be a plus. Or if you have children and they are on their own, then the happiness factor seems to be on the upswing. Another plus is that as one grows older, happiness tends to increase. So if my health holds out, research indicates that I will get happier over time. Whew, I'm glad about that.

I don't know if I learned anything really new from the program; however, the interactions of the couples shown clearly indicated to me that communication, trust, and shared activities were three very important attributes for staying emotionally happy.

I thought that I'd end the post with ten things that make me really happy:

  • Doing an activity with the person I love that we both enjoy
  • Going on vacation to an interesting place
  • Reading a great book, preferably in front of a warm fire and lying on the couch
  • Having a photograph turn out of something that I really wanted a photograph of
  • Goofy dogs and warm cats that really like me
  • A good joke
  • Being around someone who has a great laugh and a sense of humor
  • Getting something to work that is technologically difficult
  • Eating a great meal at a restaurant
  • Wearing clothes that are comfortable


  1. you know i think i am glad i didn't catch that show.
    i have kids and i don't believe that i am less happy with my significant other then before. we get real creative and keep the romance alive. i mean he still kisses me like the first time. and our communication is getting better by the day and i am making a conscious effort to be direct and loving and not get upset. and he is making a conscious effort to allow me time to communicate. i love that we work together on this relationship it is very special and different from other couples who have kids. i have a good thing and it is sad that so many let the good thing go. life to me happens now and when we have issues i try to deal with them in the now. i think being in recovery has helped a ton in this aspect. i do see a lot of couples get in that rut and it is sad because kids are not the blame it is the couples who give up that are to blame. if it is worth working on then work on it, ya know. great post you got me on a soap box!!

  2. I've read some of that happiness research. Along with the statistics about relationships, the other thing that struck me was that money has little to do with happiness.
    If you are very poor, then more money will make you happier. But above a threshold of basic needs, more money doesn't make people more happy.
    I wonder if more leisure time makes us more happy? To a point? (You can let us know in a few months, on the other side of retirement...)

  3. I watched that show too. I was glad to be in the "happy couple" category.
    I was rather amazed by the couples that were featured and how appallingly bad their communication styles were. It mad me feel really good. Part two is on tonight. jeNN

  4. This is interesting. Having been single and married and having a child and examining myself in truth on a happiness scale, I'd say post recovery process is what got me HAPPY!!! The 12 Step factor should have been considered in this little study. : )

  5. thanks for the post.
    I don't know if I believe or want to believe that it takes that long to find that elevation of happiness. I think learning to cope with life changes is where the focus should be.

  6. Great post! I wish I'd seen that was on PBS -- it's totally up my alley! Thanks for writing about it!

  7. My brain read the last line as
    "Wearing clothes."

    nuff said...

    namaste (refilling my scripts as we speak..)

  8. Gosh, I am glad to hear that I must be unhappy.

  9. I've read about that research, too. I know I'm happier now that I have no children at home. I'm definitely happier than when I was younger.

    I went to a 30th high school reunion and was surprised at how many people pined for those days. I remember them as being hard. I wouldn't go back for anything.

  10. Hi there, have 'stumbled' upon your site for the first time and have enjoyed scanning through quite a few of your posts. I admire your honesty, and how you said that you never meant to share so much of yourself when you started, but have done anyway.
    I think that happens, and 1000 posts is massive. Well done.
    Re: this post, I think happiness can be elusive, I mean, what is happiness really?
    My husband is an alcoholic, I made him move out last year, and I am happy by myself, although I still love him. We both have children form different marriages before that. We are working it out. Bottom line is, my own recovery and healing is in me, as is my happiness. Once I have that, I'm unstoppable! : )
    Go well.

  11. "...the interactions of the couples shown clearly indicated to me that communication, trust, and shared activities were three very important attributes for staying emotionally happy."

    Thanks Syd. I have just been blessed with seeing the truth in this statement between a couple I just spent most of 2 weeks with.

  12. I'm always happier outside of relationships and then when I hear other people talking about their home lives, I'm really glad to be single!

    Maybe it's a comment on the level of co-dependence in society that people can't be happy unless they are with someone? Maybe I'll shut up ;>))

  13. You wrote, "communication, trust, and shared activities were three very important attributes for staying emotionally happy." I have experienced having these qualities with someone and I have experienced losing them. Losing them is heartbreaking.

    The question always seems to be, "Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?" I vote for having loved and lost.


  14. I watched part of that show but he lost me when he said you needed a romantic relationship to be happy. I thought to myself "is this guy saying to all the single people out there that you miss out on happiness?" It really upset me since, yeah, I wish I did have someone but I don't and may never. It depressed me, I didn't need to be reminded that couples are generally happier than singles.

  15. An outstanding post, Syd. Thank you!

  16. I've recorded the program and now you've given me a great reason to watch it. Thanx for your post and your insights.

    Blessings and aloha...

  17. I like your list. I am with you on most of the things you listed.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.