If you don't understand how to choose happiness, your relationship may suffer. Learn from Dr. Grohol
Ten years ago, I wrote how we often make the choice of something else less important over our own and our loved ones’ happiness. This article has generated a lot of positive comments over the years apparently because it resonates with people. With another decade under my belt, I’d like to expand a little on the premise I put forward in that original article.
Our Lives Are Our Choice
At some point in our life, we may forget or give up the responsibility of directing our life to where we want it to go. We sometimes feel buffeted about by the forces of nature, relationships, family, children and more, and feel out of control of our own destinies. We forget to look deep within ourselves and remember who we really are and what really makes us happy and alive. We give that power up, to others, and then place the responsibility (and the blame) when they fail to “make us” happy.
But no one else can make us happy unless we first choose to open ourselves and our lives up to that possibility. Happiness is within each and every one of us. No one else can make us happy unless we first choose that we will place happiness – both our own and our loved ones – above other, less important things in our lives, such as winning an argument or being “right.”
Revisiting Mr. and Mrs. Smith
When we last left them, Mr. and Mrs. Smith liked to argue in their relationship. They’re two independent, competitive people, so neither really enjoyed “losing” an argument, even stupid, tiny ones about chores or helping with cooking or such. They placed the idea of “winning” the argument over not only their own happiness, but that of their loved one.
Why did they do this? Because at some point, we all learn that there is some sort of value to winning stuff. You win at sports, you get kudos. You win a spelling bee, you get a trophy. You win someone over you’ve had your eye on for years, and you feel a warm glow inside. We just like to win things, but often we don’t know when to stop when it comes to applying our winning philosophy to interpersonal relationships.
In interpersonal relationships – you know, those at home, at work, even with your own family – the parameters that define your relationships and communications can be very complex. For instance, when your boss “asks” you to do something, it’s rarely a legitimate question of your ability or time – they are simply phrasing an expected task in the form of a polite question. When your spouse asks you to take out the trash, again, it’s not really a question, but a request that isn’t up for debate.
But most of us don’t get a course in interpersonal communications in school or at any other time in our lives. It’s a shame, because such a class would help clarify these kinds of communications and understand that not every situation is worth “winning.”
Mr. and Mrs. Smith didn’t know when to say, “This isn’t worth my effort to ‘win’ and cause us both emotional pain.” They would argue and argue until one finally tired, and the other person “won” the argument. But all the winner really “wins” is the satisfaction of wearing down one’s opponent or in being “right.” Meanwhile, their spouse is tired of arguing and tired of being “wrong” and unhappy. It’s no wonder 50% of all marriages end in divorce, some of us just don’t know when to stop!
It’s Easier than You Think
“Sure, choosing happiness over being right sounds easy enough, but often it’s more complicated than that.”
It is only as complicated as we make it. Sometimes we make things more complex than they are, because we grope around in the dark for excuses not to be happy. You heard me. Some people don’t want to be happy, but can’t admit that to themselves. They wouldn’t know what kind of life to live, or what kind of person to be if they gave up their past hurts, their past failures, and their past choices. While we are all the product of our histories, we are not beholden to keep repeating them over and over again unless we so choose. Many of us, fearful of the unknown, choose what is known, even if it’s misery and unhappiness.
Sure, some arguments are worth having, especially if they are on important issues such as childcare, parenting, family, money, shelter, or food. These are things that are pretty important to most people and deserve are undivided attention and efforts. But even on these important issues, there is rarely a universal “right” and a universal “wrong.” There’s no single right way to raise a child, to manage one’s finances, to purchase a house, or to take care of daily meals. The key to happiness is learning to communicate our own expectations and needs to our significant other without framing everything as a battle or argument. Without the need for winners and losers.
For example, if you start a conversation by saying, “I think the way you coddle our child is going to screw her up for life!” you’re pretty much laying down the peace dove and picking up a battle axe and shield. The instinctive human response to such an opening would be something like, “Well, I was raised that way and I didn’t get screwed up!” or “How would you know? How many children have you raised?” Everybody’s defenses immediately go up and the battle is on. When our emotional shields are up, we fight back and aren’t really open as much to listening and being rational. There will be a winner and a loser in this fight, because that’s the way it was initially framed.
Contrast that with, “I have some concerns about the way we’re raising our child. Can we talk about them sometime?” Suddenly your spouse isn’t feeling defensive, but concerned about your concerns and your desire to talk about them at his or her convenience. It shows an openness and respect to the other person, even before the conversation begins. Our shields are down, and our minds remain open and rational. It’s a night and day difference.
A big part of “being happy” is all about the choices we make in our everyday lives and in our everyday interactions with those around us. How we say things is just as important as the point we are trying to make. Picking things that are important to us to focus on and letting the unimportant battles fall by the wayside is also helpful to maintain happiness. And remembering that old mantra, “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?” in the middle of a fight never hurts. Sure, it’s not always an either/or proposition. But within each of us is the power to end a fight or argument and try to restore balance and happiness in our lives, and just as importantly, in the lives of the ones we love and adore.
So once again, consider the choice of happiness over being right. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
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Read the original article: Choosing Happiness in Our Lives