It was a beautiful day in Chicago. On June 30, 1984 our closest friends flanked the concrete steps of our church and tossed rice in the air as we made our way to the waiting car adorned with nothing less than the obligatory “Just Married” sign hanging off the back. We could not have been happier. After seven years of dating – through most of high school and all of college – we were a married couple. Finally.
After a romantic honeymoon on the Oregon Coast, we moved to Los Angeles for graduate school. A tiny apartment, little more than a single room, became our new home. We’d spend our weekdays in classes and studying until bedtime. No television. Barely any furniture. We watched every penny. We’d occasionally splurge on a couple of burritos at the corner taco stand. Life wasn’t exactly easy. But all that didn’t matter. We were in love. And we were happy – until we weren’t.
Little did we know that shortly into our so-called happy marriage we’d be in couples counseling trying to, well, be happy. After all, wasn’t marriage supposed to do that for us? And if marriage wasn’t making us happy, was there something wrong with us? Had we made a huge mistake?
Isn’t Marriage Supposed to Make Us Happy?
Once we find our perfect partner we’ll have a lock on happiness, right? That’s what we thought. And with good reason: The notion has some truth. Marriage does make us happy. The problem is that marriage will not make us as intensely happy or for as long as we believe it will. Studies reveal that the happiness boost from marriage lasts an average of only two years.
Unfortunately, when those two years are up and fulfilling our goal to find the ideal partner hasn’t made us as happy as we expected, we often feel there must be something wrong with us or we must be the only ones to feel this way. But we’re not. It’s the common course of love. And if left unattended, if we’re not deliberately making happy together, our relationship suffers.
So what’s a couple to do? How do you make happy together? The answer is found in understanding just what happiness is.
Happiness comes in two forms. Both result in feelings of satisfaction, gratification, and all the rest. But each has a very different shelf life:
- Feel-good happiness is the momentary sensation of pleasure. When we joke around or have sex, we experience feel-good happiness. But here’s the catch: we know from research that feel-good happiness is ruled by the law of diminishing returns. This type of happiness can lose its punch and it rarely lasts longer than a few hours at a time.
- Value-based happiness is a deeper sense that our lives have meaning and fulfill a larger purpose than just pleasure. It represents a spiritual source of satisfaction. And here’s some good news: it’s not ruled by the law of diminishing returns. This means there’s no limit to how meaningful and happy our lives can be. Some like to call values-based happiness joy because it’s deep and more abiding. That’s fine with us. Whatever you call it, it’s found in our values.
Healthy happiness involves balance. For the uninformed, happiness becomes less about a well-lived life and more about experiencing the well-felt moment. That’s a dead end. True happiness requires meaning and values to accompany our feelings.