Thursday, April 10, 2014

The danger of outsourcing our happiness

One of our BWC members recently wrote that the best her husband could come up with, to her question of "why...", was that, "it felt good."
We'll file that response under "Duh!", right beside any of the zillion tomes currently on bookshelves promising us how to maximize our happiness.
Happiness has become an industry and we're convinced that there's some secret formula that will unlock our own. 
And yet, in this great New York Times piece, author David Brooks notes (and I'm paraphrasing here) that situational happiness doesn't lead necessarily to, well, happiness. And though suffering is in no way to be confused with happiness it often leads to growth. And growth can lead to, you guessed it, happiness.
In other words, that which does not kill us can, with time, make us happy.
It's important, of course, to understand how we define "happy". Happy that comes from the outside – in the form of money, status, material things, sex, even people – will be fleeting. Money comes and goes, status can slip, things lose their lustre and people, even those we love deeply, disappoint us. Happiness built on that is the proverbial house built on sand. If, however, our "happy" is built on a deep sense of who we are, work (whether paid or not) that makes us feel useful and purposeful, a wisdom borne of experience, compassion for ourselves and others, it becomes less a feeling than a way of being. 
The first path is outsourcing our happiness; the second makes it an inside job. 
It flies in the face of everything our culture holds dear, especially around love. "You complete me," Tom Cruise famously said in Jerry Macguire and we all swooned. RenĂ©e Zellweger should have replied with, "only when you can feel complete within yourself can you offer me the type of partnership that will survive all the crap that is no doubt coming our way." 
Similarly, I cringe a bit when I watch the happily-ever-after storylines that books and movies offer our kids (and us adults). Or when I listen to the I'm-nothing-without-you song lyrics that saturate pop music (and I'm not even talking about the "let's get drunk and dance naked on tables" lyrics, though there's that too). My 11-year-old daughter, who resents boys for taking up half the planet, nonetheless thinks Pink's "True Love", in which she sings of a beloved whose neck she'd occasionally like to wring but also notes that "life would suck without you", is nothing like real love. Actually, I tell her, it's pretty bang on. She makes it clear that she prefers her romantic education from Disney Channel. 
I don't want to raise cynics. But I also don't want to raise fools who think that happiness is something we achieve when he thinks we're pretty. Because of course that means it can be taken from us when he thinks our friend is even prettier.
MBS, who frequently shares her insight with others here, had this to say in response to our poster's husband's "it felt good" comment:
Something we all should ask ourselves is whether we expect others to make us happy. I think we are all guilty of that. I think it is a common belief we go into marriage with. I think it is the root of most marital dysfunction. Maybe that is the lesson to be learned from infidelity and we can dismantle the myth of "true love" and "happily ever after."
For marriage to last, it means accepting each other's imperfection and still showing up with love and kindness for your spouse. He couldn't do that so he is the one who failed at being a partner. The next woman he is with will also reveal her flaws and fail to live up to making him happy and he will go looking again. The cheaters who haven't learned their lesson will endlessly repeat this cycle.So rather than dwell on how you could have made him happier, think about how you can be compassionate and kind to yourself. That also will ultimately make you a better partner.

That, my friends, is how to achieve happily ever after.


  1. Happiness is that feeling of belonging, after much work post d day I now feel like I belong in this marriage. I listen, I care, I support, I miss and I love my husband now more than I ever have. Yes infidelity might have 'felt good' in that moment but I'm pretty sure the feelings we share with each other and our children are much deeper. Happiness doesn't come easy, you get out what you both put in. Hope I'm making sense it is very late and I'm very tired : ) goodnight ladies god bless x

  2. Awesome, awesome, awesome and spot on!

  3. I am REALLY trying to get there-- to happy in my new reality. Some days, now more often than not, I am totally there, but other days the stupid affair is everywhere. I feel like it's smothering me. It is all around, is staring me in the face and screaming in my ears for what sometimes feels like every minute of every day.

    My husband has been wonderful. Early on after d day I read a manual for cheaters on how to help their spouses heal & he IS that book, without even having read it. I consider myself fortunate & yet many day I feel like a split personality-- I love him at the same as I despise him & then I hate myself & feel guilty.

    I just want to move on with my life!


  4. The farther out we are from the "discovery" the CLEARER it husband knows that what he was looking for was ALWAYS home!
    we just got home from a wedding ... a longtime friend of our sons...the setting was a valley 15 miles inland...we left the foggy coastline and sat amongst the rolling hills and hawks flying above...listening to the words (and boy do we really listen now!) of the officiate really struck us both...personally I love the innocence and truly is a special moment in a couples life...the woman performing the ceremony even said "as a small girl how many times did you write Mrs "so and so" in your journal!! Oh yes how many times did we all do that!!...she spoke of happiness and to be sure and take care of yourself...she talked about looking into each others eyes...these are the eyes that will look at each other in all of life's get the idea...this is the second wedding we have been to since discovery...each time my husband has shed more than a tear or two...but this time he leaned over to me and said "when do you want to renew our vows?"...I have decided to leave that planning to him...I think i'd like it to be part of his journey back to US...on our way home from this wedding we stopped at his parents graveside...we had a "picnic" even had a small glass of wine !! He was very quiet and very reflective...I ran around getting water for some flowers and putting together the food...I wanted him to have alone time with them....when I sat down next to him he leaned over to give me a kiss..I told him your parents aren't mad at you...they are just happy you found your way back...
    Bottom line...this post made me understand and see that my husband is probably happier now than he has been in many years...he is learning how to communicate and to stop "stuffing" away issues...I am sorry that this is a part of our marriage but in the end I do see where we will have the marriage we always assumed we'd have...We really do know what true love is...
    Thanks again for this site Elle



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