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New Findings on Happiness Have Implications for Rocky Marriages

Not only do individuals who follow Time Magazine's "Eight Steps Toward a More Satisfying Life" suggestions (Time, January 17, 2005, p. A8-A9) increase their own level of happiness, they also increase the odds that they can keep their marriage.

The same actions that can lead to a more satisfying life are the ones that can help to improve a troubled marriage. Two of the Time suggestions are to count your blessings by keeping a gratitude journal and to learn to forgive.

These same steps are necessary to maximize a spouse's efforts to cope with a marriage that is in danger of falling apart. In their book Keep Your Marriage: What To Do When Your Spouse says "I don't love you anymore" co-authors Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D. and Lee Hefner also advise spouses to keep a gratitude journal.

According to Wasson and Hefner, this might seem like a strange recommendation, but it's when things aren't going well that you most need to look for the positive things that are present in your life. They write, "A gratitude journal gives you a nudge to remind yourself of the many blessings already present in your life...Being aware of your blessings gives you a broader, more balanced perspective of your life."

This, they contend, jump starts the process of being able to see an increased number of positives instead of overlooking them as people in crisis often do. While spouses may start out listing positives such as watching a beautiful sunset, the process makes it easier for them to begin noticing what's right about their partner and marriage instead of only focusing on the negative aspects.

The co-authors also agree with the Time suggestion of learning to forgive as a key ingredient in a happy life. They state that "Forgiveness involves letting go of resentment and blame. It's something that you do for yourself when you are ready to let go of depleting anger." Wasson and Hefner contend that shaky marriages are usually full of grudges and hurts from the past.

According to Dr. Wasson, "Someone has to take the lead in making healthy changes that can change the present dynamics of blame and resentment. One partner deciding to forgive themselves and the partner for not being perfect can have an amazing impact on the marriage and its chances to survive the crisis."

The Time article recommends writing a letter of forgiveness to the person who has hurt or wronged you. Co-author Hefner sees this as a "courageous step of taking responsibility for your own happiness and well-being, as well as the health of your relationship."

According to the Time article, University of Illinois psychologist Edward Diener, a.k.a. Dr. Happiness, has found that loss of a spouse is one of two life events that seem to "knock people lastingly below their happiness set point." (The other is loss of a job.) Seventy-three percent of participants in a recent Time poll responded that their relationship with their spouse or partner or their love life is a major source of happiness.

Based on the current findings, Wasson and Hefner state that it makes more sense than ever to recognize the potential of a marriage to boost happiness and health and to work to keep and improve it.

Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" The e-book is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com , where you can also sign up for the free Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine. Contact Nancy at Nancy@KeepYourMarriage.com.

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