spread a little love (or, THP: Chapter Two)

(This is part two in a series about The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  To start at the beginning, click here. )

I’ve been taking my sweet time reading through The Happiness Project, and my note-taking has finally caught-up to my progress in the book.  Last time, I wrote about how much I liked Chapter One, about boosting your energy.  I’m still not going to bed earlier, but I feel like all the principles Gretchen mentions are on repeat in my brain.  After I return from my weekend trip in a few days, I’ll be itching to start on my list of nagging tasks and our porch project!

Gretchen used the month of February to practice resolutions about ‘remembering love.’  Namely the love she has for her husband, Jamie, and working on increasing the amount of happiness she has in her marriage.  Right away she says that she and Jamie “have an extraordinary love.”  I underlined that in blue, because it’s something she and I have in common. (As I started taking notes in the book, I used blue underlining to designate similarities between Gretchen and myself, and pink highlighting for interesting facts she found in her research.)  Andrew and I have an extraordinary kind of love.  A good friend in college once referred to us as having an ‘inferno,’ (rather than a spark).  It was just about love at first sight (at least for me) freshman year, and we haven’t looked back since.  We’ve been together for more than 16 years (!!!), and two people couldn’t be more perfect for one another.  We are like-minded on all the big stuff (religion, money, future goals, etc), yet incredibly different in other areas (food preferences, strengths and weaknesses, how we spend our downtime, etc).  We’re both stubborn and strong-willed, enjoy good food, travel and spending time with friends.  I find we often try to bring out the best in each other, even if it’s a rocky ride.  If I love this man SO MUCH, why on earth don’t I treat him more lovingly??

According to the book, having a good marriage is very strongly associated with happiness.  I’d believe that, for sure.  With whom do you spend more time with than your spouse?

Gretchen said one of her struggles was that she often focused on Jamie’s faults and took his virtues for granted.  Boy, am I guilty of that one!  Andrew embodies (in general), all the qualities one could want in a husband: he is loyal, has selflessly been the breadwinner while I’ve gone back to school/worked part-time or not at all without treating his income as ‘his money,’ taken on ambitious house projects that improve our quality of life, and sees me as his equal (even if he doesn’t always appear to) in making big decisions.  If he scores high on all this big stuff, why am I NAGGING about clothes left on the floor or piles of miscellaneous papers left on the counter?

Well, (aside from the obvious reason that I thrive on organization and structure and want to have a meltdown in chaos and disorder), I’d gotten into the nasty habit of nagging.  There probably isn’t a thing in this world that husbands dislike more than a NAG.  Another thing Gretchen mentions is that she had to remind herself that she shouldn’t hold Jamie to her schedule for his to-do list.  Not everything needs to be done RIGHT NOW, despite the fact that I want it to be.  I’ve actually talked to Andrew about this one before, and he asked that I give him a ‘reasonable deadline’ (i.e. the end of the week) and then remind him once or twice if the task hasn’t been accomplished yet.  Also, I find he really likes a to-do list, even if he says he doesn’t.  On the weekends, I see him writing ambitious lists each morning of all he wants to accomplish, and it makes me SO HAPPY.

Bottom line: Give the guy a little grace around the house.  Gentle and loving reminders go over a lot better than nagging and fussing.  (I didn’t need THP to come up with this one after 12 years of marriage, but it was a nice reminder.)

Did you know it takes 6 seconds for oxytocin and serotonin to take effect in the brain?  That’s another nugget I got from the book.  Meaning, hugs should be AT LEAST THAT LONG to promote loving feelings for each other.

Another good reminder: studies show it takes 5 positive things to offset 1 negative thing (i.e. the negative effects of a big argument outweigh the positive effects of last night’s date).

Here’s one last gem: one spouse’s happiness boosts the others’ happiness.  It’s called ‘health concordance,’ and refers to how one spouse’s actions affect the others’ actions, such as establishing healthier eating habits or going to the gym.  I know Andrew is happier when I’m happier (i.e. less stressed), and I know it’s harder to make healthy food choices when my husband isn’t.

Perhaps the section of this chapter that resonated the most with me was ‘give proofs of love.’  My father always said to us growing up that ‘Love is an action.’  I can say ‘I love you’ all I want, but if I don’t do things to show Andrew that I love him, it’s just empty words coming out of my mouth.  This is where I find The 5 Love Languages to come in handy.  It’s a quick quiz, designed by Gary Chapman, to improve your relationship.  Andrew and I took the quiz back in college, and he scored highly on ‘Words of Affirmation’ and ‘Quality Time.’  (Men also tend to score highly on ‘Physical Touch.’  Go figure.)  Andrew likes it when point out his strengths and spend time with him, even if it’s just watching TV.  Mine was ‘Receiving Gifts,’ and Andrew has always been a thoughtful gift-giver.  It’s probably time we take the quiz again, as our love languages tend to change over time as our seasons of life change.  I find I appreciate ‘Acts of Service’ in times of busy-ness or stress more than I do ordinarily.  At the end of the day, quiz or no quiz, loving someone is putting their needs before your own.

Did any of the things I found interesting in this chapter resonate with you, too?  I was out to dinner tonight with a girlfriend and she challenged me to help Andrew find more balance in his life (work, physical activity, extracurricular responsibilities, house projects) without nagging or adding more pressure.  Perhaps I should begin with a six-second hug?

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