Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Les and Leslie Parrott’s new book Making Happy: The Art and Science of a Happy Marriage (Worthy Publishing, 2014).
Everyone who gets married wants to enjoy a happy marriage. But too often, people wait in vain for happiness to come to them, hoping that the right spouse or the right circumstances in their marriage will somehow make them happy. The truth is that marriage can’t make anyone happy, but happy people can make their marriages happy.
Enjoying a happy marriage is possible – no matter who you’ve married, or what circumstances you all are dealing with in your lives together – if you rely on God to help you build a happy marriage according to his design. Here’s how:
Understand that your choices significantly affect how happy you become. While your circumstances and genetics do affect the level of happiness that you experience, a significant portion of your happiness is well within your control – it comes down to the choices that you make. So decide throughout each day to pursue happiness through intentional activities. The more you practice behaviors designed to increase your happiness, the more you’ll inspire your spouse to join in, and your marriage will become happier in the process.
Pursue meaning that transcends pleasure. Realize that pursuing pleasure isn’t enough in itself to make you happy; you also need to pursue meaning in order to achieve real happiness. That’s because God has designed holiness (devoting yourself to God by living the way he intends) to lead to happiness. When you move beyond the self-absorbed pursuit of pleasure for its own sake to making meaningful choices that will help you love God and others more, you naturally invite happiness into your life.
Count your blessings. Gratitude for the many gifts that God brings into the life that you and your spouse share will strengthen your relationship with each other. The more you give thanks to God for your blessings, the more blessings you will notice and appreciate, which will cause you to enjoy your lives more and inspire more love between you. Make a conscious effort to count your blessings regularly, in ways such as: cutting down on complaining, keeping a written record of your blessings in a gratitude journal, going with your spouse to visit someone who has helped either one of you in the past to thank him or her, and savoring the good moments you and your spouse experience together.
Try new things. Moving out of your comfort zones to experience new adventures together keeps your relationships fresh and leads to deeper happiness in your marriage. Some of the ways you can try new things together include: sharing a passion for an activity that both of you can enjoy doing together for fun, spicing up your sex life with new sexual positions and lovemaking locations, making new friends together, and spending your money on experiences together (like vacations and restaurant dinners) rather than material items.
Dream together. Following your dreams together will make your marriage happier by stirring optimism and empowering action in your lives. Plus, when you support each other in the process of pursuing dreams, you can accomplish more together than you could alone. You can dream together in ways such as: envisioning what you each hope your future will be like and discussing details of it together, overcoming your fear of failure by taking steps of faith toward making your dreams come true, building a “bucket list” of experiences you hope to have together during your lifetimes, identifying dreams that are most meaningful to each of you, keeping hope alive by discussing your dreams together often, and setting goals (that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time sensitive) to help you achieve your dreams.
Celebrate each other. When you make a habit of celebrating the positive moments that you and your spouse share, you avoid falling into the unhappy trap of taking each other for granted and instead fuel mutual admiration and honor that will contribute to happiness in your marriage. Celebrating each other inspires and motivates each other to be your best selves as you relate to each other. Ways you can celebrate each other include: complimenting each other for positive words and actions you notice every day, responding to each other’s good news with excitement, incorporating fun and loving sex into your lives on a regular basis, enjoying listening to music together often, expressing affection freely (such as through hugs, kisses, and backrubs), and serving each other regularly through acts of kindness (such as preparing special meals or taking on chores and errands for your spouse when he or she is especially busy).
Attune your spirits. Pursuing spiritual intimacy with each other will make your marriage happier by drawing you both closer to the ultimate source of joy: God. You can do so in ways that include: incorporating spiritual disciplines (such as praying, reading the Bible, and participating in church) into your lives together, openly and honestly discussing details of how God is working in both of your lives, and responding gracefully to each other’s faults as God does.
Add value to others. When you work together to assist or cheer up people whom God leads you to help or encourage, you double your impact for good and make your marriage happier as you make others happier. Keep in mind that, as Christian spouses, God has ordained you to serve others as a team. Some of the ways you can add value others include: making a list of kind acts you can do together (of different varieties, including some that you all can do anonymously), reviewing your experiences together afterward, mentoring other spouses to help them have better marriages, and sponsoring an impoverished child together.
Overcome the biggest hurdles to happiness as a couple. Those hurdles include: depending on money to make you happy, comparing yourselves to others, holding on to pride, obsessing over the past pain and regrets, fixating on the future rather than living fully in the present, and focusing what you don’t have rather than what you do have. When you overcome those hurdles, you can enjoy a happy marriage that endures through life’s uncertainties with the certainty of God-given joy.
Adapted from Making Happy: The Art and Science of a Happy Marriage, copyright 2014 by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., Brentwood, Tn., www.worthypublishing.com.
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott are #1 New York Times best-selling authors and founders of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Their work has been featured in the New York Times and USA Today, and they have appeared on CNN, Fox News, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Oprah. Visit www.LesAndLeslie.com.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.