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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I’ve pondered before whether or not happiness is really the right goal for marriage.

Lately I’ve been rethinking the whole question of happiness. I’d like to share my thoughts and get yours.

The following three statements, which may seem at first blush to conflict with each other, are the three happiness axioms I’ve landed on:
  • The primary purpose of your marriage isn’t to make you happy
  • You need to take responsibility for your own happiness
  • Love and serve your spouse as if their happiness depended on you

Happiness Defined

What does it mean to be happy? Truthfully, for some reason I’ve never much liked that word; it has always seemed a bit shallow to me. I’ve typically thought of happiness as being controlled by external circumstances and therefore fickle and fleeting. I know, I’m weird like that.

But the dictionary says that to be happy is to be “delighted, pleased, or glad” over something or someone. Happiness is “characterized by pleasure, contentment, or joy” in response to the things going on around you. These actually all sound like pretty good things.

Goal vs. By-product

So after some consideration, I’ve resolved in my mind that happiness isn’t a bad thing at all, but I still don’t believe that we should look at marriage as primarily about our personal degree of happiness.

To me happiness is still best viewed as a by-product rather than a goal. A relationship that has personal happiness as its main goal is going to miss some deeper things that underlie a long-lasting marriage. Selflessness, surrender, intimacy, joy, peace and holiness all come to mind as worthy goals, but are things that also tend produce happiness as a result.

I Am Responsible For Me

I’ve often heard folks blame their spouse for their unhappiness. I’ve heard it used as a reason for divorce. I’ve heard it used to defend some pretty cruel behavior. “I deserve to be happy” is the common mantra.

That doesn’t cut it with me.

I have learned over time that I can’t hold my wife accountable for my happiness. I have to place the burden of my happiness squarely on my own shoulders and own up to the fact that if I’m unhappy, I’m the one that has to do something about it. It’s my choice. My happiness is my responsibility.

I Act Responsible for You

By extension, then, my wife is also responsible for her own happiness.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I should act that way. Instead I should purposefully try to make her happy, as best as I know how. I should love her, serve her, lead her and cherish her in ways I know delight her.

Her happiness should be important to me, because we are one, and I get to share in any happiness I bring to her life. How cool is that? Why wouldn’t I want to make her happy?

Our Ultimate Source of Happiness

Both my wife and I know that ultimately God is our only reliable source of happiness.

We find in Jesus all the things that make marriages truly happy and enduring: selflessness, surrender, strength, intimacy, joy, peace and holiness. All these he makes available to us and to our marriages.

So next time you are feeling unhappy with your spouse or with your marriage, realize that you have the power to choose happiness, regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do. Realize that love, joy and peace can all be yours by the Holy Spirit. Then turn things around and choose to do something purposefully just to make your spouse happy. I think you’ll be amazed at the good fruit it produces.

Happiness in Reverse

I shared this TEDtalk with our small group a few weeks ago (thanks to The Generous Husband). It’s a compelling and humorous case for the fact that we often look to outcomes in order to gain happiness. We say things like “If I work at it then my marriage will get better. And when my marriage gets better, then I’ll be happy.” But that is actually backwards.

Direct TEDTalk Link

Shawn Achor makes the case that by choosing to be happy now, we actually stand a better change of having a better marriage. Fascinating concept. I like it.

What’s do you think of my three axioms of happiness in marriage?
  • The primary purpose of your marriage isn’t to make you happy
  • You need to take responsibility for your own happiness
  • Love and serve your spouse as if their happiness depended on you


Lisa and Caryn said...

So true, just love this!!! Happiness is a choice, our choice to delight in our God and Saviour.

Please see our blog:

J said...

I think this is brilliant, and I wish every married couple would read it. I have become a happier person since I lowered my expectations for circumstances and others (including the hubby) to make me happy and then pursued those things which do bring me a sense of purpose and joy.

Scott said...

Lisa, Caryn and J - thanks for stopping by and for your comments.

Kate said...

Scott, this is an amazing post! Thank you for sharing this and getting to the heart of happiness. I agree and can see the trap of placing your happiness on the responsibility of your spouse. It will won't work and if you find that it does, it will be temporary! So glad God wrote this on your heart and that you shared it today. I am going to pass it along as well. Amazing insights!

Unknown said...

You have put into direct and effective words a complex concept that I wholly agree with! I am responsible for me and will, to the best of my ability, serve and honor my spouse. GREAT INSIGHTFUL POST!

Beth Templeton said...

This was really good Scott. I like it that you don't discredit happiness as is so popular to do amongst spiritual people. As a by-product, you can't beat it! And I love your point about taking responsibility for our own happiness. Good stuff! Thanks.

Paul Byerly said...

Thunder stealing are we? Down to the TED vid!

But seriously, I've been working on some posts about this, mostly because I see a lot of pseudo-biblical junk on this issue. Thanks for NOT adding to that category!

I like by-product vs goal thinking.

If we really want to discuss the purpose of marriage, don't we have to go back to the Garden, before the fall?

Jennifer Travis said...

This is HUGE for many of us and you brought a perspective that is quite easy to understand. Thanks so much for helping me to see it another way, a way that can greatly benefity my marriage. Although he is my spouse, i put a lot of pressure on my man when i hang my happiness on whether my spouse says or does the right thing. Adding pressure only pushes people away, and does not bring them together. So much meat here that I needed. Again thanks for all the good stuff you write.

Godssongbird said...

I wish my husband would understand this concept because he believes that I am responsible for his happiness. If I am happy then he picks an argument to try and bring my spirit down. He has some trust issues from his first marriage and so I am getting the brunt end of that. I have to constantly give this marriage and him to God on a daily basis.

Unknown said...

im confussed? i dont get much or very little phyisical contact, as this makes me happy. should i then go out and pursue other interests outside my marraige .... aka owning my own happiness?

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