love makes you happier

SitRep: Project Friends & Family

It was about six months ago that I made the decision to stop focusing on my career and my romantic pursuits. I was in a place where I’d followed a lot of the wisest advice I could find in both categories, and nothing seemed to be giving me much joy. I was struggling with where I was living, I was no closer to a stable relationship than I’d ever been, despite a lot of effort. I was getting disillusioned with the idea that love makes you happier, at least the kind of love I was experiencing. It seemed to be that I was stressing myself working really hard on things that didn’t make me happy at all.

About that time I was also exploring some of Dan Gilbert’s research on what makes people happy, and one particular aspect came to light:

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends. – Stumbling on Happiness

At the time I had some great friends. I still miss them, every day, and the conversations we have had. But I was also quite aware of how fast my grandsons were growing up, and that they didn’t know their grandpa. I knew that my daughters were facing challenges in their lives, and while they have all grown into strong and capable young women, it seemed possible that having Dad around occasionally could help.

So I packed everything – well, as much as I could – into my Saturn and drove through the early winter storms back to Madison, WI, in time to enjoy Thanksgiving with a large part of my extended family.

Dan’s Right: Love Makes You Happier

Remember, Boys: Love Makes You Happier
Remember, Boys: Love Makes You Happier

The motto of this blog is “Practical tips to make hard times happier.” If you’ve been reading it for any length of time, you know that I shy away from absolute declarations: If you do X, then Y is the result! I’m a firm believer in the Gray area, that there are many dimensions to any problem and that solutions are packed with unintended consequences.

So when I tell you that I am completely positive that focusing on my friends and family makes my life better, happier, and has no unfortunate side effects, you should be surprised.

Or not; some people may be sitting here going Duh! We knew that! That’s fine, though I suspect it’s not nearly so obvious. There’s a lot of focus on careers, on family, on recreational activities. And there’s nothing wrong with that – we need our alone time. We need to have the time to focus on ourselves. I simply think that perhaps the focus is too much on the glamorous roller-coaster of romantic love, rather than the more subtle love of family and friends.

It’s been astonishingly simple to improve the quality of my life: just prioritize, family first, then friends, then everything else. For example, I’m writing this post a few hours earlier than intended because my daughter called and asked if I could watch Harvey for a few hours today. The other night we canceled dinner plans to give my nephew a ride to school. Rather than go to a geeky Meetup yesterday, I went to have margaritas with a personal friend who will not be in the area for long.

What surprises me about this is that it’s not hard. It’s simply saying “yes” whenever someone who falls in the circle of family or friends asks me to do something with them. And the rewards are enormous – I can’t think of any decision I’ve made in the last forty-odd years that has been so unequivocally positive in result. I’ve been able to help just a little here and there in the lives of my friends and family, and that tiny bit has made the general happiness of my life higher than just about any time.

Tempus Fugit

I’m well aware that it may not last – Harvey’s out of diapers already, and little Victor isn’t even drinking his bottle! In five years, my niece will be out of high school! The time seems to just fly by. And it’s not like life is one long blissful experience.

Love doesn’t make you happy. It’s not supposed to; you’re not supposed to be happy all the time. But love makes you happier, that’s for sure. Can you really ask for anything more?

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