John Fuller: On a previous Focus on the Family broadcast, Les Parrott talked about the importance of friendship in marriage.
LesParrott: Yeah, you take friendship out of the equation and suddenly, you’re roommates; you’re not soul mates. You’re just walking through life and doing the activities that it requires of you, but what about the fun? What about the connection? What about the intimacy that grows out of a sense of, “You know me and I know you like nobody else on the planet.” Well, man, we can walk through life with somebody that is hand in hand with you in that sense, life doesn’t get any sweeter.
John: A great perspective on the essence of having friendship at the heart of your marriage, whether you’ve been married five or 25 years, or longer. And maybe you’ve settled into some routines, and you’re finding it difficult to keep that spark alive and things vibrant. Well, today on Focus on the Family, we’ll talk about building on that friendship, to ensure your marriage is strong and happy for years to come. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus on the Family president and author Jim Daly.
JimDaly: John, we have two wonderful guests here who can share some simple, but very intentional ideas about how to revitalize our marriages. And I really look forward to diving into those practical helps, because we all need them. You know, we can get into these routines like you said and form some bad habits. And today, Les and Leslie Parrott will help us get out of those ruts. They are the authors of a book called MakingHappy:TheArtandScienceofaHappyMarriage. Les is a clinical psychologist and a professor at Northwest University. His wife, Leslie, is a marriage and family therapist.
John: And together they’re the founders of The Center for Healthy Relationships on the campus of Olivet University. Let’s go ahead and listen in now to that conversation.
Jim: Your dad and Dr. Dobson did a program many, many years ago, right here on “Focus on the Family” about happiness.
Les: That’s true! Forgot about that. Wow.
Jim: And uh…
Leslie Parrott: From the archives!
Jim: It – is it part of your DNA to talk about being happy?
Les: It must be. I didn’t even think about that. Dad wrote a book years ago about the HabitofHappiness and I remember that. I was a kid and yeah, I think I grew up in a home where there’s something about tryin’ to figure out this puzzle in the Christian life of happiness. What is it? And especially for Leslie and me in our work, when it comes to marriage, what is it that makes a couple happy? ’Cause we all want that. You ask anybody. Hey, why are you getting married? ”Oh, ‘cause we’re in love.” What do you want most out of your marriage? ”Oh, we just want to be happy,” right? What do you want most for your kids? “Oh, I just want my kids to be happy, whatever they do,” you know? We all are in this pursuit of happiness. What does that mean to our lives? And that’s really what caused us to write this book.
Jim: Now right out of the gate, I need to press on this, because for me, I’m always uh – kind of uh – discounting happiness. ‘Cause for me, I believe joy is the greater goal and…
Jim: …the more – and the deeper goal for the Christian faith.
Les: You sound like a real downer.
Jim: Well uh …
Leslie: I wouldn’t call “joy” a downer.
Jim: I’m in a joyful …
Les: I’m against happiness, only joy.
Jim: I’m a joyful person, but is there a distinction between being joyful and being happy?
Leslie: Well, and I love that question, because really we don’t want anything that is selfish. And happiness, you know, the – the models of pursuit of happiness that we see so often look exactly like that: models of selfishness. And that’s not at all what we’re talking about.
Les: No and in fact, what we found in our own research was there’s two kinds, big buckets of happiness and one is what we call “feel good” happiness. And that’s momentary happiness. That comes about as a result of all kinds of pleasures. A great dessert, you know, that’s “feel-good” happiness, a – a bowl of ice cream, whatever. And then there’s “value-based” happiness and that’s happiness that comes about because of meaningful activity in our lives. It’s deeper.
Les: Yes and there’s no – there’s not a diminishing return when it comes to that kind of…
Leslie: And I love it that he said that – “diminishing return” – because truthfully, that’s what we’ve seen. We’ve seen the kind of pleasure pursuits that end in nothing but more unhappiness and heartbreak than anyone should ever have. And then, there’s this deep abiding happiness that you called “joy,” that really the Bible opens us up to. And that’s all about having a life filled with meaning and purpose and all of the things that are fruit from the Spirit are what produced that kind of happiness.
Les: Yeah and so, it’s really a combination of those. So, call it “joy” or call it “happiness” or “exuberance” or whatever it is that you’d like to call it, but when you put those two things together, that “feel-good” happiness, which we all want, you know little spikes of that throughout our – our lives.
Leslie: Feeling good is not a bad thing.
Leslie: Because it’s contagious, and it literally ushers joy into other people’s lives.
Jim: But so often in the Christian community, we feel guilty about that. Why is that?
Les: I don’t know. I think that it’s a problem sincerely, because…
Leslie: I – it – I do too.
Les: …God – God created that. He created all kinds of pleasures for us and within marriage and beyond, and one of the great pleasures in life, of course, is raising children and seeing all of the – the peaks and valleys of that. But when we have those pleasurable experience of a – of a tickle fight or something with our little preschool kid or whatever, that’s pleasure, right? I mean, there’s joy in that because it’s meaningful, and that’s what I mean by the combination of those things. We get into trouble when we just purely pursue pleasure without the meaningful aspect of…
Les: …of happiness.
Leslie: Well, and it – and it is so contagious. From the briefest moment, like I’m gonna make this moment we shared. It was the simplest summer moment and as we reflected on our summer recently, I said, “Do you remember the evening after dinner?” You said, “Come out on the deck with me.” And I stepped out and right as I stepped out, a hummingbird arrived and just hung in the air and the two of us stood there and watched it for, I don’t know…
Les: A couple minutes.
Leslie: It felt like five minutes. It probably wasn’t. But it was such a shared pleasure. And here we are, as a couple, you know, three months later reflecting back on that moment of shared pleasure. And it was so intimate and such a joy and it’s so contagious. And happiness is that. It’s contagious, and it elevates the experience of everyone around you.
Les: You want your spouse to be happy, right?
Leslie: Yes, you do.
Les: You don’t want to come home to a spouse that isn’t happy. We want that.
Jim: Let me ask you this, though: H.B. London, who was here working with pastors and Dr. Dobson’s cousin, and…
Les: I used to be on staff at his church in Pasadena, right.
Jim: Right, you were on staff. H.B. used to have a – a term called “the joy suckers.”
Jim: Remember that?
Les: The joy suckers.
Jim: There are joy suckers in the church and, you know, for us again, as Christians to hold each other accountable, why do we as Christians pursue the joy sucking vocation, as opposed to the “joyful” vocation of life?
Leslie: Well, I love that question because I surely don’t want to be a joy sucker in my marriage, let me tell you that.
Jim: It won’t be happy.
Leslie: No, I don’t want to be that. You know, I want – I want to exude it, but I think maybe there’s some sort of noble sense of false humility that comes with bearing and martyring and, you know.
Jim: And let everybody know that you do that.
Leslie: Exactly, that the truth is, the gifts given out of that kind of joyless service are not truly gifts.
Les: Yeah and, you know, it’s – it’s – who wants to be running their life out of guilt, right? Paul said, “There is therefore no condemnation for those of us that are in Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t mean that to follow Christ you have to carry this huge burden of guilt on your back. Just the opposite of that. He came for a fulfilled life and so, when it comes to happiness in marriage – by the way, one thing we know for sure, marriage was never designed to make you happy. You make your marriage happy. That is the hinge upon which this whole book hangs. And so many people I see looking to their marriage to make them happy. And that’s – that’s when we get into this trap of thinking, it’s our circumstances that are gonna do that for us and that’s never the case. That’s not what the Christian life is about.
Jim: You know, so often when people are critical of Christians, it seems like we’re the naysayers. “Don’t”, “Stop”, “Uh”, they don’t see joy in us because we’re not showing it. If we were to say, listen, we’ve got the greatest news in the world for you. Yes, you fall short. You do things that you feel guilty about that you don’t want to do. It might be cheating on your diet. It might be cheating on your spouse, whatever it might be. But guess what? God knew that that sin nature was gonna be in us since the fall of mankind. But He’s got a remedy for us. It’s His Son, Jesus Christ, and He has died for our sins. We should be joyful, like incredibly joyful to be able to share that news with other people. It’s not a downer, anybody.
Leslie: I love that.
Jim: God has sent His Son to die for you, so that you could spend eternity with Him, knowing your shortcomings and your failures. We should have the biggest smiles on our faces, willing to tell everybody, not from a “Stop it; don’t do that,” but from a simple perspective of, “Embrace God. He loves you.”
Leslie: Well, I just love that, because what you’re saying is, at the ground of our being, we should be exuding a joyful presence because we received the gift of grace. So, to live as if anything else is reality, just sort of discounts the great generous spirit of God in our lives.
Les: Well, and – and one of the – I think one of the greatest witnesses in our lives is to God’s grace, is how we adjust to things beyond our control. It’s our circum – because everybody’s looking for their circumstances. Once I get this job, once I get this house, this car, this cool toy, whatever it is, then I’m gonna be happy. And of course, happiness isn’t built on those things.
And in fact, we’re gonna have so many hurdles in life and to rise above that and have joy in spite of our circumstances, I think that’s when God’s grace shines the brightest.
Leslie: Well, we actually know from research that whatever our circumstances are, is only about 10 percent of what adds to our happiness quotient. I mean, it’s a very small piece.
Jim: Right, get the car you want.
Jim: That’s only gonna be fleeting.
Leslie: You know, yeah. I mean, no matter how the circumstances are.
Les: And – and even in marriage, we know that the research shows that, that happiness – you get a bump from getting married for sure in happiness. That lasts at max, two years.
Les: All right? And then we come back to our set point.
Jim: Then you have to keep building into your marriage.
Jim: Let me talk about the research for a second and I’d like folks – I’d like you to – to put your spiritual discerning ears on right now when you hear this. TheWallStreetJournal summarized some research that showed adults who frequently feel grateful, have more energy, more optimism, have more social connections, more happiness than those who don’t. “They’re less likely” – now this is the spiritual component, this is TheWallStreetJournal quoting this – “they’re less likely to be depressed, envious or greedy. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and are sick less often.”
Jim: That sounds like a biblical application to the human spirit, doesn’t it?
Les: It really is.
Leslie: Amen. (Laughter)
Les: When we set off on this path to really understand happiness within marriage, and by the way, some of the seeds for this were planted by a fellow named Martin Seligman, who is really the father of positive psychology and changed the face of psychology in our lifetime. And I was at a Ted Talk in California and we had lunch together. And he said, “Nobody has taken all this mountain of research and applied it to couples.” He said, “Why don’t you two do that? That’s what you guys are – are kinda built for.” And that’s what got us off on this thing.
And when we did the research, we – we did – we encountered a mountain in the last 15 years, so much research has gone on. And what you just read about gratitude was one of the biggest things that we saw in the – the mountain of research. If you want to instantly improve your level of joy and happiness, focus on gratitude. It can’t help but to increase that.
Jim: Well, and the thing is, gratitude is not a, you give me something and I give you gratitude. The Scripture’s very clear about having that attitude of gratitude…
Jim: …regardless of your circumstances. Be content in all things…
Jim: …is a way of saying that. The Scripture’s clear that the Lord is expecting a reborn heart, a reborn spirit to have that sense of gratitude for everything that God has done, even the tough stuff.
Jim: And it seems like in the Christian community, we’re not necessarily thankful for every circumstance – most, but not all.
Leslie: What I love about gratitude is – gratitude is genuinely a choice. You know, it’s a choice of where we focus our attention. We’re mindful of our blessings, and we know when it comes to happiness, about 40 percent of our overall happiness rests on choices that we make, which is a pretty empowering thing. We really do have the possibility of shaping our happiness.
Les: Yeah, it’s known as the “happiness pie.” About 50 percent of our happiness is just biological. And you have a set point of happiness, and I do, too and they’re different.
Jim: And it’s biochemistry. It’s like that thing.
Leslie: Yeah, it’s kind of our natural path.
Jim: Dopamine, the way our brain fires.
Les: And that’s why we – when we get married or things happen, we can swing a little bit and be more happy for a while ‘cause we got this new car or whatever it is, and then it comes back to that set point. Fifty percent is due to that. And then another 10 percent is due to our circumstances.
Les: And then, what Leslie’s talking about, that’s the 40 percent of our choices. Think about that. Forty percent of our emotional state is conditional on the things that we choose to focus on.
Jim: Now in your book you talk about six happiness boosters. I love that. Let’s mention them and then we’ll talk about them.
Les: The first is exactly what you’ve been touching on and that’s “Count your blessings”. It’s all about gratitude. And you know, I was thinking about this a little while ago. On our trip – we had a trip that we’d been looking forward to – a Christmas gift of going to South Africa as a family. This was something we planned for, for months and months and months.
Leslie: This is a very meaningful, purposeful trip. We were taking our kids to experience sort of this – this new place and this culture.
Les: Culture and we were using miles, you know, airline miles to travel.
Jim: That’s a good thing to use for that trip.
Les: Exactly, right. It’s a long one. And because of that, we had to fly through Buenos Aires on the way to South Africa, all right.
Leslie: Just a very direct route.