One last especially difficult thing about happiness—how do you choose between making yourself happy today and delaying gratification to build a happier future?
This is a really tough one, as delayed gratification is one of the hallmarks of maturity: If we all only did what would make us happy right this second, we'd all still be emotional teenagers with no jobs, no homes, and no degrees. But after talking to hundreds of men and women, it's safe to say that our generation has gone to the other extreme. We're all so worried about what it'll take to make us happy in the future—the beefy 401(k), the college savings account—that many of us are neglecting what we need to be happy right now. We think, 'OK, I'm pretty stressed-out at the moment, and I haven't relaxed since I went to the beach when I was pregnant with my first kid. But I'll be happy once my youngest child is in school, or I'll be happy once my husband gets his promotion, or I get mine." And then, of course, when that time comes, we may have forgotten how to be happy altogether.
One way to prevent this from happening to you is to think of happiness as a muscle. Like your quadriceps or your brain, your capacity for happiness needs to be used or it will start to deteriorate. Granted, it's important to think about tomorrow. It's important to imagine where you want to be in five or ten years. But so many of us are so worried about what we need to do to be happy in the future that we are failing to be happy at all. Which is a shame. To be happy in marriage, you need to be together when you are together. You need to focus on each other, right now, today. You need to create special moments with your spouse, rather than expecting them to just happen or going through the motions of "date night." We all have so much in our lives; we just need to enjoy the present.
And if working on happiness for yourself and your spouse is not enough, do it for your kids. If the adults in your house are freaking out, your children will pick up on that stress and things will snowball, leading to bad behavior and more strife. If you want to have harmony at home with your kids, you need to have harmony at home with your spouse (and harmony within yourself). "If you're happy in your marriage, then your kids tend to be happy," is how one mom, Maureen, put it. "The kids will start acting crazy if you're not nurturing your relationship."