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The Happiness Connection  

Don't be dead right

As I backed out of my driveway a few days ago, I could hear a car in the distance. We live on a corner and the engine I heard was coming up the road perpendicular to the one our driveway leads on to.

I knew the person would come to a stop sign before turning right onto my street, so the right-of-way was mine. I continued to back up.

That seems very straight forward, but the situation was a little more complex than it might appear.

Many drivers ignore the stop sign if they are making a right turn onto my road. They look left to see if a car is coming down the hill and if it is clear, they zip around the corner with only the slightest decrease in speed.

I knew by backing out, I was taking a risk. If the driver was turning right, which most do, and didn’t glance in my direction before she turned, she might not see my car.

As I suspected, she glanced to her left and then proceeded to turn right. Luckily, the road was empty except for us. She swerved around me and sped off down the hill.

The experience annoyed me, so when I returned to my house I consciously looked to see if a car was approaching the stop sign. As luck would have it, a vehicle was nearing the sign.

Instead of pausing to make sure the car would stop, I signalled and turned left. I even slowed down to make sure the car couldn’t get around the corner without noticing me blocking their path.

I was full of righteousness indignation after two close calls in a short space of time. As I shared my story with my husband, the little voice in my head chimed in.

“Is it more important for you to make a point, or for you to be safe?”

That got me thinking.

When my dad taught me to drive, he stressed safe driving principles. He would say, “You may be right, but do you want to be dead right?”

This question resurfaced as I thought about my actions. People should stop at the sign, but am I willing to risk my safety by putting my little convertible in front of their speeding vehicle?

Is this an affective way to get people to pay attention to the sign? It may stop one or two of them, but unless a major accident occurs, and a tribute of flowers gets left on the corner, it is unlikely to have a greater impact.

Is this cause so important that I would lay down my life for it?

This brings me to the big question. What’s the most important thing, the principle, or the long-range outcome?

This is a big question for some marriages. Arguments arise for the sake of fairness rather than in search of a way to make the relationship work.

A common example of this surfaces for couples with children. Many moms feel they are unfairly burdened with childcare and household duties. I know that I felt I was on duty 24-7 when my two were young.

I felt my husband wasn’t doing his fair share.

I know that I was annoyed more by the principle than by all the work I did, because whenever my spouse was away for his annual ski trip, I was happy doing my normal tasks, picking up the slack for him, and starting projects like giving one of the rooms a makeover.

The fact that he wasn’t there reminding me how little he did compared to me freed me from my negative feelings about the work I did. For me, the principle of sharing the load outweighed my desire to be happy, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Wanting life to be fair leaves you vulnerable to being unhappy, because often life isn’t fair. That doesn’t mean you should suck it up and do everything yourself or avoid standing up for your beliefs.

If you find yourself caught between your principles and wise action, take time to consider the following questions.

  • What is your long-range goal?
  • How is standing up for your principle, or belief moving you towards that goal?
  • What alternative action could you take that will move you towards your goal?
  • What is your best action?

I want to live a long and happy life. Trying to make a point about the stop sign by backing out when I know a car is approaching the corner doesn’t support my goal.

Choosing my safety over the principle gives me a much better chance of achieving the outcome I want, even though I believe drivers should be forced to stop at the sign.

I am not suggesting you should sacrifice your principles at all costs, I am counselling you to stop and think about your choices and then to act consciously rather than reacting from emotions.

When I backed out of my drive way, I didn’t stop to consider the wisdom of my actions, I reacted without thought.

I love being right, but as my dad would say, I don’t need to be dead right.



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Marriage can keep you alive

The deaths of Kate Spade on Tuesday and Anthony Bourdain on Friday have refocused society’s attention on suicide.

My first memory of being touched by suicide was when I was 12. My friend Margaret went home from school for her lunch and didn’t come back for the afternoon. I didn’t see her again for many weeks.

Her parents worked, but she and her brother, who was 14, went home most days for their lunch. When she got home on this day, she saw her brother’s shoes by the door, but he didn’t seem to be there.

Believing if his shoes were there then he must be too, she searched the house for him. When she went into the basement, she found him hanging from a rafter.

Having two celebrities choose to end their lives only a few days apart has affected many people deeply. Why would two people who seem to have everything, make this decision?

News coverage reveals that these two had more in common than just the timing of their deaths.

Both were successful, both suffered from mental illness, both had daughters of similar ages, and both recently separated from their spouses.

Kate Spade and her husband had been separated for 10 months, and Anthony Bourdain and is ex-wife had been amicably divorced for about two years.

This final fact caught my attention – I write a column about marriage after all. Are married couples more, or less likely to commit suicide than those who separate or divorce?

With that thought in mind, I began searching for some Canadian statistics to shed light on the situation.

A Statistics Canada publication provided some interesting facts. It looked at marital status (single, married, divorced, widowed) and gender (male, female.)

In every category, men are more likely die through suicide than women. This is, however, a misleading fact. The Canadian Mental Health Association website states that women are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are three times more likely to die from suicide.

With that thought in mind, let’s see where married people fit in relation to being single, divorced, or widowed.

Let’s start with males.

Men who are married (legal or common-law) have the lowest suicide rate with eight per 100,000.

Single men top the list for males with more than three times as many suicides.

Being divorced or widowed comes in the middle of the two with about twice as many suicides as married men, but about half the rate of single men.

Being married is also the best marital status for women when it comes to suicide rates, with approximately two out of 100,000.

Widows are most likely to die at a rate more than eight times that of married women.

Numbers for women who are single or divorced come in the middle at over three times as likely as married females, and half as likely as widows.

This chart makes the comparison clearer.

The Statistics Canada publication also looked at the correlation between suicide and divorce rates between 1950 and 2008. The two have a startling similarity.

As the divorce rate goes up, so does the suicide rate; when it falls, so does suicide. Once again a chart paints the picture much more clearly.

This brings me to the question, why would marriage make you less likely to take your life.

I believe that regardless of how challenging you find your spouse, being married means you are part of a team. You have someone who’s experiencing life with you. If you have financial problems, you work on it together.

No matter what happens, you aren’t alone.

Please don’t think I am counselling everyone to stay married. Deciding to leave a marriage is a personal decision that I would never judge, but staying together has some advantages that shouldn’t be ignored.

I don’t feel I can leave this conversation without addressing one other commonality shared by Spade and Bourdain. They both had mental health issues.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association website, “up to 90 per cent of people who take their own lives are believed to have substance use problems or a mental illness such as depression or anxiety – whether diagnosed or not – at the time of their suicide.”

You may be viewing this information with relief because you are mentally healthy, but don’t get overly confident. Mental illness can strike at any time of your life.

Many people carry a genetic predisposition to depression, anxiety, or other disorders. The gene may never be activated, but then again it might. I experienced this first hand.

I felt blessed that in a family riddled with mood disorders, I had escaped. I was happy and optimistic – until my circumstances changed, my support network disappeared, and my sleeping genetic predisposition for depression roared into action.

Take steps to foster your mental wellness. Like physical health you shouldn’t take it for granted.

Staying with the same person for many years comes with challenges. Unless you are very lucky and chose a partner, who complements you perfectly, you are likely to struggle from time to time to keep your relationship strong.

This is not unusual, nor is it something to be ashamed of.

I’ve written before about the health benefits of being with a long-term partner when you reach your senior years, but these suicide statistics show an additional advantage of working hard to stay happy, connected, and with the person you chose to share your life with.

Interviews with people who have unsuccessfully attempted suicide show that they didn’t want to die, they just didn’t want to live.

Perhaps the companionship, history, and support that marriage offers, gives people a reason to want to live.

It’s something to think about.



Pulling marital weeds

When I first started writing this column, my greatest concern was whether I would be able to find enough new topics to write about.

I no longer worry about this. I trust something will happen in my life to spark my creative juices and get my fingers typing. Last week was no exception.

I was walking my dog when we met a lady who was looking after her daughter’s puppy. As is often the case when we encounter other dogs, we stopped to enjoy a sniff and pleasantries.

The conversation went pretty much as expected until we shared where we lived. Wanting to ensure she had the right house, she asked if there was a strange umbrella tree in my front yard.

I nodded and then she asked a question I wasn’t expecting.

“Why don’t you weed under your tree?”

Our property was landscaped in the 1990s and many of the plants have outgrown their spaces. What I’m sure was once a pretty bed with a small tree and some shrubs is now weeds and overgrown shrubs, shaded completely by the low canopy of a tree.

My first reaction when she asked the question was to come up with an answer, even though I didn’t have one prepared. I rambled on about how busy life is, and that bending in the confined space is hard on my back.

After thanking her for her tip of putting down plastic and gravel, I walked away with huge question marks bouncing around my brain. It felt like a bizarre question to ask someone you’ve only just met.

When you are taken off guard by a question or comment, there are three common reactions:

  • you may respond negatively
  • think about the words with curiosity as opposed to emotion
  • take no notice of them at all.

If negative emotions well up inside you, the interaction has triggered you. When this happens, your mind perceives an attack and jumps into a defensive position.

Remember, survival is every human’s top priority.

If you are triggered or affected negatively by a question or comment, take time to explore what upset you. It is rarely the obvious things.

Let me give you an example.

About a year after we were married, I was taking frozen dinners out of the oven when my husband asked, “When are you going to start cooking real food?”

Cooking has never been my jam and after a day of work, it was the last thing I planned to do. These words triggered me, and I went for reaction one and exploded.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I wasn’t bothered by the fact I couldn’t cook, or that my husband was asking for a home cooked meal, I was triggered by what I perceived to be an attack on my ability to be a good wife.

I was insecure about who I was.

Today, I have a level of confidence that was missing in the early days of my marriage. It doesn’t matter what other people think, I am concerned with what I think.

Any time you get defensive, stop to figure out what set you off. Look below the surface; the reason is unlikely to be the obvious one.

Once you know the real reason you were triggered, you can do something to heal the wound, change your limiting beliefs, or do some confidence building.

The weed-pulling question didn’t trigger me, but I noticed it and it stuck in my head. Rather than assuming the unexpected question had no worth, I progressed to step two and examined it more closely.

Life is constantly changing, so it is good to examine new information to see if it is important. Assuming it isn’t prevents you from adjusting as needed.

With the pulling-weeds question still in my mind, I took a critical look at the tree, weeds, and overgrown shrubs from every angle.

Could drivers see around them as they turned the corner?

Yes.

Did they bring the price of houses in the vicinity down?

No.

Was there something I was missing?

Maybe, but I decided it wasn’t something I needed to spend my time thinking about.

I have no idea why my weeds bother this woman enough for her to mention them to me, but I hold no negative feelings toward her. We are all on our own journey and the only person who really understands it is the one on the path.

Who am I to judge something I don’t understand?

If you are confident that your choices are the best for the information you have, stand behind them, and don’t let the opinions of others bother you.

What is important to them doesn’t have to be important for you. But don’t assume you will never swerve from your current position.

The more confident you feel, the less likely you are to argue or fall into a negative pit of defensiveness. Take this wisdom to heart if you find yourself arguing regularly with your spouse.

Discover the real reasons behind the arguments and look for ways to heal the hurt.

Take time for inner exploration and know what is too important for you to compromise on. Confident people don’t feel compelled to persuade others to agree with them. It is OK to have a different opinion.

Be confident that your choice is the best one for now but recognize things may change in the future. Look for new information and be prepared to pivot.

After considering the situation, the weeds are unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Does it bother me to think that there may be neighbours who tsk and shake their heads every time they pass my house? Not really, but I will keep an eye on the rogue section of my yard and re-assess if I need to.

The weeds question encouraged me to put another happiness precept into action. I have chosen to view the land under our tree as a wildlife area.

With this perspective in place I am more than ready for the next person who asks me why I don’t weed under my tree.



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Marriage, not money

Did you watch the royal wedding last weekend? I didn’t get a chance as I was out of town, but that didn’t stop me from looking at photos and imagining what it must be like to marry a real prince.

Dreaming of meeting your Prince or Princess Charming is a pastime most of us have indulged in, but I’m willing to bet those dreams didn’t include thoughts of how the two of you would manage your money.

Somehow finances don’t fit into fairy tale dreams. After all, if he or she is royalty surely money won’t be an issue that needs to be discussed.

But what if the man or woman of your dreams isn’t a member of the royal family? What if you are like most of the world and have a finite amount of money that needs to be managed carefully if you want it to cover everything it needs to cover?

Have you ever wanted to purchase an expensive item that your partner didn’t agree with? Do you and your spouse have drastically different beliefs and approaches to money? Perhaps one of you is a saver and the other is a spender.

Do these financial issues cause you and your partner to argue.? If so you are not alone. According to an Ameriprise study, approximately one third of all couples clash over money at least once a month.

Money problems, like marriage challenges, are blanketed with shame. Imagine the monumental weight of disgrace piled onto financial disagreements and cash flow troubles within a marriage.

With money being cited as one of the top three reasons for couples to divorce, it is an aspect of marriage that should not be ignored.

There is no one way for couples to deal with finances. You may combine everything, keep your money separate and each contribute to a house hold account, or one partner may support the family and control the money.

If the system you use puts you in a financially stable position and you are both happy with it, there is no reason to change it.

Awareness is the key to taking responsibility in life, so with that end in mind, let me share some tips about finances that experts believe are crucial if you want to avoid money problems in your relationship.

Have regular money conversations

Even if you wish you were in a financially healthier position, don’t let finances take on a shameful or hidden role within your marriage. Bring money conversations into the sunlight.

Make a conscious decision to discuss money without emotion. The moment you first discover your partner made a huge ticket purchase without your knowledge, may not be the time to have a heart-to-heart about it.

If you find yourself being triggered by money conversations, take a break until you feel calmer. Make sure to start your discussion my stating an intention for your talk. You want to create a strong, resilient relationship, not stand in judgment, or assign blame.

Be honest

Share what you make, what you spend, and any debt you may have incurred. As I said earlier, many people carry shame about money. If you shine light on your finances, it is easier to banish those old feelings.

There are two roles in any form of communication, giving and receiving. If you want your partner to share openly, you need to make sure you receive graciously. Don’t assume the role of judge and jury, instead listen, and try to understand their actions and point of view.

It is important to provide a safe environment if you want transparency and honesty.

Create shared financial goals

If you work towards the same end goal, it is easier to accept variation on how you get there. Don’t assume the way you feel about money is the way your spouse feels.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I set goals to pay off our mortgage and avoid interest charges. These intentions formed the foundation of our financial decisions for many years.

I love to have something to show for my money and my spouse likes to use his to socialize and enjoy himself. It took us some time to learn to accept rather than judge each other’s spending choices, but having common goals bound our differences together.

Don’t close your eyes to your finances

Regardless of who pays the bills and who earns the money, you should know where your money is going. This awareness puts you in a position of financial power. Ignorance may be bliss, but it won’t give you a strong foundation for your marriage, or for a life after marriage.

Follow the golden rule of relationships

Treat your partner the way you would like to be treated. Imagine how you would like your spouse to react if your roles were reversed. Listen, discuss, and move on. Sometimes it is important to agree to disagree and then let the issue go.

Have an annual financial review

It is easier to make a commitment that is for now, rather than making a decision that is forever. What suits you today may not fit you are in five years time. Revisit your financial plan every year and tweak it so it fits your current circumstances not the position you were in three years ago.

Have a financial review every time there is a major change in your life. Having children, changing jobs, and moving to a new house are only a few of the changes that can outdate your money plan.

If you need help figuring out a system that works well for you, seek out a financial expert that you trust. Perhaps there is a better way for you to approach your money, or a more harmonious way to discuss it.

Think of your finances and your relationship as opportunities to work together as a team, to practice your communication skills, and to learn more about yourself and each other. If you can do that, you can do anything.



More The Happiness Connection articles

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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