The Happiness Effect

The Happiness Effect

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

—Proverbs 17:22

Did you know that happiness is contagious? According to a twenty-year study, a person’s sense of joy and bright outlook on life can often be determined by how cheerful their friends and especially their spouse are. Actually, this isn’t too surprising. The Bible says a great deal about our attitudes, including this insight: “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones” (Proverbs 15:30). Laughter just may be the best medicine for a warm, intimate, loving marriage. Studies also show that joy and laughter boost your immunity, improve your mood, ease aches, and relieve stress. Humor relieves negative thoughts associated with physical and emotional health problems.

Our good friend Ned Brines quoted his father as saying, “Choose your spouse wisely. This decision will determine 90 percent of your happiness and 100 percent of your unhappiness!” We aren’t sure this is universally true, but Ned’s parents had a good marriage and the observation makes sense.

There was a season in our life when we realized we had pretty much stopped having fun together. Raising our children, paying the bills, juggling an overcrowded schedule, and other responsibilities had crowded out joy. One small reminder not to take life so seriously was to put a magnet on our refrigerator. It simply read: “Are we having fun yet?”

Are you a negative Nancy or a grumpy Greg? If you are, at times your spouse or your kids undoubtedly run from you. We are drained by negativity and by what the Bible calls a “constant dripping,” but we are naturally drawn toward laughter, joy, and fun.

Here are two lessons to work on for this “happiness effect”: First, lasting joy is not a matter of what’s happening around you, but inside you. True happiness is tied to internal qualities and character strengths, not external events. This means we must work on our character and the issues of our heart before we work on the externals. Second, you can choose to be a person of joy, and it will have a very positive effect on your spouse. There is an old country song that basically says, “Don’t chew me out all day, whine and gripe about me from morning till supper, and then expect me to love you at night.” Sure, it’s a bit harsh, but the point is clear.

Happiness in marriage is a choice, and we have found that if you take care of the special moments, the years will take care of themselves. Here are three building blocks to happiness: (1) Take time to bring pleasure, joy, and good times to you and your spouse. Are you proactive in bringing cheerful energy to your relationship? (2) Engage your life in service and worship. Do you take time to regularly worship God and bring happiness to others through service? (3) Live a purpose-driven life. People whose lives are packed with meaning are almost always happier. Would you say you have a meaningful and purposeful life?

This excerpt is from Closer: 52 Devotions to Draw Couples Together.

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Jim and Cathy Burns

Jim Burns is President of HomeWord. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has over 1.5 million resources in print in over 25 languages. Some of his recent books include: Finding Joy in the Empty Nest; Doing Life with Your Adult Children, and Have Serious Fun. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California. Cathy Burns is the co-author of Closer: 52 Devotions to Draw Couples Together. Along with being a mom, wife and Bible study leader, she recently retired from her job as a teacher in a school for “kids who learn differently” in order to help care for her three grandchildren. Cathy and Jim met the first day in college and married one week after she graduated.

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