Communication. Date nights. Never going to bed angry.
All those things help. But they’re not enough.
To have a happy relationship, you’ve got to be happy, he’s got to be happy, and you’ve got to feel like you’re going somewhere as a couple.
How do you do that?
Twenty years ago, Dr. Martin Seligman launched the field of positive psychology. He wanted to know how normal, healthy people could be even happier and more fulfilled.
It wasn’t a question psychologists had been asking. Up until then, they saw themselves as the doctors of the mind, restoring troubled patients to mental health.
At first, Dr. Seligman was no different. Then he had a chance encounter with his 5-year-old daughter that changed him forever.
They were weeding in the garden. His daughter was laughing and playing and having a grand old time doing everything but pulling weeds. Dr. Seligman shouted at her to get to work.
She walked over and asked if she could have a talk with him. She told him that when she turned 5, she had made a vow not to whine about anything. It was the hardest thing she’d ever done. “And if I can stop whining,” she told him, “you can stop being such a grouch.”
In short, you can make a decision about how you want to show up in the world.
You can look at everything that’s wrong and try to fix it…
Or you can look at the life you want to have and go after it.
Let’s imagine that, instead of Dr. Seligman and his daughter, it’s you and your guy out there in the garden. You’re sweating like crazy getting those weeds pulled, and your guy is supposed to be helping you. But his progress is slow because he’s goofing around a lot while he works on the task.
How do you feel about that?
Do you think he’s a jerk? After all, he’s not working as hard or as fast as he could.
Or do you appreciate the light-hearted fun he’s bringing to the task?
A life where boring jobs come accompanied with a little entertainment sounds pretty good. Because that’ a life where happiness has found a way to co-exist with duty.
For most of us, it’s easy to see a relationship as a series of problems that must be solved. The weeds must get pulled. The dinner must get made. Conflicts must be resolved.
But it’s much more fun to see a relationship as a series of possibilities to explore. For example…
How can you enjoy yourselves even if you’re broke? How can you feel closer to each other? How can you make your relationship mean more than just a guy and a girl having a good time together?
In 2011, Dr. Seligman put together the pieces of a puzzle he’d been working on for a long time. He wanted to know what created a life worth living. A life full of meaning, satisfaction, joy and achievement.
He discovered that happiness wasn’t the be-all and end-all. Happiness was great, but it wasn’t enough.
People needed 5 factors in their lives to truly flourish.
He made up an acronym, PERMA, to make each factor easy to remember.
And if you incorporate these 5 factors in your relationship, you’ll be amazed at the difference.
P is for Positive Emotions
Feeling love, joy and gratitude for each other on a daily basis keeps your mood high.
E is for Engagement
Put aside your phone, eliminate distractions, and focus on each other when you’re together. Don’t try to multi-task. Stay present.
R is for Relationships
Make relationships a priority. That doesn’t just mean your relationship with each other. Stay connected to friends and family members. Socialize together and apart. Don’t let your relationship become an island.
M is for Meaning
Why do you think the two of you found each other when you did? Was there a sense of destiny? What can the two of you do together that you couldn’t do apart? Do you have a mission as a couple? Put your relationship into a larger context.
A is for Accomplishment
Every couple needs goals that go beyond buying a house or having their first child. Set goals that excite you. Is there a travel destination on your bucket list? Do you want to master gourmet cooking or ballroom dancing? Go after something together.
The more PERMA in your relationship, the more fulfilling it will feel. A relationship where you both flourish is within your reach.
 The Hope Circuit (New York: Hatchette Book Group, 2018) 4.