Being the best partner — 07 April 2013
Can you make your spouse happy?

It is common for people to believe and state that their spouses make them happy. Can anyone actually make another person happy, and if so, how can you do it?

In the late 1990’s Psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania introduced the study of happiness, in part, to balance the previous research’s preoccupation with human pathologies. Since then, thousands of books about happiness have been published and sold. Concomitantly, Neuroscience studies documented the brain’s reactions to various moods, including pleasure and happiness and Universities began offering classes and even degrees in positive psychology.

The major debate is still raging about how much of one’s happiness is innate and how much is within the individual’s control.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and the author of “The How of Happiness: A scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want” found that people have a genetic “happiness set point” that determines 50% of one’s happiness, life circumstances affect another 10%, leaving 40% that is amenable to the individual’s efforts.

The physician/Sociologist Nicholas Christakis and the political scientist James H. Fowler studied the social influence of others on one’s happiness. They found that “A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon.” They conclude, “It thus seems to be the case, online as well as offline, that when you smile, the world smiles with you.”

Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” amplifies, “Happy people make people happy — but you can’t make someone happy.”

Since happiness is an internal, physical and emotional experience, it may be facilitated by others’ positive attitudes but cannot be created by another. Yet, the intertwining of emotions between mates enables mutual sharing and blended approaches to life and may brace their security through partnership, foster a reduction in loneliness, fears and isolation and thus afford greater comfort and happiness.

A survey conducted by the University of Warwick of 9,704 married individuals showed that there is a positive and significant effect of a spouse’s life satisfaction on the individual’s own life satisfaction.

Mates can also offer a balancing perspective to each other when either despairs or gets discouraged. When sadness or grief envelops a partner, the spouse’s supportive presence and emotional contagion may reduce the depth of mourning and isolation.

During times of celebration, adventure and life’s joyous moments, the sharing produces for each partner Oxytocin, the attachment hormone that bonds the pair as it elevates their moods in unison. The co-experienced pleasure surely increases each of their individual level of happiness.

To help your mate feel happier:

  •  Accept that you cannot “make” you partner happier by wishing, cajoling, criticizing or withdrawing.
  •  Understand that you are your mate’s “other half” who can model a positive outlook, ease his/her worries and validate your mate’s precious essence for his/her greater happiness.




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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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