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By:
Kathryn Drury Wagner

Two New Books for Finding Real Joy in Relationships

Two new books in the field of positive psychology show us how to find real-life joy in our relationships.

Here's some bad news: love is fleeting. It’s not even unconditional, despite what you’ve been taught.

And that giddy, passionate marriage you’re in? It’ll probably feel stale within two years.

While this all sounds like cause for depression, it’s actually an exciting starting point, according to new books from two leaders in the field of positive psychology. Positive psychology is a relatively new branch within science; rather than studying dysfunction and treating illness, researchers in this area focus on investigating and promoting mental health. They look at why and how humans flourish, asking, “What’s working?” instead of “What’s troubling you?” We all know that positive emotions—such as joy, compassion, connection, resilience, and optimism—are vital to our well-being; this field of psychology studies the actual roots and roles of these emotions.

Take love, which is transformative, but not in the ways we usually think, says Barbara L. Fredrickson in her new book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become (Hudson Street Press). Fredrickson is the director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a professor of psychology. She takes the reader on a tour of “love’s unseen biological transformations—within your brain rhythms, your bloodstream, your vagus nerve, and your cells.” Armed with her insights into the literal connections between brain and heart, we learn ways to be happier not only in our most intimate relationships but even in our daily interactions with others. Fredrickson shares ways we can train for love, with both classic loving-kindness meditations and smaller, micro-moment practices. When we redefine love as fleeting moments of positive resonance, she argues, rather than a grand and forever state between two soul mates, we realize that love is actually even bigger and more important than we originally thought.

Another positive emotion, joy, is easy to feel, reports Sonja Lyubomirsky. It’s sustaining joy that is more difficult. A professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, Lyubomirsky’s new book, The Myths of Happiness (The Penguin Press), is based on her research at the school’s Positive Psychology Laboratory. She looks at the behavioral and biochemical aspects of major life milestones, such as marriage and having children. Our society promises that these will certainly lead to happiness, she reports, but they don’t necessarily. Other turning points, such as divorce or illness, are viewed as only negative, but they don’t need to be experienced that way. She counsels us that we are more adaptable than we think we are, and she shares tips for renewing feelings of satisfaction and happiness, no matter what circumstances we are in.

According to both books, a growing body of scientific research shows that much of human happiness is derived not from external factors, such as how much money we make or who we’re sleeping with, but from internal ones. It turns out we can make and remake happiness, if only we know how.

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