We live in a world that is saturated with images of happiness. I can be driving along contentedly when I see a billboard that instantly convinces me that I would be happier if I stopped and bought fries and a cola. But wait! I don’t even like soda! Other commercials convince me that happiness comes with a new car. Without my paying attention, that message takes root in my brain. Ideas of what happiness looks like are imposed on me from the outside all the time. But, I can also choose to take the lead. I can promote feelings of contentment with what I already have.
I heard of a man who loved and missed his wife deeply after she died. One way he nourished that love was to take her framed picture with him wherever he traveled, unpack it first and put it up in plain view. Another couple I know say their wedding vows on the first day of every month, to strengthen their commitment. Sometimes they are not feeling especially happy when they start, but we can lead our feelings with greater intention than comes from glancing at a billboard.
My own dear husband has a new motto. He says “You are my highest priority.” Sometimes it is completely heartfelt, and other times I wonder if he is reminding himself. I, too, have been known to forget. Often in our marriage support groups we start by inviting couples to tell the story of how they fell in love. It is delightful to see the change in them as they speak, taking out memories and dusting them off.
I have never played football. But I have watched movies of people who do. I have seen teams that were discouraged slump in at halftime and hear a pep talk that rejuvenates their resolve and sends them tearing back onto the field. They have learned ways to shift from hopelessness to cheering with abandon.
Recently, there were people who went to great lengths to get tickets to the World Series games in Philadelphia. In a depressed economy they were still highly motivated to spend a month’s mortgage to be at a game in the pouring rain that they could have watched from their cozy living rooms. Imagine if we put a similar amount of effort and commitment into creating happiness in our marriages!
We can choose good things for our marriages. We can look at pictures of our ideals instead of advertising for fast food and cars. We can recite the words that once came so easily, and so invite those feelings to return. We can tell our own stories and hear them anew. We can find a coach or mentor who can cheer us on at halftime. We can choose to attend a conference that surrounds us with a community of love for marriage. And maybe we will find ourselves in the midst of a jubilant parade, celebrating the victory of marriage.