Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

Happy 2015 Valentine’s Day

January 29, 2015

Turtles in love

Hello Friends,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Yes, once again it is that day of the year when we honour our partners and try and experience them as the lovers we fell in love with.

I know there is too much pressure put on this day. It seems as though the authentic romance we want to feel gets lost in the materialistic Hallmark day it has become. Have no fear…put the meaning back in by keeping things simple. Somehow simplicity can help to make it more memorable.

Here are some ideas for those of you who need inspiration:

  • Give your partner a love poem (you don’t even have to write it!)
  • Make a nice dinner at home and eat by candlelight on the floor
  • Just spend the evening in candlelight!
  • Go for a walk in the day and stop somewhere new for a coffee and surprise your lover with special chocolates with the coffee
  • Stay in bed together longer than usual in the morning!
  • FLIRT with your lover all day!
  • Give your lover a massage

Whatever you do, be loving, kind and have some fun because otherwise what’s the point?

Dare ya – You can use our ideas but we dare you to come up with your own unique idea for that special someone!  Spread the love around!

Love on V Day,


December 9, 2014

Receiving from our partners is a complicated business. Puzzling as the thought might be, it is difficult for many of us to receive even though we’re convinced we want it. What am I referring to when I say receive? It could be anything…. a spontaneous compliment, a gift, a surprise, a gesture, affection, anything! Receiving from a partner the things we want most from them is very tricky indeed.

It all starts with wanting to have our needs met. We want our partners to meet our needs. Yet this can lead to lots of trouble because we often have a hard time receiving what they are giving. I know this sounds crazy but we often reject the very things we say we want and that our partner may be trying to give us in order to meet our needs.

Why does this happen? Let me explain. For many of us, when our partner tries to meet our needs, their giving never feels quite right. It is as if WHAT we actually WANT, THEY never can get quite right! We then respond with disappointment and a cycle begins of us feeling let down, becoming critical and feeling annoyed. The next step in this out-of- sync dance is that we get mad at our partners for our unhappiness and that creates distance. This may be an over simplification but hopefully you get the picture and can relate to this.

This dynamic can become a perpetual theme in the life of a relationship and believe me, it is one of the best ways to build up resentment.

Imago founders Harville Hendrix and Helen La Kelly Hunt write about this phenomenon in their book, Receiving Love: Transform Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved. They suggest that the reason we cannot receive love in our adult intimate relationships is rooted in our childhood experience. They describe how we learn to dislike the parts of ourselves that our caretakers ignored or rejected in us. So, for example, if my family didn’t think I was very lovable, or even worse, told me I was unworthy, as a result of this childhood pain, I build up inner defenses . I learn to pretend that being seen as lovable isn’t very important. I disown that part of me.

This same sequence would apply to any personality trait or behaviour that children need to have validated in order to grow–it could be being sporty or social, attractive, smart, graceful, determined, hardworking, spiritual, artistic – you name it.

But, even though we are adults, a part of us still craves these needs to be met (and who better than by our partner! ). But because of our defences we are unable to receive what they give us and we often go one step further and blame our partner for not doing it right.

Here is an example to illustrate this complex dynamic.

Let’s say you want your partner to sometimes surprise you and demonstrate that they think about how special you are. First off, we often express this wish in a negative way, believing that being a being prickly porcupine will get us what we want (and where’s the logic in that!).

But we often believe we have a right to complain because our needs aren’t being met. So you complain to your Partner about how they don’t do this. Does this sound familiar at all – “How come you never surprise me with anything?” “don’t you care about me?” “aren’t I special to you ?” etc.)

Well, one day your partner shows up with a surprise bouquet of roses for you and gives them to you saying something like, “I saw these and thought of you because you’re so special to me”.

But our mind does weird things. We focus on the negative. You might become aware of noticing you are only half enthused because you hoped for something other than flowers, or you think your partner only did it because you complained in the first place. Or maybe you think your Partner spent too much money on the roses. Or you are disappointed because what you were really hoping for was a surprise dinner out not another night of cooking with roses on the counter!

So what is going on here? Why aren’t you receiving the surprise gift from your partner?

It could be….

As a child you did not feel special so now you want to feel that you are special and that you matter. Yet, when your partner does show you that you are special (by buying the flowers), you aren’t able to accept it due to your own defenses. It is very difficult to feel special in the here-and-now when there have been painful childhood experiences. You would rather reject your partner’s giving than have to feel the long- ago pain. For most of us, over the years we have built up defenses to protect ourselves from this pain so it becomes unconsciously automatic to reject instead of receive. Instead of being able to receive what they have to give us, we end up feeling continually annoyed and/let down by them.

A big part of being in an intentional relationship is to let go of our built up defenses and learn to receive what our partner has to give us – even if it isn’t exactly what we want. What we really want may not even exist anymore. We have to learn to recognize the childhood need that never got fulfilled and begin to stretch into a more conscious place.

Dare ya

Start by consciously examining if you have ANY trouble receiving what your partner has to give you. If so, read on…

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and accept that whatever they have to give is for you. Without judgment, be grateful for it. Be gracious and let it in.

Begin with the smallest things- a hug, a cup of coffee, a phone call, a smile . Work up to the big ones!

That’s it for now.


Why Love Is a Neurochemical Roller Coaster

May 7, 2012

This article has been re-posted from and was written by Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D. in the “Your Neurochemical Self: Getting real with a 200-million year old brain” section.

Love triggers dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. That’s why it’s so motivating. But happy chemicals come in spurts. They do their job by turning off after they turn on. When your happy chemicals dip, you might interpret it as a loss of love. That turns a natural fluctuation into a crisis. You are better off knowing why love makes happy chemicals go up and down.

Love triggers dopamine

Dopamine is the great feeling you get when you find your missing keys. It’s the neurochemical that evolved for seeking and finding. Animals sniff around for food and mating opportunities, and when they find something that meets their needs, dopamine surges. But the surge is short. Dopamine does its job by dropping after it rises, so it’s ready to alert you to the next chance to meet your needs.

When you find your keys, you don’t expect that great dopamine feeling to last. But when you find “the one,” you make so much dopamine that you assume you will soar forever. When the dopamine finally subsides, you wonder what’s wrong. You might even blame “the one” for having changed.

I am not saying we should keep seeking new mates to stimulate dopamine. I’m saying we did not evolve to be on a dopamine high all the time.

Love triggers oxytocin

Oxytocin is the neurochemical that causes trust. It’s released during orgasm, and in smaller amounts when you hold hands and when animals lick their babies. Oxytocin is the good feeling of a common cause, from a political rally to a football huddle to honor among thieves.

Reptiles release oxytocin during sex, but mammals produce it all the time. That’s why reptiles stay away from other reptiles except when mating, while mammals form attachments to relatives and herds. The more oxytocin you release with a person, the more attached you feel. More touch, more oxytocin, more trust. But trust gets complicated in the human brain. You trust a person to live up to your expectations, and don’t realize how complex your expectations are. Eventually, your loved one fails to meet your expectations, and you fail to meet theirs.

To your mammal brain, any loss of trust is a life-threatening emergency. When a sheep is separated from its flock, its oxytocin dips and its cortisol surges. Cortisol is the feeling we experience as fear, panic, or anxiety. It works for sheep, motivating them to re-connect with the flock before they’re eaten alive. In humans, cortisol turns disappointed expectations into emergencies.

Love triggers serotonin.

Getting respect feels good because it stimulates serotonin. In the animal world, social dominance brings more mating opportunity and more surviving offspring. Animals don’t dominate because of conscious long-term goals. They dominate because serotonin feels good.

Your love is pure and untainted by social status, of course. But in other people, you can easily see that status magnifies the neurochemical power of love. In yourself, you have to admit that the romantic attentions of a higher-status person trigger strong feelings. And if you fall for someone who just happens to raise your status, you can’t deny that it feels good.

But your brain always wants more respect to get more serotonin. Your loved one may give you that feeling at first, by respecting you or helping you feel respected by others. But your brain takes the respect you already have for granted. It wants more respect to get more good feelings. That’s why some people constantly make more demands on their loved ones, and others constantly seek out higher status partners. We’d be better off if we understood the origins of our neurochemical impulses.

Mammalian signals

Animals are surprisingly picky about who they mate with. Free love is not the way of nature. Sex has a preliminary qualifying event in every species. Animals only have sex when the female is actively fertile (except bonobos). Female chimpanzees only have sex every five years. The rest of the time they’re pregnant or nursing, and without ovulation the males aren’t interested. When opportunity knocks, it’s a big deal. Brains good at navigating such hurdles got passed on, and natural selection produced a brain bent on doing whatever it takes to reproduce itself.

Happy chemicals evolved because they get us to do things that promote reproduction. That doesn’t make sense in our world of birth control and sustainability pressures. But in the state of nature, lots of babies died, and you had to really focus on making babies to have a few that survived. You may not care about making babies, but your brain is inherited from those who did. Natural selection created a brain that rewards reproductive behavior with happy chemicals.

Love promotes reproduction, so it triggers a lot of happy chemicals. Sex is just one aspect of reproductive behavior. It’s important—love motivates you to move mountains in order to be alone with that special someone. But the survivability of your offspring is what mattered to evolution. And that depends on building bonds of attachment, and competing for top quality mates. Of course, your love is above such biological banalities. But happy chemicals feel so good that your brain looks for ways to get more. Neurochemicals do their job without words, and we look for words to explain the crazy motivations they create in us.

Happy chemicals give us information that’s hard to interpret. For example, if I watch a football game and burst with excitement when my team scores, I see thousands of others share my reaction. It feels like they understand me. Why doesn’t my partner understand me when thousands of others do? The answer is simple. Spectator sports trigger oxytocin, as do politics, religion, and other group activities. You get a good feeling of trust. Of course, trusting a large number of people in a limited way is not the same as trusting one person in a comprehensive way. But to your mammal brain, it’s all the same oxytocin.

We want all the happy chemicals we can get. You expect some from romance, and some from other aspects of life. But no matter where you get them, happy chemicals sag after they spurt. When you know why, you can manage your behavior despite the confusing neurochemical signals.

There’s good news here. Don’t blame yourself or your partner if you’re not high on a happy chemicals all the time. Maybe nothing is wrong. You are just living with the operating system that has kept mammals alive for millions of years.

A free copy of It’s Not Easy Being Mammal (beautifully illustrated pdf download) is available on my Psychology Today bio page, in the bottom right corner under “Research Papers.” Much more detail is in my new book, Meet Your Happy Chemicals.

Ten Steps to Happiness

September 13, 2011

Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix  were in new Zealand in February 2011 and the local paper  (New Zealand Herald)  interviewed them…

According to relationship expert Harville Hendrix a  few tips to ensure a lasting, happy relationship, are to: accept differences, not criticize and give and receive unconditionally.

The man whose been dubbed “Oprah’s Marriage Whisperer” says, “We all want a happy relationship. Few of us have one. I personally know of only a few couples who are genuinely happy, and their satisfaction with their relationship is a result of many years of hard work.”

“That is the magic word: work. That is what a happy relationship requires, but it is a very unpopular word.”

Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt have developed 10 simple steps for couples to help in the journey to a relationship of their dreams. The pair has spent the past 30 years helping thousands of couples learn how to recapture that magical connection and strengthen and sustain it for a lasting and loving relationship. In the process they co-created Imago Relationship Therapy, which is practiced by more than 2000 therapists in 30 countries.

Imago first came to public attention through the New York Times best seller, Getting the Love You Want, co-written by Hendrix and his wife LaKelly Hunt (a famous philanthropist in her own right).


Absolutely no criticism! All criticism, even “constructive criticism” not only fails to get us what we want but it’s a form of self-abuse since the traits we criticize in our partners are often projections of unpleasant truths about ourselves.

Instead of criticizing, explore why a particular trait in your partner bothers you so much. For example, perhaps him wanting “too much sex” is really about your own sexual inhibitions.

Accept that your partner is not you  We all understand – at least on the surface – that our partner is a separate human being. But deep down we often see and treat him/her as extensions of ourselves. Practice seeing and accepting your partner as someone with different perceptions, feelings, and experiences that are equally valid as your own.

Close all exits  Identify activities that you engage in that become an escape from the day-to-day intimacy of the partnership (any activity, thought, or feeling that decreases or avoids emotional or physical involvement with your partner). Exits can be functional (car-pooling, work, taking care of kids), motivated (watching TV, reading, sports, hobbies), and/or catastrophic (emotional or physical affairs, addictions). All exits, however, deplete the emotional reserves in a partnership.

Use “I” language Own your experience by saying how you feel rather than blaming your partner. For example, “I feel bad when …” rather than “You make me feel bad when …”

Give and receive unconditionally Offer gifts with no strings attached. The unconscious receives only unconditional gifts. It does not accept a “you rub my back and I’ll rub yours” attitude. Similarly, learn to accept gifts. Often we feel unworthy of receiving compliments from our partner and reject it. Instead of saying, “You don’t really mean that I’m beautiful/handsome/smart,” say “Thank you. It means a lot to me that you feel that way.”


Put play on your priority list Make a list of high-energy activities you would like to do for fun with your partner. Write down as many ideas as you can think of that you are currently doing, that you did in the early stages of your relationship and activities you would like to engage in. They should be activities that create deep laughter and/or that involve physical movement and deep breathing. Make a commitment to enjoy a playful activity at least once a week.

Amplify the positive resources in your relationship Flood your partner with compliments. On a regular basis, tell your partner what you love about him or her. Talk about his/her physical characteristics (“I love your eyes”), character traits (“You are really intelligent”), behaviours (“I love that you make coffee every morning for me”), global affirmations (“I am so happy I married you”).

Learn couple’s dialogue The most important and challenging step to becoming a conscious partner is changing the way you communicate. Imago Dialogue uses three basic techniques – mirroring, validating, and empathizing – to fortify the connection between partners. Check to make sure you understand what your partner is saying (mirroring), indicate that what your partner says makes sense, even if you don’t agree (validating) and recognize the partner’s feelings when s/he tells a story or expresses an opinion (empathizing).

Make dialogue a way of life Dialogue will not only improve the way you communicate with your partner, it will improve the relations with your children, and with everyone you come in contact with. Practice dialogue until it becomes a habit and a way of life.

See your relationship as a journey A committed partnership can become someone’s worst nightmare, but through intentionality and commitment, a marriage can also be a spiritual journey. If you married because you chose to marry, you are with the right person – especially if you feel incompatible. See your partner as the person who holds the blueprint for your journey to wholeness.