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Happiness, Misery, and Relationships

College is more than just education, books, and studying into the early morning. College is also a time to experience new relationships. Whether the relationship is flowing smoothly or trekking along a rocky road, here is some helpful advice for all those current and potential couples roaming Millersville’s campus.

On September 22nd, 2009, the Last Lecture Series sponsored by United Campus Ministry and Christians Open Minded presented Dr. David Hill, a professor of psychology and a licensed psychologist. In the packed Stayer Hall multi-purpose room, Hill discussed his lecture titled, “Happiness, Misery, and Relationships” to his audience.

“My father used to say to me and my siblings, ‘You’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet,’” Hill said. It is a quote actually taken from a song by Billy Eckstine dating back to his father’s adolescent and early adult years. “My father said to my mother, luckily I was sitting there, ‘You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Lucille,’” Hill said. He thought back to his years back home, when his late father used to fill the household with memories that would last a lifetime. It is one of the contributions that have played a significant role in the aspects of his life. That night, his message to everyone is everything contributes to your life; your happiness and misery. The key finding prevalent in the research of what contributes to happiness and unhappiness is relationships. In regards to significant people, one’s happiness and misery is influenced by relationships with parents, siblings, friends, mentors, God, or some higher power.

Relationships can extend to one’s hobbies or interests through a concept known as “flow.” This is when happiness can be felt through a sense of timelessness, such as horseback riding, where the enjoyment and happiness makes time flow by quickly. “Flow” can even be experienced through intellectual means: a professor teaching his class or a student giving an oral report. “Flow” causes the person to become “focused on the activity or challenge at that moment, similar to a meditative state,” Hill said.

Similar to “flow” is mindfulness, another concept conducted on subjects who were suffering from borderline personality disorder, dialectical behavior therapy, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse. The objective was to controlling their emotions and avoiding suicide, decreasing when it became too high or increasing when it became too low. Another similar method is through “runner’s high,” a chemical reaction with endorphins.

Dr. Janet Kiecolt-Glaser, along with other researchers like John Gottman, studied that transactions within the context of relationships derive in part from brain structures and brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, exerting a powerful effect on immune systems. They can implant on the vegas nerve an electronic pulse in the subject’s brain, deeper if desired, that can stimulate certain areas and help elicit a certain response.

One of the reasons for bad relationships lies in the immune system’s functioning in the context of relationships. The immune system is more vulnerable to diseases when couples criticize each other rather than sticking to the facts of an argument. The question then becomes whether or not one should actually marry. About 95 percent do marry at least once; it would increase if gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender marriages were legal.

Sue Johnson, ED.D, focused on the question and built upon the attachment theory. According to Sue Johnson, “Love is an attachment bond.” From love brings about great suffering and pain, yet happiness and pleasure. Other researchers, such as Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver have also conducted research along these lines.

John Gottman, his wife, and their colleagues at the University of Washington have studied marriages of long duration rather than marriages near the end to discover what composes marital longevity. From their research, they have identified four myths: the first myth is that avoiding conflict will ruin the marriage. As the adage goes, “Never go to bed angry.” The second myth is that affairs are the main cause of divorce. Dr. Hill says, “An affair marks a severe danger in marriage.” The third myth is that men are not biologically made for marriage, despite the fact married men live longer than married women. The fourth and last myth is that men and women are from different planets, based on John Grey’s book, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”

Furthermore, Gottman and his colleagues have provided a “recipe for relationships.” The first ingredient is to establish “love maps.” According to Dr. Hill, “love maps” are, in essence, getting to know your partner very well. Simply put, one has to be attune, or emotionally dialed in, listening and remembering every aspect of their partner. The second ingredient is nurturing fondness and admiration. Both partners should be fond of the other’s traits, abilities, and accomplishments, admiring them as good things. The third ingredient is a saying that goes, “When the going gets tough, they turn toward each other instead of away from each other.” Instead of the man turning to bars, drugs, or violence and the woman turning to her girlfriends, they turn to each other. This process is called triangulation, a method used in mathematics as well. The fourth ingredient is letting your partner influence you. Do what your partner tells you to do. The fifth ingredient is solving the solvable conflicts. Out of all the conflicts a relationship endures, one-third (33 percent) is solvable while two-thirds (67 percent) are unresolvable, also known as perpetual. It is commonly seen in strong well-functioning relationships. The sixth and last ingredient is finding ways to talk about sex that is comfortable to both partners.

Finally, Dr. Hill concluded his lecture with the results Gottman and his colleagues have identified as the “Four Horsemen of the Marital Apocalypse,” or what makes relationships miserable, ultimately ending them. The first horseman is criticism, attacking the spouse personally about their work and the like. The second horseman is contempt, becoming aloof from the spouse and demanding superiority. The third horseman is defensiveness, which prevents the spouse from having a word in matters or allowing them a voice of opinion. The fourth and last horseman is stonewalling, as the name states, building an invisible, and metaphorical stone wall between each other that keeps situations unsettled.