‘Happier’ With Dave Flynn

‘Happier’

Love, Relationships & Feeling Happier?

Hi Dear Happier Community,

Hope you’ve had a wonderful week. Firstly, I want you to know that I write this column for you as much as I do it for myself. It selfishly gives me a dedicated space and time to reflect on what makes me happier – and will hopefully be helpful to you too!

Whatever your choice: It all starts with the relationship you cultivate with yourself 

As humans, we are social creatures, pack animals of sorts. We learn a lot about ourselves in relation to others. Others provide mirrors, sometimes revealing parts of ourselves that we don’t necessarily want to embrace.

Even though the way we date and have relationships is changing, one thing stays the same: everything about relationships comes back to how you feel about yourself. If you like who you are and feel good about yourself, it’s easier for someone else to feel the same way about you. The way we get along with others often shows how we get along with ourselves.

This can make relationships tricky, though. We all have lots of layers, like an onion, that we put up to protect our deepest feelings. It’s tough for someone to break through those layers, and when they do, they find the most sensitive parts of us. That’s why getting close to someone can feel so risky, but also so important and rewarding. This vulnerability is what makes forming deep connections both daunting and incredibly rewarding.

My personal relationships – A glimpse behind the scenes 

Today, I am married for the second time. When I first got married, I was a hopeful 30 year old, embarking on a marriage that society would later label as a ‘failure’ because it only lasted for 4 years. Yet, this chapter of my life was far from a failure; it graced me with two extraordinary daughters and an incredible co-parenting partnership that has blossomed into a cherished friendship with my ex-wife. I’ve come to understand that a successful marriage isn’t just about its duration, but rather the depth and enduring quality of the connection it fosters.

I was single for a few years after, enjoying the freedom this time brought. I remember being adamant that I would remain single forever! My wounds healed and after a few years I met Sabrina. Even meeting her I had no intention of getting married again but life had other plans! 6 years later we got married and we have been happily married for 2 years now and have a 7-months old baby, which brings incredible blessings and equally as many challenges, too! 

Next to my romantic relationships, I am an identical mirror twin. Steve and I are genetically identical, two halves of one egg (I know this sounds weird!!). As a result, I was born with a brother who sees, knows and supports me unconditionally and always has done so. This twinship is a blessing, but it also complicates my romantic relationships, as I often lean on Steve for the support others might seek from a romantic partner. Balancing these bonds is a delicate task, learning to ensure that my partner feels valued and primary, without diminishing the deep connection I share with my twin brother.

Relationships are typically not easy!

To begin with, relationships, in all their many different shapes and forms, can be tough.  At times, the ones closest to you can bring up and trigger deep-seated emotions and push our emotional buttons. Relationships can be messy and beautifully imperfect! So let me clarify that I’m highlighting the joys and benefits found specifically within the nurturing confines of a healthy, strong relationship that I personally experience.

Are married people or those in a committed relationship typically happier than those who are not? 

Marriage has long been woven into the fabric of society as a milestone of adulthood. Our fairy tales end with a “happy ever after – wedding”, our movies climax at the altar, and our Government policies favour the married with lower taxes to be paid when united rather than alone. 

Does following these traditions and expectations really make us happier?

We interviewed Harvard professor Arthur Brooks on our podcast a few months back. He is an expert on happiness, having co-authored his most recent book with none other than Oprah Winfrey! He told us that the most common query he gets from his students is about relationships, marriage, love, and happiness. He said that intimate relationships are one of the biggest levers each of us has when it comes to feeling happier. This was the catalyst for what I am now writing!

I think some of the reasons likely link back to us being social animals and that within a healthy intimate relationship it is a safe place to be seen and heard and feel at home in. 

Interestingly enough, Professor Brooks advises his Harvard students to limit second and third dates, suggesting that you can often tell after the first date if a relationship has staying power. He underscores the importance of establishing a committed relationship sooner rather than later, as it really can significantly enhance your happiness. 

I am curious what you have experienced yourself?

Important note: There is no such thing as perfect!

I personally think that no marriage or relationship is perfect, each has its own challenges, as a friend says, no-one gets the full deck of cards; and perfection is a myth. Every partnership involves compromise and a ‘cost of entry’ as Dan Savage (who was a guest on our podcast as well) puts it: 

“Those imperfections that you are willing to accept as the price of being in the relationship. It’s about discovering a relationship where you feel truly seen, where comfort envelops you like a familiar blanket, and where being yourself is as easy as breathing in and out. You don’t need to put on a show or perform; you’re simply at home. Safety and authenticity are the cornerstones, and it is in this space that you can settle not out of resignation, but out of the recognition that here, in this imperfect, beautiful arrangement, you have found a safe place to thrive.”

Why do so many adults seek marriage? Is it just following social expectations? 

Marriage, which its origins began as something akin to a business deal, has evolved significantly, particularly over the last few decades with same sex marriage being publicly accepted and much more flexible type of marriages. 

This column is called Happier as I am curious about how we all feel happier. During the podcast with Arthur Brooks I was really curious to find that married individuals often report higher levels of well-being than their single or divorced counterparts. Of course, the true measure of this degree of happiness hinges on the quality of the relationship. Healthy, loving marriages are associated with better physical and mental health, while strained relationships can be detrimental. According to him, the health benefits of marriage, including lower disease rates and increased longevity, are notable, yet these perks seem to also extend to cohabiting couples, especially in societies where living together is commonplace.

A closer look at traditional marriage: Is marriage better for men or women? 

Marriage comes with a mixed bag of benefits and challenges for both men and women. Married men often end up healthier and might even live longer, probably because their wives give them a gentle push to eat their veggies and schedule that doctor’s appointment. For women, it’s a bit of a seesaw — they can enjoy better mental health if the marriage is a happy one; if not, it’s the opposite.

On the emotional side, women usually have friends and family to talk to, while men might depend more on their wives for a heart-to-heart. Money-wise, being married can mean more cash in the bank for both parties. 

In essence, marriage has its benefits, but they’re handed out in different doses to men and women, influenced by evolving gender roles and personal dynamics.

Life as a Single – Perhaps a more fulfilling choice?

I know this column is very biased toward marriage and committed relationships, however, I want to acknowledge that being on your own can be just as fulfilling. In my own journey, I’ve learned that whether I’m flying solo or navigating life within a relationship, me feeling happier, depends on my relationship with myself first and foremost. I’ve cherished my single days as much as I’ve valued the companionship and growth that come from sharing my life with someone. 

Many more people today have no interest in being married or in a serious relationship, they like living life on their terms, with lots of space to do what they want and when they want to do it. And sometimes, it just turns out that someone is single because of how life evolves, and they’re happy that way, too. 

For example, a single friend of mine has a dog and a really special relationship with him which is just as  deeply fulfilling as if my friend was married to another human 

As I personally believe, there’s no one right way to live your life, and being single is just as valid and joyful of a choice as any other.

A Personal Note

Ultimately, our happiness is not defined by our relationship status, but by how we live our lives and the love we give, not just to a partner but to ourselves and those around us, in friendships, family and our community. Whether single, dating, or married, we write our own stories, and each one can be as rich and fulfilling as the next.

I’d love to hear your stories. How have you found fulfillment in your relationship status? What lessons have your experiences taught you? Share your insights below, and let’s inspire one another. After all, we’re all in this together—singles, couples, and everyone in between—and each of our stories adds a unique thread to the tapestry of human connection. Let’s learn from each other and embrace the journey, wherever it may lead.

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