Aren Cohen, MBA, MAPP '07 is a learning specialist working with academically, motivationally and emotionally challenged students in the leading private schools in New York City. As shown in her website and blog, Strengths for Students, Aren uses the tenets of positive psychology to teach her students to use their strengths of character to change educational challenges into educational triumphs. Full bio. Aren's articles are here.
On February 12, 2008, I wrote an article for PPND called What is Love Anyway? In that article I questioned why we seek a scientific explanation for love, or if we should allow ourselves to enjoy the magic of this incredible positive emotion.The same night that article was published, I went on my first date with my now husband, André. In eleven months, I fell in love and got married. (See the picture… yes, it’s really us. It’s been a whirlwind year!) These new situations have brought many changes to my life, so since this month’s theme on PPND is change, I thought I would reflect on my marriage as it is the biggest and most wonderful change I have experienced.
When I was a student of positive psychology in 2006-2007, I was a single gal. Often I was frustrated when our professors cited the research about the benefits of marriage. There are many, but here I will name only a few. First, according to Lyubomirsky, King and Diener (2005) happy individuals tend to experience success in marriage. Also, married adults, particularly those in stable marriages, tend to be healthier and live longer than their single counterparts. Seligman (2002) explains that marriage allows us three kinds of love, a love where we are cared for, a love where we care for someone else, and romantic love, where we have an opportunity to idealize our partner.
I didn’t need any more convincing. Despite my parents’ divorce, their happy remarriages were prime examples showing me the benefits of marriage. But as a single girl sitting in a classroom of happy positive psychologists I was forced to ask myself…how to do I get myself married so I can have all of these emotional and physical benefits?
Of course, I wasn’t quite as calculated as all that, but I was a seasoned 34-year-old New Yorker who had watched too many episodes of Sex and the City and read books like Janis Spindel’s Get Serious About Getting Married, I was starting to wonder if I was approaching spinsterhood. There had been many, many dates over the years, and still it wasn’t happening. According to the Seligman and Peterson’s VIA Test, my number one strength was Love. Yet I was alone. Something wasn’t adding up. So, I put my knowledge of positive psychology into practice and amazingly, André appeared in my life at exactly the right moment.
How did I change my life to make it “exactly the right moment?” Good question!
First of all, thanks to what I had learned from the MAPP program, I was becoming a happier person, more attuned to my own spirituality and to reasons to celebrate gratitude. I kept my gratitude journal and I started using the practices suggested by Laura King, such as writing about my goals for the future and visualizing what I wanted. I wrote my laundry list of everything I wanted my partner to be in my gratitude journal. I did it more than once. I wrote my list starting with phrases ranging from “I will find a man who is,” to “My guy will be…” thinking that maybe different linguistic expressions would be more friendly to my personal outlook and search. Also, I stopped watching Sex in the City. I didn’t want to be single, so why watch examples of being single? Instead, I started reading love stories like Pride and Prejudice and Eat, Pray, Love to fill my head with the possibilities of romance.
I used visualization techniques including meditation and collaging. My collage had words and images outlining how I wanted my life to be. Finally, I chose my favorite love song, James Taylor version of How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You and every night before bed for three months before I met André, I listened to it religiously, as if to serenade love into my life. (Interestingly, although André also has a soft spot for the song, he is a musician, and prefers the Junior Walker & the All Stars original version with the cool horn section.) The words “How Sweet It Is” were also on my collage, right above the words “Bridal Suite.”
I suppose the icing on my cake was the “What is Love Anyway?” article I wrote the night before I met him. I sent it to him after our date, so besides our initial emails, it was the first example of my writing that he had seen. I think it won him over.
So, those were the changes I made to get romantic love into my life. Now that it is just shy of a year and we have been married for almost five months, what is the biggest change in my life now? Well, a few things. I compromise more. I get and give a lot more hugs. I smile more. I speak and hear the words “I love you” much more often. I have a new nickname. Most importantly, I have someone I can trust, whom I love, and who loves me.
Oh yes, and one more thing…I cook more! Nothing brings out positive emotions like preparing a home-cooked meal made with love. (It sure beats Chinese take-out and cooking for one can be so dull with no positive feedback other than your own.) Part of the positive psychology we practice as often as we can is dinner at home. In the tradition of positive psychology, we always say some version of grace, to remember we have so much to be grateful for, particularly each other.
The author would like to thank the lovely and talented Jennifer Weisbord for permission to use her artful copyrighted photograph in this article.
Austen, J. (1813/1981). Pride and Prejudice Toronto: Bantam Books.
Burton, C.M., & King, L. A. (2004). The health benefits of writing about peak experiences. Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 150-163.
Gilbert, E. (2006). Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia New York: Viking.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L.A., and Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.
Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Spindel, J. (2005). Get Serious About Getting Married: 365 Proven Ways to Find Love in Less Than a Year. New York: William Morrow.
Vaillant, G. (2003). Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. New York: Little Brown.