Home All How Sweet It Is….

How Sweet It Is….

written by Aren Cohen 12 January 2009

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.

Andre and Aren

Andre and Aren

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.

Aren’s Collage 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.

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Miriam Akhtar 12 January 2009 - 11:55 am

Amazing. I had just turned the radio up to hear James Taylor’s How Sweet It Is and then I opened the latest PPND post entitled How Sweet It Is. What is the positive psychology behind the coincidence involved?

Lovely, uplifting article for the start of the year.
Many thanks
MAPP ’09, UK

Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. 12 January 2009 - 10:48 pm


Thank you so much for this post. After many years of widowhood, with a few lackluster relationships along the way, I’ve decided that I’m ready to welcome a committed relationship again. I must admit that I thoroughly enjoy being single most of the time since I have wonderful children, grandchildren and friends and many fulfilling activities. But I’m beginning to long for the companionship that only marriage can bring.

I know the importance of making a list of what you’re looking for in a partner and making a collage. Interestingly, I’ve recently gotten determined to perfect my baking of rolls and didn’t know why until I read your post. You’ve motivated me to step up my efforts–meditation, a favorite love song, etc.

Thank you again.

Aren Cohen 12 January 2009 - 11:20 pm


Coincidence, positive psychology or just plain magic. In any case it is all good!

Thanks for reading!

The Healthy Librarian 13 January 2009 - 6:36 am

Love this post Aren! I agree with so much of what you say–and I am a 59 year old–who’s been happily married for 37 years. The “writing things down” technique seems to work in what seems like a magical way–but it’s really just science. Here’s my experience with the technique:

Also, have you seen Dan Gilbert’s recent piece on Edge about the beauty of making irrevocable decisions–as they relate to marriage. Here’s the link to it:

And here’s my contribution to the “Secrets of a Happy Marriage” based on my experiences

I loved the picture of you & Andre. I wish you a long happy healthy marriage!

I completely agree with you about the cooking! Amazing, how much joy it brings to prepare a meal for someone who is appreciative. And cooking together is even better!

I love your spirit!

Christine Duvivier 13 January 2009 - 9:25 am

Aren, what a beautiful article! I am thrilled for you and Andre. I’m also delighted by your generosity in laying-out the steps you took — creating pathways of hope for many others. Visioning and allowing are such powerful allies!


Senia 13 January 2009 - 1:27 pm


This is such a beautiful article.
It is about change. It is about deliberate change!

On the same theme, my friend Chris pointed me to a site where he and friends write book outlines (often about positive psychology books). There’s one for “Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others.” I don’t know the research, so am not sure how much to believe it, but it’s a compelling read.

Aren, it’s so nice to see a real example in which change is in this case not about the frequent change topics of work and exercise, and is instead about the lovely topic of love. Merci!


george vaillant 14 January 2009 - 10:27 pm

Dear Aren
A brilliant, moving, beautifully written and thoroughly helpful article. Jane Austen eat your heart out.

Aren Cohen 15 January 2009 - 2:54 pm


Thank you for your kind note and the very interesting book link. I must admit that I find books like “Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others” and “Getting Serious About Getting Married,” seriously problematic. Sometimes getting hit with “the facts” are detrimental. As the notes on “Why Men Marry,” states, the book got mixed reviews, and particularly negative reviews from women over 35 or overwieght who were, according the research in the book “less likely to get married.”

Here’s the thing. Reading that book outline made me think about our defense mechanisms. As you know, George Valliant described and ranked defense mechanisms based on maturity/adapatability in “Adaptation to Life.”

I have a feeling that watching “Sex in the City” or reading “Why Men Marry,” while they may affirm our reasons for being single or give us strict instructions for how to seek our goal of marriage, they do not provoke the healtiest of coping mechanisms in us if we are truly searching for love.

My favorite coping mechanism (ranks higher tha humor in my book and gets a whole chapter in George’s) is that of sublimation. Defined by George as, “indirect or attenuated expression of instincts without either adverse consequences or marked loss of pleasure,” (Vaillant, 1977, p. 386) he describes it almost as our ability to do “psychic alchemy.”(Vaillant, 2000, p. 94)

Reflecting on Carrie Bradshaw’s latest break-up with Big, or hearing at age 34, “marry at 35 or else spinsterhood for YOU!” does not allow our minds to do the appropriate magic. Love songs, love stories and active day-dreaming do. The thing is at the end of the day there are no ABC’s to teach people how to do sublimation. All you can do is offer suggestions and hope others will listen, learn and respond.


TimothyT.C. So 15 January 2009 - 9:50 pm

Aren – What a lovely and beautiful article. I feel truely happy for you whilst getting thoughtful insights from you. Thank you very much! Best wishes, Timothy

Senia 15 January 2009 - 9:59 pm


Yes, that is probably my favorite coping mechanism too – sublimation. It really opened my eyes when I first heard about it a few years ago (probably from “Aging Well”). What a cool concept. Like the divorced person starting oil painting classes. Or the fired executive starting a new career in a antique watches. It just made so much sense.

I like how you phrase this “allow our minds to do the appropriate magic.” 🙂


Dave Shearon 16 January 2009 - 4:22 pm

Aren, it takes courage to write a post like this! Wonderful and moving. In fact, you’ve given me the inspiration for my next post!

Mats Olausson (SE) 25 January 2009 - 6:27 am

Dear Aren, thank you for sharing. In regards too cooking, done in the right mood the result is actually love in solid form literary speaking. How come mother’s food – although i might not be very sophisticated – tastes better than that of a certified French cook at the restaurant?


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