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Practicing Happy Together can be a SNAP for Aristotelian Lovers

written by Lisa Buksbaum 17 January 2018

Lisa Buksbaum, MAPP '13 is CEO & Founder of Soaringwords. She has shared positive interventions with more than 250,000 patients and families and 120,000 employee volunteers. Three experiences with death and illness in her family motivated her to launch Soaringwords, a non-profit organization devoted to inspiring ill children and their families to "Never give up!" Lisa's articles for PositivePsychologyNews.com are here.

If you’re like most people who are interested in deepening your relationships, then you probably ordered your copy of Happy Together published yesterday (Jan. 16, 2018) to coincide with the 8th anniversary of authors, Suzann and James Pawelski, a positive psychology power couple.

Today I want to highlight two compelling Happy Together concepts that can help you cultivate stronger and happier relationships.

SNAP! Practice, Practice, Practice!

Developing good habits in our relationships is like building any other good habits: it takes regular practice. James Pawelski’s hero is the philosopher William James, someone we could all consider a positive psychology pioneer. Reinforcing the message that good habits are a foundation for strong, positive relationships, James Pawelski uses the acronym, SNAP, to help us remember the four rules stated by William James for cultivating good habits:

  • Start strong. The more highly motivated we are to start a new habit, the more likely we are to be successful. One way to increase motivation is to make a public announcement of the habit we want to build. Calling for witnesses makes it easier for our friends to support us and harder for us to back down.
  • No exceptions. We may think that once we have acted in accordance with the new behavior for a few days, we can give ourselves a break, but this is likely to take us back to square one. Slips do happen, but if the general rule is no exceptions, it becomes easier to get back on track.
  • Always act. Whenever we have an urge to act in accordance with the new habit, we should follow that urge, no matter how annoying it may seem. This reminds us of the fundamental way that children learn by following the actions of their parents, not simply listening to their words.
  • Practice exercising the will. James suggests doing something hard every day, for no reason but that it is hard. Doing so, he says, can strengthen the will, making it ready for our use when we need it.

Forget Ann Landers. What Can Aristotle Teach Us About Building Love That Lasts?

Back in your school days, you probably learned about Aristotle, a towering figure in Greek philosophy and science, student of Plato, and teacher of Alexander the Great. Aristotle is another early contributor to positive psychology, contemplating questions such as “What makes people human?” “What makes life meaningful?” and “How can we enhance well-being within people and between people?”

Aristotle in the library

You have probably heard the term Platonic friendship used to describe a close relationship that is not sexual. Aristotle cultivated his own philosophy on friendship that James Pawelski calls Aristotelian Friendship based on the notion that the highest kind of friendship is one where people are drawn together by the recognition of the good in each other and the desire to support it. James used the idea of Aristotelian Friends (AF) in MAPP to encourage people to practice supporting each other as they grow and cultivate strengths. Aristotelian friends value the other person’s character and want to help it develop in healthy directions. The good that AFs see in the other person may also inspire them to want to become better themselves. In an Aristotelian friendship, each person is focused on the other person. AFs love each other for who they are, not just for the profit or pleasure they can get out of the relationship. Aristotle contends that friendship based on goodness is the truest kind, superior to the other two. Although Aristotelian friendships are not motivated by the quest for profit or pleasure, Aristotle noted that they often do turn out to be useful and pleasurable, as well as good.

After getting married, Suzie asked James a provocative question that elevated and transformed their marriage. “Why do Aristotle’s observations need to be limited to just friendships? What if we apply his philosophy to romantic relationships, as well? What if we see ourselves not just as lovers, but as Aristotelian lovers, focusing on appreciating the good in the other person and supporting each other’s growth and development?”

Being a wise philosopher and positive psychology practitioner, James embraced this idea wholeheartedly. (Spouses take note, when your partner makes a brilliant suggestion, follow their lead).

This concept of Aristotelian Lovers led Suzie and James to create Happy Together.

Loving gesture

Getting Started: Look at What You are Already Doing Well

There are so many small gestures to show love in a mature marriage. I like to tuck a card in my husband’s suitcase before he goes on a business trip, knowing he will discover the card and feel loved and supported. That creates positive emotion. When either one of us comes home from a business trip, there’s a large sign on the door with clever allusions to the destination city or conference woven into the message. We both use our character strengths of creativity and humor to make the signs. When we do something together, there’s a lot of mutual savoring before, during, and after.

Welcome back to the hive

At nighttime, before going to sleep, I make lunch for Jacob to bring to the office, not expecting something in return. When Jacob proofreads my blog posts or pulls articles from the Wall Street Journal that he knows I would want to read, he is not expecting to be paid back. On a deeper level, when I was mourning the death of my father, Jacob gave me plenty of room to experience my feelings. One way he showed steadfast support was to draw a warm bath and light a candle for me to relax each night after a long day.

Welcome home, Lisa

When we are with others of good character, it motivates us to improve our own character. Suzie and James Pawelski remind us of Jonathan Haidt’s wisdom about elevation, an “other-praising” emotion that causes “warm, open feelings in the chest” and inspires people to behave more virtuously themselves. When we are uplifted or elevated, our hearts are opened and our thoughts are more focused on others than on ourselves. We seek ways to make positive changes to enhance our relationships, and we experience moral growth and heightened positive emotions.

There are many many benefits from practicing being Happy Together.



Pawelski, S. P. & Pawelski, J. O. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcerPerigee.

Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.

Photo Credits:

Suzie and James doing yoga together used with permission from Suzann Pileggi Pawelski.
Welcome back posters used with permission from Lisa Buksbaum

The following image is from Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Aristotle in the library courtesy of Rachel Sample
Loving gesture courtesy of Simon Cocks

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1 comment

Suzie 25 January 2018 - 11:42 am

Thanks for the wonderful story, Lisa. I loved hearing the personal examples from your own marriage on what you do to hep build a stronger bond. We hope that the research we are disseminating and the ideas we present, especially the ‘Aristotelian Lovers” and “relationship gym” concepts will help people everywhere improve their relationships! 🙂


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