A culture of appreciation can help us stay high forever, what to speak of improve our marriage.
As we devotees would say in the early days of ISKCON, “Chant Hare Krsna and stay high forever!”
Krsna is known as Stavyapriya, one who likes being praised, so it is natural that we also find it uplifting. Srila Prabhupada often replied in letters, “I am very much happy to hear your kind appreciation, and it is very much encouraging to me.”
By hearing appreciation from Srila Prabhupada about their devotional service, disciples would be encouraged for their whole life. Srila Prabhupada’s letter of appreciation of the seva of New Gokula’s archa-vigraha, inspired us to serve Them for decades. “The picture of your newly installed Deity is very, very nice. You may name them Sri Sri Radha-Madan-Mohan… And by serving Them you will all develop pure love of Krsna.” Appreciation illuminates our inherent sense of self-worth and the value of others.
“So development of spiritual life means development of this appreciation, that’s all.” (SP lecture on 8/19/72)
A mood of appreciation directly activates brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine, the feel-good hormone. In the honeymoon stage of marriage, we are flooded with dopamine, appreciating everything about our spouse. With time, however, we each begin to notice things about the other that are irritating. I like to go to the airport 2 hours early and my wife likes to go at the last minute; she likes the resources materials neatly filed and stacked in drawers and it’s so much easier for me to find when its spread out on the desk…and so on times 103. And that’s 100% normal. Successful couples, over time, change what they can, negotiate what they can’t, and have a culture of appreciation what overrides or eclipses the inevitable irritations of living with a life partner. They learn the dance of bringing disharmony into harmony.
Research has shown that long term married couples can have no black and white solutions for 69% of their challenges and still be happy in their marriage. As Srila Prabhupada said there can be a disagreement between husband and wife but it will be like a thunderbolt with no rain. However, if the couple has a negative bias, a lack of appreciation, resentment and a dry relationship, a thunderbolt can wreak havoc. Near us, in British Columbia, Canada, on a dry summer day, a thunderbolt started a 14,000-acre forest fire.
We all know someone close to us who experienced havoc in their marriage and has been through a divorce. For a moment recall how that directly or indirectly affected you. I’ll bet your dopamine is not flowing.
Many years ago we went through a difficult time, which, with other contributing factors, created tensions in our relationship. At a certain point, we made a commitment to work things out and improve our connection. This certainly involved a lot of understanding, collaboration, mutual compassion and an increasing culture of appreciation. The result today is that we have an ongoing warm, affectionate relationship.
Love is kept alive in the moments that let your partner know they are valued during the everyday interactions in life, not in fancy gifts or special vacations.
To cultivate being happy where we are, we need to appreciate what we have. So, to keep that dopamine flowing, here are some suggestions that can help you sustain that attitude of gratitude.
- Start an appreciation journal (or jar) about life in general and specifically about your spouse. Commit to writing every day or two, and sharing some of your gratefulness with your spouse.
- We all need to feel appreciated. Have an open dialogue with your partner about what you both need to feel appreciated and loved. The work of Gary Chapman cast light on how individuals receive love and appreciation in different primary ways. Here is a short questionnaire that can help you identify what you and your spouse’s needs are.
- Have an appreciation ritual during times of daily transitions. eg. While going to bed, leaving or coming home, or while sharing a meal.
- Some things your partner does may still irk you. Try making a request for what you need, prefaced with a few appreciations.
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur said that love takes place when we open our heart to another person. We appreciate your reading to the end!