Making Happy

The Art and Science of a Happy Marriage


By Les Parrott

Formats and Prices




$23.99 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback $18.99 $23.99 CAD
  2. ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 15, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Discover the six counter-intuitive dials to turn right now in your relationship. these are proven happiness boosters. and let’s face it, knowing how to make happiness — the deep and abiding joy of feeling good together — isn’t always easy for time-starved and sleep-deprived couples. Making Happy will change all that by:
Instantly making your relationship 25 percent happier.
Countering the effects of taking each other for granted so you can notice even more things you appreciate about each other.
Knowing the easy way to ensure your partner is happier today than yesterday.

Relationship experts Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott bring all the relevant research together in Making Happy and show you how to elevate happiness in your relationship. It’s easier than you think.
Includes an immensely practical three-week Happiness Plan.


• Do you know what you can do to instantly make your relationship 25 percent happier—starting today?

• Do you know how to counter the inevitable effects of taking each other for granted?

• Are you using happiness to build a firewall of protection around your relationship?

• Do you know the easy way to ensure that your partner is happier today than yesterday?

• Are you avoiding the most common mistake couples make in pursuing happiness together?

• Did you think marriage would make you happy—instead of you making your marriage happy?

• Are you ready to deepen your relationship by being happy in love?

Making Happy

reveals the answer to these questions and more!

“The highest happiness on earth is the happiness of marriage.”
William Lyon Phelps


Hooked on a Feeling

Knowledge of what is possible
is the beginning of happiness.

George Santayana

You may not know his name, but Jason McElwain made a lot of people happy. As a struggling autistic high school student in Rochester, New York, he was a long way from making the cut for the school’s basketball team. But his heart was in the sport, so the coach let him help out as “team manager.” Jason took the job seriously and his fellow classmates respected him for it. He even wore a white shirt and black tie to every game as he sat on the end of bench, fetching towels and water for the players.

In his senior year the coach did something unexpected. He put Jason into the game with four minutes and nineteen seconds left on the clock. The crowd in that high school gym went wild, cheering Jason’s name.

Jason took his first shot—missing the hoop by about six feet. But one minute later he got the ball again and made a three-pointer that set the gym on fire.

Jason wasn’t done. He kept shooting and kept hitting. He scored twenty points in four minutes during his one and only game. He made six three-pointers—a school record.

In the news clip, Coach Johnson got choked up retelling Jason’s story. “In twenty-five years of coaching I’ve never experienced the emotional high of that game,” he said. “I just started to cry.” And he’s not the only one. The clip spread like wildfire through social media with more than three million hits and comments like:

“Oh no, I’m crying at work!”

“Amazing. I’m Facebooking this now.”

“Just what I needed. Thanks!”

Teary joy wells up in almost everyone who sees the elated home crowd storming the court after Jason’s final three-pointer and lifting him on their shoulders. Why? Because you can’t help but to get an emotional lift yourself. The happy pandemonium in the gym is contagious. You want to share it with others.

We’ve shown the clip to students in our university classes, many who have seen it before, and they literally cheer and applaud the screen. When asked to describe their feelings we hear words like awe, delight, thrill, surprise. But mostly we hear happy.

The human spirit hungers to be borne aloft. We want a nudge toward happiness. Our God-given capacity for uplift is what makes us euphorically human. And according to a growing mountain of scientific research, happiness is not only critical to our relationships and well-being, it doesn’t depend on the uncommon McElwain brand of exhilaration hitting our e-mail’s in-box.

Lifting our spirits, thankfully, isn’t contingent upon finding YouTube miracles like Jason’s basketball experience, Susan Boyle’s surprisingly stunning solo on Britain’s Got Talent, or “Sully” Sullenberger’s phenomenal airline landing on the Hudson River. And our happiness—the kind that endures—certainly doesn’t depend on getting a job promotion or winning the lottery. In fact, most of the things we think will make us happier don’t. Humans, it turns out, are extraordinarily bad at predicting their own happiness (more on that later).

Isn’t Marriage Supposed to Make Us Happy?

One of the most pervasive happiness myths is the notion that when we find our perfect partner—when we say “I do”—we’ll have a lock on happiness. And we will, for a time. No doubt about it: marriage makes us happy. The problem is that marriage—even when initially perfectly satisfying—will not make us intensely happy for as long as we believe it will. Studies reveal that the happiness boost from marriage lasts an average of only two years.1

Unfortunately, when those two years are up and fulfilling our goal to find the ideal partner hasn’t made us as happy as we expected, we often feel there must be something wrong with us or we must be the only ones to feel this way. But we’re not. It’s the common course of love. And if left unattended, if we’re not deliberately making happy together, our relationship suffers. If we turn the right dials to boost our happiness factor in love, however, our relationship soars.

Happiness, for a marriage, is like a vital sign. It’s the heart rate of love. Like all vital signs, it can fluctuate. But, like all vital signs, it has a set point, a level to which it strives to return. For healthy couples doing the right things, that set point is high. And when done well, marriage is a better predictor of happiness than having money or children.

This book, Making Happy, is dedicated to helping you keep the vital sign of happiness healthy and strong in your relationship. How will we do this? Not with armchair psychology. The strategies and principles of this book are built on an incredible amount of solid, time-tested research.

The New Science of Happiology

Psychologists have always been interested in emotion, but in the past two decades the studies have exploded, and one of the emotions that psychologists have studied most intensively is happiness—a topic that was previously in the exclusive hands of philosophers and poets. Even economists and neuroscientists have joined the happiness party. All these disciplines have distinct but intersecting interests: psychologists want to understand how people feel happy, economists want to know the value of happiness, and neuroscientists want to know how people’s brains process and produce happiness.

Having three separate disciplines all interested in a single subject has put that topic on the scientific map. Papers on happiness are now published in the most prestigious peer-reviewed journals, scholars who study happiness are winning Nobel Prizes, and even governments around the world are rushing to measure and increase the happiness of their citizens.

Happiness is one of life’s most cherished goals. On every continent, in every country, and in every culture, when people are asked, “What do you want?” the most popular answer is “happiness.” When parents are asked, “What do you most want for your children?” the answer is most often “happiness.”

And when couples are asked about the kind of relationship they most want, they’ll talk about being happy together. “The happy state of matrimony,” said Benjamin Franklin, “is the surest and most lasting foundation of comfort and love.” Oliver Wendell Homes added: “Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.”

Making Happy Together

No doubt about it, love and happiness make beautiful music together. But truth be told, happiness is in short supply for too many time-starved and sleep-deprived couples. And the reason, we suspect, is that they don’t work at it—or more likely, they don’t know how to make it. Happiness, after all, is not something that happens, it’s something you make.

Some even call it quits for this very reason, saying: “We’re just not happy anymore.” Really? Is being married supposed to make you happy? No. That’s not how it works. Marriage doesn’t make you happy—you make your marriage happy. As the saying goes, you bring your own weather to the picnic. A happy marriage does not depend on the right circumstances or the perfect person. A happy marriage is the result of two people committed to making a happy life of love together.2

Every once in a while we encounter someone who tries to argue that making happy is a selfish pursuit. We understand that thought. After all, some silly and downright selfish things are done in the name of pursing happiness. Many a marriage counselor will attest to hearing something along these lines: “I’m not happy in this marriage; God wants me to be happy; therefore I want out of this marriage.” This self-centered perspective is mistaking hedonism for happiness. They think their circumstances are supposed to make them happy. They are pursuing pleasure at the cost of meaning. Don’t fall for this lie. Hedonism does not equal happiness. Hedonism, the goal of which is to maximize net pleasure, lacks meaning altogether. And meaning, as you’ll see in Part One of this book, is a vitally important ingredient of true happiness. It’s a fact, not just a biblical sentiment: You’ll find more happiness in giving yourself away than in any self-centered pleasure.

Our long-time friend Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage and many other books, is well-known for asking this question: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy instead of happy?” How could it be otherwise? The pursuit of holiness can’t help but bring an abiding happiness and joy. Why? Because holiness, being devoted to God’s ways of being, subsumes meaning and love. And true happiness is never fulfilled without it. When we sow holiness, we reap happiness.

Truth be told, happy people are more loving people—the very opposite of selfish. When we get a lock on true happiness, it makes us more sociable and self-giving; it increases how much we like ourselves and our partner. Happiness improves our ability to resolve conflict. The bottom line: happiness makes us more loving and lovable. That, in a nutshell, is why we wrote this book.

What This Book Will Do for You

Why write a book on happiness and love? Because emerging research from neuroscience and psychology makes the link between a thriving relationship and certain happy behaviors absolutely clear. We’ve learned a lot about what makes couples happy, and we’ve put the principles to work in our own marriage—and we’d be stupid not to use that knowledge.

That’s why this book is nothing if not practical. We have combed through all the scientific studies we could find on happiness to lift out the best of what we know works to make and maintain happiness in marriage. And we’ve settled on a half dozen happiness boosters that are sure to move the needle in your relationship. These are the six dials we know couples can turn to get the best effects:

Count your blessings—nothing can increase happiness more quickly in a relationship than shared gratitude.

Try new things—it’s easy to fall into a routine or even a rut, but that is a killer to happiness, so you’ve got to shake it up.

Dream a dream—the moment a couple quits looking to the future together is the moment they become vulnerable to dissatisfaction.

Celebrate each other—we all applaud the big things, but it’s the little and unexpected celebrations that can make or break a couple’s happiness.

Attune your spirits—the soul of every marriage hungers for deeper connection and meaning together, and when it’s found, happiness abounds.

Add value to others—when a couple does good beyond the boundaries of their marriage, goodness envelopes their relationship like never before.

These are the six boosters we’ll explore with you, giving you dozens of practical ways to bring each of them more fully into your relationship. And we want to say this straight out: this book is not about making changes that involve more time, energy, or money. Making happiness is in many ways easier than you think.

We want this book to be interactive for the two of you (and even with other couples if you’re using it in a small group). That’s why we’ve provided you with questions at the end of each chapter. We hope you’ll take time to use them together. By discussing, not just reading, the book with each other, the content will become far more personal and it will sink deeper roots into your relationship.

In the last section of the book you’ll see that we’ve also provided you with a Three-Week Happiness Plan. We literally provide you with a little assignment for each of the twenty-one days in this plan. They are proven to work. We have done them ourselves and so have countless couples we’ve taught them to. You will love this plan. It is sure to infuse your marriage with deeper joy and more happiness. In short, it will guarantee that the two of you make more happy together.

Our Hope and Prayer for You

We’ve written every word of this book with you in mind. We want you to discover a deep and abiding joy in your relationship. We want you to make happy like you never have before. Why? Because you simply can’t take a happy marriage for granted. Under normal circumstances, despite what you think, you will not live happily ever after. We all know the staggering divorce statistics. But have you ever considered all the couples who stay together in a dissatisfied and unhappy marriage? One of the most consistent findings in marriage research reveals that marital satisfaction declines over the course of marriage. Many couples grow accustomed to feeling despondent, cranky, and increasingly dissatisfied in their relationship—and they do nothing about it. And too often relatively happy couples don’t know how to move from feeling good to feeling great in their relationship.

So remember this as you begin this book: marriage cannot be counted on to make you happy. You make your happiness in marriage. Unless you are making happy, the relationship you counted on to make you happy is likely to leave you feeling empty. But when you make happy together you are building a healthy hedge of protection around your love. Your marriage will not only go the distance, it will put a huge smile on each of your faces.

Les and Leslie Parrott
Seattle, Washington


The Happiness Advantage for Couples

1 Let the Happiness Begin

Happiness isn’t a mood. It’s a way of life.

Noel Smogard

The list of famous students from the hallowed halls of Harvard University is long, to be sure: John Hancock, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Helen Keller, Leonard Bernstein, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg, to name just a few. It makes sense. After all, the school has a long history. And as the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, founded in 1636, Harvard is pretty entrenched in convention and tradition. But not as much as you might guess.

Beginning in 2006, two professors, Tal Ben-Shahar and Shawn Achor, offered an unconventional course that remains the most popular class on campus, with an attendance of about fifteen hundred students per semester. No course has ever commanded such numbers at Harvard. Not before or since.

Professor Achor admits that he and Ben-Shahar have been shocked by its popularity. They never dreamed so many students would be interested in what they are teaching: happiness. But they are.

The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.

Martha Washington

The Science of Happiness, the official course title, is often dubbed Happiness 101, and as the course syllabus says, it focuses on “aspects of a fulfilling and flourishing life.” Remember, this is Harvard University—the school known for its high academic standards and rigorous requirements. How could such a course on such a squishy topic be taken seriously?

Getting Serious about Happiness

Hearing that Harvard was offering a course on happiness caused some scholars at other august institutions around the country to raise an eyebrow or two. Some skeptics believed it was a hoax. When Tal Ben-Shahar appeared as a guest on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Stewart asked how he could “get away” with a scholarly school having a course on such a soft and fuzzy subject. Ben-Shahar answered, “We now have a science of happiness.”1

And we do. The word science is right there in the course title. But it’s more than semantics. The number of scholarly studies on happiness has exploded over the past two decades. Until recently, the countless studies produced by social scientists had been directed toward the other end of the human experience continuum—anxiety, depression, neurosis, obsessions, paranoia, delusions, and depression. Why? It all started about one hundred years ago with a doctor in Vienna, Austria.

Paging Dr. Freud

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, wasn’t a happy camper. He saw human beings as troubled creatures in need of repair. Freud himself was profoundly pessimistic about human nature, saying we are governed by deep, dark drives that we can barely control.

B. F. Skinner and the behaviorists who followed Freud weren’t much happier, viewing human life as mechanistic if not robotic: humans were passive beings mercilessly shaped by stimuli and rewards or punishments.

In fact, some of psychology’s most well-known experiments proved that normal people could become coldly insensitive to suffering and even cruelly sadistic. Research funders invested in subjects like conformity, neurosis, and depression.

The Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the expensive clinical bible of psychiatry, has five hundred thousand lines of text. There are thousands of lines on anxiety and depression and hundreds of lines on terror, shame, guilt, anger, and fear. But there are only five lines on hope, one line on joy, and not a single line on compassion, creativity, forgiveness, laughter, or love. You get the idea. From the beginning and for nearly a century, social scientists have had little to say about positive virtues. But not anymore. Something happened in 1998 that changed everything.

The great Western disease is, ‘I’ll be happy when . . . When I get the money. When I get a BMW. When I get this job.’ Well, the reality is, you never get to when. The only way to find happiness is to understand that happiness is not out there. It’s in here. And happiness is not next week. It’s now.

Marshall Goldsmith

O Happy Day!

When University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association by the largest vote in the organization’s history, he gave a powerful keynote address to his fellow psychologists. On a balmy October night in North Carolina, his message was clear and blunt: he wanted psychologists to expand their myopic focus on treating mental illness and include promoting mental health. The same month, in the organization’s newsletter, he wrote a piece titled “Building Human Strength: Psychology’s Forgotten Mission,” and said: “Psychology is not just the study of weakness and damage, it is also the study of strength and virtue. Treatment is not just fixing what is broken, it is nurturing what is best within ourselves.”2 No doubt about it, Seligman wanted nothing short of a new day, a sea change, a transformation or even a revolution of his profession. And he got it.

My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.

Michael J. Fox

Seligman’s speech and the work that followed launched a new movement among social scientists that is now known as Positive Psychology.3 As evidence, you’ll find scientific journals dedicated to it, massive funding, countless studies, and hundreds of courses like the one on happiness at Harvard. Pathology, of course, still garners plenty of grant money and research, but a new wave of science has shed an amazing amount of light on the positive virtues and character qualities most humans aspire to.4

Before going too much further, however, let’s make sure we know what we’re talking about when we say happiness.

Happiness Defined

Serious exploration of happiness isn’t new, of course. Classical thinkers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle gave plenty of attention to it. And every language, without exception, going back to ancient Greek, has a word for happiness. But while we use the same word, we often don’t mean the same thing.

Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get.

W. P. Kinsella

People prior to the late seventeenth century thought happiness was a matter of luck or divine favor. Even the root of happiness, hap, means “chance.” Happiness was not something you could control. It was dictated by fate or fortune. Happiness literally happened to us and was out of our hands.

Today we think of happiness more as a skill that can be developed. The founding fathers of the United Stated, in fact, made clear that happiness was a right to be pursued. This new way of thinking engendered more noble humanitarian sentiments—the belief that suffering is inherently wrong and that all people, in all places, should have the opportunity to be happy.

But this new way of thinking about happiness also comes with a challenge. When happiness becomes a given right, it backs away from being something won through moral cultivation, carried out over the course of a well-lived life. Instead, it runs the risk of becoming something “out there” that is not only pursued, but also caught and consumed. And that’s where the pursuit of happiness can cause problems.5

Happiness is not in our circumstance but in ourselves. It is not something we see, like a rainbow, or feel, like the heat of a fire. Happiness is something we are.

John B. Sheerin

Before we delineate happiness further, let’s pause for a moment and ask: What is your definition of a happy life? Are you living it? Think carefully about this because your definition of happiness will influence every other significant decision you make. That may sound like an overstatement, but your definition of happiness really does frame your approach to living. If you think happiness is outside you, for example, you will make happiness into a search or a reward to discover or earn. If, however, you know happiness is inside you, then happiness becomes more of a compass, enabling you to live a better life.

These two basic perspectives are not so much the definition of happiness as they are the means to finding it. So let’s make the definition easy. Ready?

Happiness is the emotional state of feeling satisfaction, playfulness, contentedness, amusement, cheeriness, serenity, gratification, elation, triumph, joy, and/or bliss.

It’s important to note that happiness, in this definition, is a state. That means it’s not static. In other words, even the happiest of people—the cheeriest 10 percent—feel blue at times. And even the bluest have their moments of joy. Like all feelings, happiness can ebb and flow.

There you have it: a straightforward, if not informal, definition of happiness. But let’s dig deeper. Why? Because happiness—the kind that embodies deep joy—is more than a feeling. To really get to the underlying meaning of happiness, you’ve got to not only pinpoint the feeling but also where it comes from. Why? Because the source of your happiness can make or break your personal pursuit of it.

The Two Wells of Happiness

When someone asked Eleanor Roosevelt to define happiness, here’s what she said: “A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.” Mrs. Roosevelt obviously understood happiness to be an inside job.

Researchers call that intrinsic happiness because it’s values-based. It’s the result of personal growth, healthy relationships, contributing to the common good. Extrinsic happiness, on the other hand, is feelings based and comes about from obtaining rewards, praise, money, status, or popularity.

The gap between our professed values and our practiced values is the gap between us and our happiness.

Marc Gafni

Harvard social psychologist William McDougall said people can be happy while in pain and unhappy while experiencing pleasure. Take a moment to let that sink in. You can only be happy in pain when it’s values-based. And you can only be unhappy while experiencing pleasure when it’s feelings-based. We’re really talking about two kinds of happiness that both result in feelings of satisfaction, gratification, and all the rest, but that have very different levels of shelf life.

Feel-good happiness is the momentary sensation of pleasure. When we joke around or have sex, we experience feel-good happiness. But here’s the catch: we know from research that feel-good happiness is ruled by the law of diminishing returns. This type of happiness can lose its punch and it rarely lasts longer than a few hours at a time.

Value-based happiness


On Sale
Apr 15, 2014
Page Count
240 pages
Worthy Books

Les Parrott

About the Author

New York Times bestsellers Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott are founders of and the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Their best-selling books include Love Talk, Crazy Good Sex and the award-winning Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. Their work has been featured in the New York Times and USA Today and on CNN, Good Morning America and Oprah.

Learn more about this author