Category Archives: Motivation

The Importance of Generosity in a Marriage

I’ve written many books having to do with relationships, but each focused on different aspects of relationships.  The most important ones, I think, were The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands and The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage because I pointed out the real element that makes a marriage work is when each person gets up in the morning and thinks about what they can do to make the other person happy and happy they’re married to you.  In fact, that was so important, I put it on the back cover.  No surprise to me to see this show up in other forms.

In December, in the New York Times, they talked about the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project.  It studied the role of generosity.  Not in the sense of being generous with money or a lot of gifts, but about that moment where you think, “What can I do to make them happy at this moment, much less if they’re married to me?”

So generosity is about going above and beyond the ordinary expectations with small, little things, small acts of service — making an extra effort, such as being affectionate, bringing somebody coffee in the morning, or rubbing their feet.

It turns out men and women with the highest scores on generosity as a scale were far more likely to report they were very happy in their marriages. 

Now, you’ve got a lot of things going on in your mind, heart, body and day so it’s not always easy to be generous to your spouse.  One particular researcher suggested successful couples say or do at least 5 positive things for every negative interaction with their partner, so they make it 5 to 1…5 to 1.  That’s really important.  It’s important with your kids too.  If you’re going to give them holy hell about things all the time, you really have to balance it with generosity.  Children who see parents who are more engaged in this generosity tend to be more generous too (no kidding), which bodes well for their future relationships and their relationship with their parents.  So, make small acts of service and an extra effort to be affectionate.

The top 3 predictors of a happy marriage among parents (because having kids is a big stress):

1. Sexual intimacy
2. Commitment
3. Generosity

And they put sex first because the portion of 18 to 46 year-olds with below-average sexual satisfaction who are “very happy” in their marriages is about 6.5%.

In one particular study, couples who reported a high amount of generosity in their relationships were 5 times more likely to say the marriage was “very happy”.  However, the generosity was not as important as sex.  In this study, married men and women who reported above-average sexual satisfaction in their relationship were 10 to 13 times more likely to describe their marriage as “very happy”.  My assumption though, is this goes in a bit of a circle – i.e., the people who are more generous with each other probably are more turned on to each other because they’re so generous with each other and it keeps going in a circle.

Something to consider: 5 to 1 – 5 positive things you say or do for each negative thing you say or do.  Try it — you might like it.  You wonder why your marriage is not happy?  The fix is actually simple.  It’s the motivation to do those 5 positive things that seems to be the biggest problem.

When You’re Bored, You’re Boring

Quite a few recent calls to my radio program involve people who are dealing with the problem of being bored, and as many of you have heard me say many times – people who are bored are usually boring.  Either you can choose to be like a cork in the ocean, waiting for a wave or swell to elevate your mood or you can be pro-active and/or philosophical.

Pro-active means that you actually take control of your existence and do something which engages you, is generous, works up your sweat, adrenaline, and endorphins, or which challenges you to be inventive, creative and operating outside of the  box.

Philosophical means that you reframe your perspective.  For example, a nurse called to complain that she seems to get a higher percentage of the most difficult patients than others on the nursing staff.  She felt put upon.  I suggested that this was because she was the most competent to deal with such patients, but she countered with, “Well, I’m getting burned out.”  I then suggested that she make sure that she freshens up her brain and body with fun times, exercise, and friends.

A number of women who have exactly what they wanted in live (a husband, a home, children, and the freedom to be at home) have called to say they are overwhelmed and under motivated.  From a philosophical standpoint, motivation is more of a pop psych requirement of correct behavior than a true necessity.  For example, how do you motivate yourself to go into combat or a burning building in order to rescue people, or into surgery when you know there’s only a minimal chance of survival for the patient, but the procedure is their last, best hope?

We do what we must do/should do, because we have accepted that responsibility.  If everyone in a position of responsibility waited to “feeeeel” motivated, nothing would ever get done! 

I tell these women that if they behaved as though they were motivated, they would simply enjoy their lives more.  Waiting around for a trigger is passive and useless. 

From a pro-active standpoint, that means getting friends, hobbies and creating physical challenges, as well as acting like the kind of woman they would want to come home to.  If they do that, their husbands would come screeching through the door with enthusiasm.

So, if you’re bored, you’re being boring.  Get philosophical.  Get pro-active.  Don’t wait for a feeling – create a better mini-universe without whining, complaining, or feeling sorry for yourself. 

Remember the days of washboards and manual television controls?  No? Too bad.  You would then have the other “P” word:  perspective.

The Ride of My Life

Last week, I took part in my first international ocean sailboat race.  There were six of us in a narrow, 42-foot sailboat with teams working around the clock in shifts of four hours awake and four hours trying to nap, unless we had to do a sail change, in which case it was everybody up on deck.

I did this because I wanted an adventure, and I got it:  whales, dolphins, sharks, flying fish (we tried – and failed – to catch a fish for dinner), and giant sea turtles.  The race covered 850 miles from Newport Beach, California to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  The days before we launched, I have to admit that I was afraid.  The days after we finished….well, I was transformed.  My most vivid memory is racing the last ten miles in the moonlight with a brisk wind:  I was steering with tears running down my face because I was so moved by the whole experience.

Facing fears and enduring hardships changes you in a very good way.  When you know you can get through extraordinary challenges, it makes everyday issues “mellow out.”

I want to thank my crew:  Kevin Miller (tactician), Eric Bohman (navigator), Kit Will (one of the stars of Morning Light), Sam Solhaug, and Paul Wolthausen for the ride of my life!

Dr. Laura Skippers Warrior to Finish First Overall in Cabo
from left to right:
Sam Solhaug, Paul Wolthausen, Eric Bohman, Dr. Laura, Kevin Miller, Kit Will

Motivation from Inside

I get many calls from people wanting to know how to motivate someone else to do something (usually something they don’t want to do, like giving up smoking or getting more physically active). 

I recently came across an adorable and terrific study of about 51 kidlets between the ages of 3 and 4 who LOVE to draw (hang in there – there is a connection between the first paragraph and the results of this study):

Those conducting the study put the children in three groups.

. The first group was told they would get a certificate with a gold seal and ribbon if they took part in the project.
. The second group was just given crayons.
. The third group was the same as the second group, but they were given a surprise reward.

Then they watched them draw independently for many days afterward (so they could check out the long-range effects of giving a reward.  What they found was fascinating:

1. The kids who were told in advance about the reward put less effort into their drawings and their interest in drawing waned.
2. The kids with no reward or a “surprise” reward kept their motivation steady and drew more than the first group.

Bottom line?  People tend to do things they enjoy and when they do so, they are motivated from within.  When a reward is thrown into the equation, the motivation from without diminishes the motivation from within, because the reward itself becomes the motivation, and getting it (even by cheating or lying) becomes the goal.  That’s why a lot of people don’t want to make money off their hobbies – they somehow recognize that if they have to do it, it will lose something in terms of the enjoyment of it.  Motivation decreases and the process becomes painful.  Play becomes “work” when we get paid.

Normally, we separate work from play, and we do expect a salary for that work.  But the things we simply enjoy need to stay in the realm of inner pleasure and motivation.  We don’t work as hard at something when we have to get the reward.  Our natural talent for self-regulation is upset and damaged when a reward system is put into place.

So, manipulations with reward may work very temporarily, but then they rob individuals of their own positive attitude about the activity.

Encouragement is always the better technique, i.e., finding something wonderful to say about the person’s activity (on a philosophical level):  “Hey, it’s amazing how you can get into such a ‘Zen’ place and create out of thin air!  That must feel wonderful!”

And as for the spouse situation with smoking, overeating, under-exercising, and not helping around the farm or house, try this:  “Honey, you looked so happy when you _________(e.g., didn’t grab for a cigarette).”  In other words, pick on one small half of an iota to feed back the pleasure concept.  Keep it small or short, and then they might want to self-regulate in order to get that good feeling for themselves by themselves.