My twinge of nostalgia for those premarital days was triggered by the arrival in my mailbox of a book called Happiness for Two: 75 Secrets for Finding More Joy Together. The sender was an editor friend who thought I'd make good use of it. The author was Alexandra Stoddard, an interior designer and author of dozens of books on "the art of living well." A self-proclaimed pioneer of the happiness movement, Stoddard spreads the word — literally — at "Happiness Weekends," where she lectures on how to find joy, bliss, and, for a little change of pace, color coordination.
A quick glance at the book's table of contents revealed three of her main themes:
- Improve yourself. (Hence "secrets" like "Read some quality literature.")
- Be considerate. (E.g., "Mess up, clean up" and "Sincerely say you're sorry.")
- Do things à deux. ("Explore together your invisible wealth," "Read together"...and, just to drive home the point, "When you are together, be together.")
I'd read only three pages, and I was altogether ready to scorn Stoddard's neo-Victorian idea of a harmonious marriage. Any adult in need of reminders like "Don't correct each other in public" would be better off with a marriage counselor.
That said, some of the suggestions weren't as easy to scoff at. So I read on, and after cutting out the trite, irrelevant, and useless, I whittled down her list of 75 to 10:
- Write each other's New Year's resolutions. This intrigued me. It was a bit early for resolutions, but we could certainly make a wish list of what we would each like the other to accomplish. If written, prods weren't nags.
- Begin each encounter with a smile. So quaint, but there was hard research that smiling does improve outlook.
- It feels good to look good. An opportunity to get Steve to wear nice clothes for a change, and not his ragged favorites.
- Write love notes. As mentioned, we used to send beautiful, hilarious e-mails to each other. I wanted to revive our epistolary connection.
- Give the gift of eye contact. We both had the bad habit of staring at the TV or computer screen when we talked.
- Grumpiness is contagious. Being more mindful of mood could ward off secondhand blues.
- Try not to interrupt. Stoddard meant bothering a partner during his alone time, but interruptions in conversation were also a problem for us (me).
- Generous compliments lighten the heart. He was fairly reticent with the flattery. I wouldn't mind more of it.
- Control your tone. Sometimes, I could be as obnoxious as a 16-year-old prom princess. For his part, Steve could be a tad condescending.
- Celebrate more. We lavished gifts and parties on our daughters, but Steve and I downplayed our own birthdays and accomplishments. Making a big deal of little things could add excitement to our lives.