I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on the earth is not a hardship but a pastime -- if we live simply and wisely.
-- Henry David Thoreau
We are living in anxious times. Improvements in our economy are inconsistent, and our sense of security in the systems that we have long looked to for stability feels weak and fragile. There are no quick fixes for the long-term issues that have gotten us to this point, and our governmental leaders are as fractured and disconnected as ever. Job security is no longer the norm, and collectively we sleep less than we ever have. Often, with nowhere else to turn, it is our closest personal relationships that bear the brunt of it all.
It is understandable that it is in the places where we feel most safe that our deepest insecurities arise. I see this with my teenagers frequently; their anxiety often translates into anger or frustration, which in turn sets up my defenses and impatience. The results can be even more debilitating with my husband, where instead of practicing patience and compassion, insecurities come out in a harshness in tone of voice or short tempers. No one is to blame, and yet it is often those we love most dearly who get the worst effects of our insecurity.
Becoming mindful of the wealth that our relationships offer us during hard times is a healthy start. Harnessing and directing our basic fight-or-flight response to our advantage in proactive moves, like helping to search for better living conditions or a new job, is proper use of the added adrenaline running around. Strengthening communication skills and cultivating a sense of humor at home goes a long way in combating the normal (but unhelpful) habits that let our anxieties eat away at the most stabilizing social fabric we know as our intimates. Sustaining the well-being of our relationships pays even greater dividends during hard times.
An equally reliable way to think about and measure your economic well-being may be right in your bedroom. Good sex is worth more than money. There is no other activity that carries the physical, mental and emotional well-being and benefits that an hour of shared intimacy bestows. According to study of more than 16,000 participants by economists at Dartmouth and the University of Warwick, sex "enters so strongly (and) positively in happiness equations" that by increasing intercourse from once a month to once a week is equivalent to the amount of happiness generated by getting an additional $50,000 in income for the average American. In fact, the economists calculated that a lasting relationship equates to happiness generated by getting an extra $100,000 each year.
Divorce, meanwhile, translates to a happiness depletion of $66,000 annually. Although we often don't remember our promises to love for "better or worse" during the "worse" parts, the lack of intention towards preserving our loving relationships when things are hard is a tragic mistake that can slow our recovery in ways we can't imagine.
Any time that I get lost in the dark places that have me believing that I am better off alone, I scare myself back to my heart by thinking of life without my husband and family. I know that in the last moments of my life, the only things that will have any meaning and that will fill my mind and heart are the people I loved, and those who loved me in return. It is a more powerful foundation than any bank account has ever offered.
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