A secret to happiness and love: PAY ATTENTION.

“I’ve decided to stop being so compulsive about going to the gym,” the Big Man remarked when we were at dinner with friends a few nights ago.

“Really?” I said in surprise. “I didn’t know that you thought of yourself as compulsive about going to the gym.” Though I do know that he hates to miss even one day.

The conversation shifted, so he didn’t say anything more, but I vowed to follow up on his comment. It’s a strange effect of marriage that certain kinds of confidences become much rarer; most married people know the experience of hearing your spouse make a startling revelation to some strangers you just met at a Parent Social.

In his book The Relationship Cure, preeminent marriage researcher John Gottman explains that the less people turn toward each other, the less satisfying their relationship.

One of the glories, and one of the drawbacks, of a long relationship is that people start to take each other for granted.

I’m trying to pay more attention to the Big Man – by putting down my book when he talk to me, instead of saying “Mmmm, hmmm” as I continue to read, by paying attention to his likes and dislikes, by doing little errands I notice that he needs done (like dropping off his shoes at the shoe repair place) even when they aren’t strictly “my” job.

I’m reminded, once again, of the line by Pierre Reverdy: “There is no love; there are only proofs of love.” An easy and obvious way to prove love is to pay attention. It’s harder than it sounds.

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One of my happiness hobbyhorses (zoikes, I’m going to hang on to that phrase!) is the importance of getting enough sleep, so I was very interested to read the post on the Ririan Project blog on that topic.

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  • http://www.todayisthatday.com/blog/ Today is that Day

    Being a busy work at home blogger, I run into this frequently. When one of the other family members comes home, I want to pay attention to them, but their arrival at the house rarely corresponds with me just sitting there not being involved in some deep writing or coding project.
    My solution to this was to dedicate a certain amount of time when I am NOT ALLOWED to work. Usually it is from when my wife gets home from her day job until we have had dinner as a family, and then cleaned up the kitchen together.
    During that time, she and the rest of the family have my undivided attention. Of course, that doesn’t stop all of them from trying to talk to me after I get back on my computer after dinner, but I’m grateful to have a family who causes me to lose productivity time. :)

  • Katie

    “There is no love; there are only proofs of love.”
    I am sooo grateful that you posted that quote. It works in soo many contexts.
    For example, it’s applicable to relationships where one person *says* they care but whose actions are consistently neglectful or hurtful.
    It’s also a reminder to stay in touch with people who matter to us, and to do things to make them feel loved (like remembering birthdays, as you often suggest).
    This quote has motivated me to accept more personal accountability for putting my money where my mouth is with the people I care about, and to take better care of myself in relationships where words and actions don’t match. Thank you Gretchen!!

  • Natasha

    I am interested in the phrase, “There is no love; there are only proofs of love.” I’ve never really understood it, and even in the context of this entry and the commenter’s remarks, I feel even more vague on the meaning. What is it you are proving (or disproving through duplicitous actions) if there is no love. I tend to think of this quote as somewhat nihilistic, in that “love” doesn’t exist, only the way we act towards those we are supposed to love (i.e., those in relationships with us). Am I totally missing the point? (It’s usually the case :D)
    Also, Gretchen: I think your attempts at expressing love in these attentive ways is profound, yet simple, and it seems that when we feel unloved, it is the result of a lack of attention, and in paying it out and receiving it, it seems the relationship benefits immensely, giving little burts of happiness along the way. Thanks!

  • http://www.issueswithknitting.blogspot.com LaurieM

    I think that while you are right about paying attention, it is a two-way street. Paying attention to someone else is much more satisfying when you know you have their attention. What use is it to prove your love when the other person isn’t paying attention to your proofs?

  • Zyada

    “There is no love; there are only proofs of love.”
    On that note, and because you like lists so much, I want to recommend a book to you – “Recovering Love” by J. Richard Cookerly. I wrote a review on amazon, but it tells about building healthy loving relationships built on the eight major ways of loving:
    Affirmational love (cherishing)
    Self-disclosure (emotional honesty)
    Toleration (from love, not fear)
    Non-verbal expressions of love
    Words of love
    Touching with love (hugs, kisses, etc.)
    Gifts of love.
    Receptional loving.

  • http://www.gretchenrubin.com Gretchen Rubin

    I’m so pleased that people like this quote as much as I do. As to what it means, exactly…I’ve always thought that it means that although I may feel love in my heart, another person can only understand this love as it is expressed. Also, because science tells us that actions also shape feelings (although we think that feelings shape actions), giving proofs of love will amplify feelings of love. At a more basic level, I use this quote to remind myself that it doesn’t do any good to think smugly about how much I love the Big Man or whomever, if I don’t turn that love into patience, forbearance, thoughtfulness, etc.
    I’m intrigued with the 8 categories of love. I’ve never thought of thinking about it that way…off to check out the book by Cookerly. Thanks!