There are different types of happiness. There’s ‘momentary happiness,’ which is what Rick is referring to. Momentary happiness is happiness you feel in the moment you’re doing something. For example, the moment you’re in a meaningful deep discussion or sharing a common interest you experience momentary happiness. And it’s true; Rick would experience more momentary happiness with Margie.

But there’s another type of happiness that I call ‘reflective happiness.’ Reflective happiness is that feeling you get when you reflect back on your life and you feel proud of your choices. You’re not doing anything in that moment to make you happy, but you feel happy in that moment because of how you’ve lived in previous moments.
Momentary happiness and reflective happiness are sometimes at odds with each other.
For example, let’s say you get a call from the detox center to inform you that your son has escaped and that he’s likely to show up at your door asking for money and a place to stay.

When your son shows up, you would experience momentary happiness if you opened the door and gave him a soothing hug. But you’d experience reflective happiness years later if you showed tough love and didn’t answer the door. You would NOT be able to experience both in this example.

(That doesn’t mean that momentary happiness and reflective happiness are incompatible. It’s also possible that a string of events that result in momentary happiness are also the exact events that would result in reflective happiness.)

My point is that happiness is NOT simply about pleasure in the moment. It’s also a result of being able to reflect on your life and see that you embraced values like loyalty, commitment, service, and sacrifice (for children, for example).

You could have years of fun, but if you can’t look at your life and see that you’ve embraced the highest ideals of humanity, you will NOT be happy. You might experience momentary pleasure, but that’s different than true happiness.

I’m not saying that Rick is obligated to a life of misery in the name of his oath. Depending on his personal and religious beliefs, maybe he does have options. What I am saying is that ending a marriage in an effort to achieve happiness is not a simple transaction.

When someone ends a marriage, no matter how bad the circumstances, they’ve just put a few notches on the side of UNhappiness. Again, I’m not saying that a marriage should never end. It depends on the circumstances as well as one’s personal and religious beliefs. But a person has to realize when they end a marriage they’re breaking an oath, failing in their unconditional loyalty, impacting the lives of children, and hurting the feelings of another human being. These are not insignificant matters. And, in my opinion, these are matters that greatly affect a person’s happiness.

Loyalty, commitment, service, sacrifice; these are not words commonly used in modern culture. But if you delve into the wisdom literature (both modern and ancient), you will notice that these are the characteristics of a meaningful and fulfilling life. In short, these values pave a path to HAPPINESS.

I have known people who were deeply devoted to their spouse despite the fact that they were treated badly in return. As their lives past, there was sadness because of certain unhappy times. And maybe even wonder about what might have been with someone else. But there was also happiness because of a lifetime of unwavering commitment to certain values and service to certain people including their children.

Rick might think that God sent him Margie so he could be with her and be happy. But maybe God sent Margie to Rick so that he could choose to NOT be with her and be happy. In other words, Margie gives Rick the opportunity to manifest in his life some of humanity’s highest ideals . . . and THOSE IDEALS will bring him happiness.

I wish all of us BOTH momentary and reflective happiness. May you be blessed with BOTH. And very often they can come together. But sometimes they cannot. And when that’s the case, you want to be careful not to over simplify your calculation for happiness and make a choice that will, one day, make you sad.

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About the Author

Mort Fertel

Mort Fertel is a world authority on the psychology of relationships and has an international reputation for saving marriages. In addition to working with couples, he teaches individuals how to single-handedly transform their marital situation.


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