Extending the Marriage Boost Beyond Two Years

Happiness does not come automatically to anyone in any area of life. Because of sin our default is sadness, and that can only be overcome by intentional activity. As Benjamin Disraeli said, “There is no happiness without action.”

Take marriage for an example. A German study that followed 1,761 people for 15 years through their single years and into married life found that “people were no happier during the years after marriage than before marriage, and the average ‘marriage boost’ in happiness lasted for only two years.”

Markus and Roland
However, there were some significant differences in some people’s experiences of marriage. In The How of Happiness, researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky highlighted Markus and Roland, two participants who married while the study was going on.

Markus’s happiness increased more than average when he got hitched, and eight years later he is still happier being married (just declining a tiny bit from his high point) than when he was single. Roland, on the other hand, ended up less happy during the first two years of marriage and has become even less happy in the five years since (p. 65).

What made the difference? Lyubomirsky explains:

Markus didn’t want the effects of marriage to “wear off”; he didn’t want to adapt to the rewards of marriage and take it for granted. So he decided to dedicate himself to be the best husband he could be and not take his wife and their relationship for granted. He consciously remembers to say, “I love you,” to bring her flowers, to initiate plans, trips, and hobbies, to take an interest in his wife’s challenges, successes, and feelings (p. 65).

In contrast, Roland was disappointed at the outset that matrimony did not live up to his idealistic expectations and since then has failed to observe the slow and steady deterioration of his relationship.

Gradual Adaptation
Scientists have found that we tend to adapt to every positive change in our lives. Whether it’s marriage, a better job, a bigger house, a sports victory, etc., the initial boost of happiness and well-being fades and the better life becomes the new normal.

However, what Markus and Roland teach us is that although we usually adapt to happy improvements in our lives, we can inhibit or slow down the adaptation process with determined action.

For example, Markus “tried to inhibit adaptation to his marriage by actively and creatively behaving in ways that preserved his and his wife’s love and affection for each other,” a strategy that we can learn from in every area of life.

Newly-weds, beware of this danger, and take action to avoid it. Well-worn-weds, understand what’s happened, and take action to unadapt to one of God’s greatest gifts to you.  By God’s grace, a renewed and ever-renewing marriage can become the new normal.

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Productivity Habits
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Ditto for myself.

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5 Stages of a Pastor’s Ministry
Thom Rainer: “For more than two decades I have studied, contemplated, and written about the tenure of a pastor. Why is pastoral tenure relatively brief on the average? Does that tenure contain common and distinct stages? Is there a particular point in the tenure when more pastors leave the church?”

Children’s Bible Reading Plan

This week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

If you want to start at the beginning, this is the first year of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

The second year of morning and evening readings in Word and pdf.

The first 12 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s an explanation of the plan.

The daily Bible Studies gathered into individual Bible books.

Old Testament

New Testament

Do Tough Teachers Get Good Results?

In Why Tough Teachers Get Good ResultsJoanne Lipman fondly remembers a music teacher who called his pupils idiots, poked them with pencils, and screamed insults when they messed up. Despite this, when he died, so many ex-pupils turned up at his memorial that they formed an orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

Lipman asks: “What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?”

She answers: “It’s time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here’s the thing: It works.”

She rejects the softer, gentler, kinder methods of the past few decades and proposes eight principles, “a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research.”

1. A little pain is good for you: True expertise requires teachers who give “constructive, even painful, feedback,” Top performers in various fields “deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.”

2. Drill, baby, drill: Rote learning cultures like India and China are now outperforming Western students in many disciplines.

3. Failure is an option: Kids who understand that failure is a necessary aspect of learning actually perform better.

4. Strict is better than nice: A five-year study of the most effective teachers in the worst L.A. schools found that the common characteristic was “They were strict.” Instead of teaching through collaboration and discussion, “they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. “

5. Creativity can be learned: Most creative giants were not born as geniuses. Instead they “work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.”

6. Grit trumps talent: In a widespread study of various career tracks, researchers found that “grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success.”

7. Praise makes you weak: “Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that 10-year-olds praised for being “smart” became less confident. But kids told that they were “hard workers” became more confident and better performers.”

8. While stress makes you strong: “A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience.”

What do you think? Is the way back the way forward?

I’ve tried the modern teaching methods of group projects, debate teams, online discussions, and collaborative assignments, and found that they just frustrate gifted students and carry the less gifted. I’m also for more discipline and individual accountability. Some of these eight proposals are well-researched and well-tested.

School of Fear
However, I had teachers who terrified the wits out of me, so much so that I learned nothing from them, apart from how to skip classes. Three of them were male alcoholics, one a female alcoholic, one should probably have been in prison (he threw hammers at pupils across the workshop), and the others are probably incarcerated today. Yes, I went to a public school in Glasgow.

But in addition to these delightful influences on my life, I also had a few teachers who would fit the description of Lipman’s ideal teacher. And again, they scared some of us so much that many of us either “hid” in the class, or never went to class. It was a miserable experience – unless you were a star performer, and I was certainly not in that elite High School group.

Smashed Students
I also wonder about how many pupils did not return for the memorial concert. How many average and below-average kids did Lipman’s teacher smash to smithereens with his psychological and physical warfare? How many were put off education for life? How many still carry the scars of humiliation and demoralization?

I’m reminded of the words of the best ever teacher: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

Now that’s the kind of teacher I can learn from.

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20 Tips For Personal Devotions in the Digital Age

Yesterday we looked at 18 Obstacles to A Devotional Life in the Digital Age. Today I want to give you some tips to keep your spiritual head above the water in the face of the digital deluge.

1. Take guilt to God: Mention devotions to most Christians and the guilt meter goes straight to red: guilt over failure to do them, guilt over lack of profit in them, guilt over rushing through them. As there’s nothing so motivating as starting with a clean sheet, let’s take all our guilt to God and find the energy and freedom that comes from a full and free forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

2. Get to bed early: The main reason why people skip devotions is going to bed so late that they cannot get up in time in the morning to read and pray.

3. Turn off your phone and avoid computer: It’s absolutely vital that you meet with God before anyone else in the day. Keep your mind free of digital distractions.

4. Have a shower and eat breakfast first: Refresh yourself by getting the blood flowing and the blood sugar levels rising.

5. Don’t share your daily devotions in social media: This changes the whole nature of the communion and communication between you and God because you are thinking “How can I FB or Tweet this?” Keep it just between you and God.

6. Establish regular time and place: For the vast majority this will be first thing in the morning before everyone else is up. Ideally a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and where you will not disturb others.

7. Build a systematic routine: Read consecutively in the OT and NT so that you are exposed to the whole counsel of God. There are various Bible reading plans available. If you don’t plan and map out your journey, you won’t get there.

8. Vary the routine: Although you should have a general routine that you stick to, every few months add a bit of variety by maybe reading a book more slowly, or study a book with the help of a commentary, or memorize a chapter, and then go back to the routine again.

9. Read easier parts together with more difficult parts: For example, don’t get stuck reading Leviticus without also reading say one of the Gospels at the same time.

10. Start a short prayer list: Not too long so that it dominates the whole prayer and becomes like a shopping list. Don’t feel obliged to pray for everyone every day. Sometimes pray for just one person in detail.

11. Sing and speak out loud: Singing awakens and enlivens the soul. Reading and praying out loud avoids half-hearted reading and mumbling jumblings in prayer.

12. Turn your songs and Bible readings into prayer: Pause at verses and ponder how to make this a prayer.

13. Learn from set prayers: I don’t like using formal prayers written by someone else, but I can read them to see how others pray and discover what elements I’ve been missing in my prayers.

14. Be careful with Study Bibles and Daily Devotionals: These are sometimes good when you don’t have a clue what the passage means. However, don’t let them become a substitute for prayerfully seeking God’s help to understand His Word. Don’t let someone else do your thinking for you.

15. Start small: Don’t go from doing nothing to spending an hour on devotions. You’ll never keep that up. Start with 5-10 mins and slowly increase to 20-30 minutes.

16. Journal: Don’t write a novel; instead write down a sentence or two or a verse that struck you while reading. Don’t make this too big or you won’t keep it up. Regularly review what you’ve written.

17. Dads, help young Moms: If Mom can’t find the time in busy mornings, then each evening you need to relieve and release her for 30 minutes or so to be on her own with the Lord. Why not each read the same passages and then you can share your thoughts with each other over supper.

18. Fight formality and self-righteousness: Pray for God’s blessing and that He would prevent this blessing turning into a curse by it becoming just a formal routine or else a source of pride.

19. Learn meditation: And if you want some tips on meditating on Scripture have a look at Meditation: 10 Motives and 10-Step Method

20. Don’t end the devotional life: Try to carry it on into the day. Perhaps write a verse to keep in your pocket and refer to every time you eat or wait in a line. Write it at the top of your to-do list. Look at it before you seep at night.

Read #1 again, and again, and again.