Is it your perception that those who are in long-term relationships are happier?
There are underpinnings, subtexts and expectations that if you ultimately get married, or at least have a steady significant other, you are automatically granted a boost of happiness.
But what about those who simply express a desire to stay single because that’s what works best for them? They wouldn’t exactly feel happiest in committed relationships, right? In addition, you could also argue that an underlying sense of happiness depends on your own outlook — happiness that is perhaps guided by more of an internal feeling.
So are we truly happier in a long-term relationship?
A 2012 article by Natasha Burton discusses a report from Michigan State University that illustrates how being married equates to happier people.
To clarify how this study (which will be published in the Journal of Research in Personality) stands out from previous research about this topic, Huffpost Weddings interviewed Stevie C.Y. Yap, one of the report’s lead authors and a researcher in MSU’s department of psychology. He relayed that the data infers that married people are happier than they would have been had they remained single; in the study, “happiness” was measured by survey responses.
“We qualified happiness in terms of individual satisfaction – the overall satisfaction one has with one’s own life. What this study adds is the comparison to the control group. It seems that marriage does play a role in happiness in the long run, compared to where they would have been (had they stayed single), when we compare to similar-aged individuals who aren’t married,” he said.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to take these studies at face value since other variables may be contributing to an individual’s sense of life satisfaction. He or she could have a positive world view, or a resilient nature that’s separate from their relationship (and the happiness that’s coupled with intimacy). And if you’re enjoying being single, marriage is certainly not the trajectory to move toward.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a specialist in positive psychology, speaks about the notion of circumstances and how happiness only really accounts for 10 percent of that equation in her text, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.
Interestingly enough, marriage falls under the category of such circumstances. “Numerous anecdotal examples, including mine, prove the point: Getting married was one of the best things that I have ever done, and I am absolutely convinced that I am happier now than before,” she noted.
Yet, she cited psychological research that proved her musings incorrect. A total of 25,000 residents of East and West Germany participated in a landmark study and were surveyed every year for fifteen years. 1,761 individuals of those surveyed got married and stayed married, but evidence indicated that marriage only had a temporary effect on happiness; people generally adapt to their circumstances.
“It appears that after the wedding, husband and wife get a happiness boost for about two years and then simply return to their baselines in happiness, their set point,” she said.
Lyubomirsky would advocate that happiness could be viewed as a personal barometer of sorts, which is why leaving your singlehood doesn’t exactly solve your quest for a happy life.
While it’s not necessarily new to question whether one is happier in a committed relationship, I’d like to presume that if someone truly harbors a desire to remain unattached, he or she will be happier with that choice. I find that studies that suggest otherwise are hard to read, especially when other factors might be at play as well.
And of course relationships — the healthy ones, at least — do provide those feelings of pure happiness and fulfillment, but if you’re not happy within yourself, the allure of circumstance isn’t going to change your own reality.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jun 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Suval, L. (2013). Are We Happier in Long-Term Relationships?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/06/30/are-we-happier-in-long-term-relationships/