Marriage Is Not the Key to Happiness

Attention all victims of nagging mothers: getting married is not necessarily the key to achieving eternal bliss. Most people were no more satisfied with life after marriage than they were prior to marriage in a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The study, which measured life satisfaction levels of more than 24,000 individuals living in Germany, looked at how people adapt to both positive and negative life events, according to author Ed Diener, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois. Results conclusively showed that though people react strongly to events such as marriage, they return to their personal "set point of happiness" after a certain period of time.

"Some people are happier than others, that's clear. And there are things you can do to make yourself happier, but something external like getting married isn't a royal road to changing your set point," Diener says.

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The study's authors call this process of returning to one's set point "hedonic leveling" because of its equalizing effect on people's overall happiness levels. "If you become super happy, there are forces that will bring you back to a more average level [of happiness]," Diener explains. "People tend to be slightly to very happy, but not ecstatic all the time"

Study results, for example, showed, spikes in respondents' happiness levels both before and after marriage, but the increase was minimal—approximately one-tenth of one point on an 11-point scale—and was followed by a return to prior levels of happiness.

On a positive note when something bad happens, humans react negatively, but bounce back over time, says Diener. The study found that after about five years, even widows and widowers returned to the levels of happiness they had before their spouses' passing.

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