By Anne Becker, published on March 18, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2009
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
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
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.