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Are Single or Partnered People Happier?

In this case, perception may matter more than reality.

Key points

  • A new study found lower overall well-being in singles but also revealed a key factor: relationship desire.
  • Researchers found that perceiving singlehood as fulfilling can be crucial to happiness.
  • Societal pressures to be in a romantic relationship may be harmful.
Pexels/Vija Rindo Pratama
Source: Pexels/Vija Rindo Pratama

As we wrote in our previous post, studies consistently find that those in relationships are happier than those who are not. The latest study examining the association between relationship status and well-being among young adults also backs up this finding.

In the latest issue of Family Relations, psychologist Nicole Watkins and colleagues found that singles were less happy than ones who were partnered.

However, the study didn’t stop there. The researchers took a more nuanced approach by examining the importance of romantic relationships.

In brief, Watkins and her colleagues recruited 909 young adults aged 18-35 to complete an online survey measuring the importance they place on being in a relationship by completing two sub-scales: relationship desire (e.g., “Being in a romantic relationship is very important to me.”) and relationship dismissal (e.g., “I prefer not to be involved in a committed relationship.”).

Additionally, they built on previous studies by measuring three indicators of well-being: love life satisfaction, general satisfaction, and flourishing, since all three factors contribute to happiness.

While the researchers found overall that single young adults experienced lower well-being than their paired-up peers, that’s not all they found. They also found that those who dismissed relationships as unimportant were more satisfied with their lives than single young adults who were less dismissive of romantic relationships.

In other words, how you perceived the importance of relationships, not solely whether you were coupled or not, also influenced your well-being.

Flourishing Across All Aspects of Life Is Key

The study supports that while many young adults desire to be in a relationship, others do not.

Further, as the researchers found, singlehood can indeed be a source of happiness for those not particularly interested in romantic relationships.

Societal pressure to be in a romantic relationship may backfire if young adults are pushed to do something that they do not deem important.

Thus, it is key to understand the goals and priorities of the young adults in our lives. We can’t push our desires and wants onto them. For example, we may force them to spend time searching for a partner.

Instead, as the research suggests, perhaps we help them invest their time in pursuing personally meaningful goals across all domains of their lives: their educational/career aspirations, athletic endeavors, character building, or becoming a better friend.

Facebook image: oneinchpunch/Shutterstock


Pileggi Pawelski, S., Pawelski, J.O. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. NY: TarcherPerigee.

Watkins, N. K., Beckmeyer, J. J., & Jamison, T. B. (2024). Exploring the associations between being single, romantic importance, and positive well-being in young adulthood. Family Relations, 73(1), 484-501.

More from Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP and James Pawelski, Ph.D.
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