“The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions, the soon forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a gentle word, a heartfelt compliment.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Linda: A good marriage is one of the life factors most strongly associated and consistently associated with happiness. Good relationships make people happy because dependable companionship is a basic human need. Improving social relationships will bring our happiness score up. There is a strong consensus in the field of positive psychology that the number and depth of personal relationships have the greatest effect of all on happiness. And the relationship where vast numbers of people derive that greatest boost to their well-being is in their marriage.
The National Opinion Research Center, in Chicago, Illinois surveyed 35,000 Americans over a 30-year period. 40% of married people said they were “very happy” while only 24% of unmarried, divorced, separated, and widowed people said this. The happiness advantage for marrieds holds true when you examine the results considering age, income, and gender. Of course, there is the consideration of the factor that people who are already happy are more likely to get married and stay married. While this is likely to be true, the researchers feel that it is safe to assume that marriage will bring additional happiness.
Anke Zinnermann and Richard Easterlin are from the University of Southern California. Their research is an overview of the topic of marriage and happiness. They report their findings in a journal article in Population and Development Review (September 2006), “There is a comfortable consensus in the social sciences that marriage has a positive and enduring effect on well-being.”
Here’s what the experts in the positive psychology movement are saying:
Martin Seligman, in his book Authentic Happiness, states, “Marriage is robustly related to happiness. Marriage works remarkably well from a positive psychology point of view. Perhaps the single most robust fact about marriage across many surveys is that married people are happier than anyone else. Of married adults, 40% call themselves very happy, while only 23% of never-marrieds do. This is true of every ethnic group studied, and it is true across the 17 nations that psychologists have surveyed.” (In Authentic Happiness, Free Press, New York, 2002, pages 186, 187.)
Ed Diner cites the research that reveals that the vast majority of those who ranked in the top 10% of happiness were involved in a romantic relationship. “Research shows that married people are on the whole relatively happy, indeed happier than their single counterparts. Deep friendship is easier to find in marriage.” (In Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, published in 2008.)
Daniel Gilbert says, “We know that the best predictor of happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends. We know that it is significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health.” (In Stumbling On To Happiness.)
Eric Weiner says, “Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people. We should be looking to other people to the community, and to the kind of human bonds that so clearly are the sources of happiness.” (In The Geography of Bliss.)
Robert Putnam Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University says, “Our sense of connection is fraying, we spend less time visiting family and friends, we belong to fewer community groups, increasingly leading fragments lives.” (In Bowling Alone.)
Tal Ben-Shahar, a professor at Harvard University whose class is the most popular of all those offered there (at 855, the largest class at the University), states: “Having people about whom we care and who care about us to share our lives with, to share events and thought and feelings in our lives, intensifies our experience of meaning, consoles in our pain, deepens our sense of delight in the world. While relationships, in general, are important for the ultimate currency, romantic relationships reign supreme.” (In Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment.)
David Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College in Michigan, speaks of romantic love: “There are few stronger predictions of happiness than a close, nurturing, equitable, intimate, lifelong companionship with one’s best friend.”
George Valliant, author of the famous long-term (75 years) Harvard Grant Study speaking about the essential ingredient required to lead an “optimum life” says, “It is the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor and former chairman of the psychology department at the University of Chicago, inventor of the theory of “flow," says, “There are great opportunities for joy and for growth that can only be experienced in family life, and these intrinsic rewards are no less present now than they were in the past; in fact, they are probably much more readily available today than they have been at any previous time.”
Apparently, it’s not just in the United States where marrieds are reaping the happiness benefits of marriage. Using data from the 1991 World Values Study, Steven Stack and Ross Eshleman found that in 16 of 17 industrialized nations, marital status was significantly related to well-being.
It’s not just marriage itself that brings the benefit. It must be a harmonious, loving relationship to derive maximum value. The opinions of all those studying happiness are consistent; a good marriage is a direct path to well-being.