“Loves seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”- Mark Twain
“A man doesn’t know what happiness is until he’s married. By then it’s too late.”- Frank Sinatra, from ‘The Joker Is Wild’.
Who are you more inclined to believe on this one, Sinatra or Twain? Two famous names, two opposite opinions. But who’s right?
As it turns out, ol’ blue eyes was wrong on this one. Some researchers decided to compare marital status with happiness, and found that married people, on average, score significantly higher than people who are single. They also found that cohabiters, on average, are happier than singles. And lower on the happiness scale even than singles, are people who had once been married but no longer are – for whatever reason.
There’s a lot of debate over why this is. One side of the argument is that marriage causes happiness – you get married, you get happier. This makes sense; marriage is a convenient way to meet many of our needs and wants in one shot: companionship, sex, children, financial stability, and so on. Not to mention love, the reason people are supposed to get married in the first place!
Then there’s the other side of the argument; happier people are more likely to get and stay married. If you’re temperamentally happy, you’re more likely to attract a partner, less likely to argue, and generally just an easier person to get along with. So maybe marriage doesn’t create happy people, but happy people create marriages? This makes sense too.
What’s the answer? Well it’s basically a little of both. Not only are happy people more likely to get married, but also married people become happier. In studies where people’s happiness has been tracked over time, there were noticeable increases after the tying of the knot.
What’s interesting, is that after that initial spike, there’s a gradual decline. Marriage gives a boost in happiness, which slowly starts to fall, reaching its lowest point when the kids reach the teen years. Once the kids have flown the coup, happiness returns to its pre-marriage level.
Presumably, this period where happiness declines is where the advice about ‘making marriage work’ comes into play. They say, you’re not supposed to take from a marriage, but to put into it. They say it takes work, and compromise, after the honeymoon period has worn off. Apparently people have recently been listening to this advice, at least in the UK, where the divorce rates in 2007 were the lowest for 26 years. However, some analysts suggest the reason for this is not romance, but the higher cost of divorce and settlement, which I suppose is the cynical interpretation. No one knows for sure, so I’ll let you make up your own mind on that one.
Haring-Hidore, M., Stock, W., Okun, M. A. and Witter, R. A. (1985). Marital status and
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Lucas, R.E., Clark, A.E., Georgellis, Y, Diener, E. (2003).Reexamining Adaptation and the
Set Point Model of Happiness: Reactions to Changes in Marital Status. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology. 84(3), 527–539