Health & Wellness

You Don’t Have to Be Married to Be Happy

A new study suggests that marriage isn’t a major predictor of happiness


While happily married people have been shown to be healthier, a new study suggests that you don’t necessarily have to be married to be happy.

In a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers at Michigan State University found that while those who were married were usually happier than lifelong singles or those who have been divorced or widowed, happiness scores didn’t differ as greatly as researchers initially expected.

On a five-point scale, married people more often rated their happiness a four, while long-time singles averaged scores of 3.82, and those divorced or widowed averaged 3.7.

More than 7,500 people between the ages of 18 and 60 took part in the study, which surveyed participants on their happiness in later life.

“People often think that they need to be married to be happy, so we asked the questions, ‘Do people need to be in a relationship to be happy? Does living single your whole life translate to unhappiness? What about if you were married at some point but it didn’t work out?,’” said William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at the university and co-author of the paper. “Turns out, staking your happiness on being married isn’t a sure bet.”

“We were surprised to find that lifelong singles and those who had varied relationship histories didn’t differ in how happy they were,” said Mariah Purol, a Michigan State psychology master’s student and co-author. “This suggests that those who have loved and lost are just as happy towards the end of life as those who never loved at all.”

Having friendships, hobbies, and work satisfaction are equally good predictors of happiness, the research suggests. Those who were already unsatisfied with their lives prior to getting married were also more likely to stay unhappy—their marriage was no magic fix.

“It seems it may be less about the marriage and more about the mindset,” Purol said. “If you can find happiness and fulfillment as a single person, you’ll likely hold onto that happiness, whether there’s a ring on your finger or not.”

But marriage can have a positive effect on your physical health in later life; previous research has found married people are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, or to experience a heart attack or stroke.

Photo: iStock/Ridofranz.