Turns out there is a recipe for a happier life, and it’s one that’s been around all along.
New research shows that marriage makes people happier – not just during the honeymoon period, but consistently, throughout their whole lives. And the reason why is a simple one: It’s all about friendship.
It’s well known that married people report higher levels of satisfaction with life. But in a new paper, Canadian economists Shawn Grover and John F. Helliwell challenge some widely-held preconceptions: that it’s because happier people get married in the first place, and that marriage leads to higher satisfaction only in the short term, dropping off as life goes on.
Analyzing three different databases, (two British population surveys and the Gallup World Poll), Grover and Helliwell found that the reported life satisfaction of married and single people follows a similar pattern – high in their youth, dropping in their 40s and 50s, and rising again towards the end of their lives. But, even when controlled for happiness levels before tying the knot, married people consistently report that they are happier than those who are unmarried.
What’s more, the dip in happiness during the middle of their lives is less pronounced, indicating that having a spouse moderates the effects of the mid-life crisis that everyone goes through. The data below is based on a detailed survey conducted in the UK.
The shape of the life-satisfaction curve varies across different regions of the world, but the impact of being married on mid-life crisis is the same, no matter where people live.
Yet it isn’t simply being married that matters, Helliwell tells Quartz. It’s the friendship between couples that counts. “It’s the secret ingredient of the sauce for successful marriage,” he says.
The British Household Panel Survey – one of the databases they used – asked respondents about their closest friends, and half of them responded it was their spouse. For those who call their partner their best friend the benefits of marriage were about twice as large than for those who didn’t.
In other words, happiness has less to do with your social status or financial stability, and more to do with sharing wedding bands with your BFF.
“Marriages are forms of super friendship,” Helliwell says.
He added that this plays into a larger strand of research being done on the importance of social context to human happiness. In a previous study, Helliwell explored the importance of social interaction in the workplace to life satisfaction. That study showed that qualities in the workplace like trust can be much more important than monetary gain.
It’s time to work on those people skills.