Romantic Relationships Don't Determine Happiness, Study Shows

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Smiling Woman Tossing Her Hair Behind Her

When single adults return home to visit, they're often asked: Are you still single? Apparently convincing nosy neighbors it is, in fact, possible to be happy without a partner doesn't work. Thankfully, scientists have come to the rescue.

A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that single people and married couples have similar levels of lifelong happiness and well-being. 

How relationship status affects happiness. 

Researchers from Michigan State University analyzed the relationship histories of 7,532 people throughout their lives—starting at age 18 and ending when they were 60. Participants were then asked to rank their overall happiness later in life. 

Throughout the 42 years, 79% of participants were consistently married to the same person, 8% were consistently single or unmarried, and 13% had "varied relationship histories," meaning they were in and out of a relationship, divorced, remarried, or widowed. 

After analyzing the happiness levels of each group, researchers found single adults and those with varied relationship histories had the same levels of happiness. "We were surprised to find that lifelong singles and those who had varied relationship histories didn't differ in how happy they were," co-author Mariah Purol, said in a news release. "This suggests that those who have 'loved and lost' are just as happy toward the end of life than those who 'never loved at all.'"

While married people had slightly higher numbers, Purol said the differences were insubstantial. For example, on a scale on 1 to 5, a married person would rank their happiness as a 4, while a single person and someone with a varied history would rank 3.82 and 3.7, respectively. 

"Turns out, staking your happiness on being married isn't a sure bet," said study author and psychology professor William Chopik, Ph.D. While marriage can make some people happy, he says it's also possible to derive enjoyment from other aspects of life, like friendships, hobbies, and work.

"It seems like it may be less about the marriage and more about the mindset," says Purol. "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."

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