Married People Aren't Actually Happier Than Singles, According To Study

We've got to aim for those white picket fences if we want to live happily ever after — at least, this is a message that's the chorus of every love song, the theme of our childhood fairytales, and even the plot of modern rom-coms ranging from When Harry Met Sally to The Thing About Harry. We're supposed to seek a life partner and ride off into the sunset together. If we don't, we get cornered at family picnics by concerned great aunts who demand to know: "Well, are you seeing anyone seriously yet?" As if being single is a dangerous condition that needs to be cured.

Well, Aunt Essie can stop worrying, because according to a recent study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, being married isn't more likely to lead to happiness than staying single. Researchers at Michigan State University examined the relationship histories of 7,532 people, whom they followed from ages 18 to 60. Relationship status — whether the participants stayed married, remained single, or had periods of partnership and singledom — did not correlate with lifelong well-being. "We were surprised to find that lifelong singles and those who had varied relationship histories didn't differ in how happy they were," study co-author Mariah Purol said in a statement. "This suggests that those who have 'loved and lost' are just as happy towards the end of life than those who 'never loved at all.'"

You can be unhappy in love but still love your life

Multiple factors influence whether someone felt that they'd lived a fulfilling life, the 42-year-long study found. Being happily married was one of these factors — and there was a slight, but not statistically significant, uptick in the happiness of long-married couples. However, employment status, parenthood, health, and friendships all play a role in long-term well-being. "People can certainly be in unhappy relationships, and single people derive enjoyment from all sorts of other parts of their lives, like their friendships, hobbies and work. In retrospect, if the goal is to find happiness, it seems a little silly that people put so much stock in being partnered," study co-author William Chopik stated.

In fact, the pressure to fall in love and get married may lead to people settling for someone who doesn't actually make them happy, suggested a 2013 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which concluded the fear of being single resulted in settling for less.

So, you can tell the anxious aunts to back off and continue enjoying whatever it is that makes you smile — even if that's just you and your lonesome, plus or minus a cat or two. "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," Purol said.