7 Ways Relationships Make You Happier (According To Science)
It’s not all tears and Tinder.
Healthy Living Editor, The Huffington Post
The Internet, and particularly Tinder’s own Twitter account, was in a tizzy this week over Vanity Fair’s detailed look at how online dating apps are shaping the way Millennials form romantic relationships.
If the article is to be believed, all that swiping left and right has created a culture of detachment and a lack of romance. It’s “the dawn of the dating apocalypse,” as the Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales put it.
And while some corners of the online dating world may be dismal indeed, one central criticism of the article has been that it didn’t show the myriad of people who are seeking lasting bonds on apps like Tinder and OKCupid. After all, one-third of all married people have dating apps and websites to thank — and a 2013 study found that couples who met online had higher marriage satisfaction.
In other words, it’s not so much how you meet that accounts for personal happiness. Instead, it’s what happens next, according to a multitude of research on the role relationships play in overall life satisfaction.
Leren Lu via Getty Images
Playing cupid makes us happier.
A 2014 Duke University study found that people who acted as matchmaker for others regularly, whether it be romantically, socially or even professionally, are linked to higher well-being.
Not only that, the study found the more unexpected the match, the greater happiness the matchmaker experienced. As Shankar Vedantam, NPR’s social science correspondent, explained, “this probably explains why, if you’re single, your matchmaker friends keep trying to introduce you to people with whom you have absolutely nothing in common.”
However, as we know, unlikely matches are sort of eliminated in online dating thanks to algorithms that connect people based on similarity. Perhaps we should ditch the dating apps entirely and just use and play matchmaker the good ol’ fashion way (kidding… sort of).
Interpersonal relationships lead to greater life satisfaction…
We often think of romantic relationships as the bread and butter of connectedness and happiness (and those are certainly a big component) but this is evidence that all of our relationships hold merit. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that strong social relationships with others predicted greater life satisfaction, which essentially means a more positive evaluation on how their life is currently going and how it will go in the future.
…But that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to have a wedding.
In a meta-analysis of 18 studies on long-term married couples and “cognitive well-being” (i.e. what researchers used to measure life satisfaction), a report published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that life doesn’t necessarily improve after we tie the knot. Aside from an initial “honeymoon effect,” the study authors discovered that the participants did not feel happier or more satisfied with their lives once they were married.
Romantic relationships have a greater influence on life satisfaction than work.
This is very telling: We may regard relationships more highly than success at work, according to 2013 research from the National University of Entre Rios in Argentina. The study analyzed more than 200 participants ages 23 to 27 to determine how love and work rank in terms of life satisfaction. “A much stronger stability was found in love than in work domain,” the study authors wrote.
Seniors in sexually active marriages self-report feeling personally happier.
Physical intimacy in a relationship is crucial to our own personal satisfaction. An analysis of findings from the 2004 General Social Surveys found that older couples who engage in regular sexual activity are more likely to not only be happier in their relationship but happier in their own lives as well. Additionally, research shows that having sex can reduce our stress levels.
Our personal longevity is better if we have strong social relationships.
Adding years to our lives may lie in the company we keep. An analysis of nearly 150 studies published in the journal PLOS Medicine found good social relationships — which certainly include romantic relationships — had a profoundly positive impact on reducing the risk of mortality. The participants with strong social bonds had an increased likelihood of survival by 50 percent.
Most of all, love is the key to a happy life.
It seems The Beatles were onto something when they crooned that “love is all you need.” According to a Harvard study that analyzed data over the course of 75 years (yep, that’s almost a century), loving relationships are crucial to a happy, fulfilling life.
It’s worth noting that the study only included men, but the authors say that the results can provide an important insight into the human condition. George Vaillant, a Harvard psychiatrist and one of the study’s researchers, says the the findings support two main concepts of happiness. “One is love,” he wrote. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
In other words, humans love to love. Simple as that.