The Connection Between Marriage, Happiness and Health
Over the years, numerous researchers have concluded that happiness often follows a U-shaped curve in people’s lives. In youth and the golden years, happiness is generally elevated while individuals tend to be unhappy in middle age. This phenomenon is often referred to as the “mid-life crisis.” Factors believed to exacerbate the situation include career and childrearing stresses typically peaking during middle age. However, according to a study published in December 2014 by Canadian economists Shawn Grover and John Helliwell, being married can help improve happiness in middle age and the benefit is often strongest during that period as well. Other studies have found improved health to be another potential side effect of a strong marriage.
Marry Your Best Friend
Individuals who have tied the knot are consistently found to be happier than single people. Yet, as reported by Helliwell and Grover, marrying anyone available is not the answer. They concluded people who realize the most benefit from marriage are those who marry their best friends. The study found this group receives the most social support from their spouses, which can assist in shielding them from the stresses of middle age, when help is often most needed. Those who named their spouses as their best friends experienced almost double the benefits of those who did not. Helliwell stated, “Marriages are forms of super friendships.”
Studies on Health and Marriage
In addition to potentially improving your chances for happiness, good marriages are also believed to bolster physical well-being. Over the years, a lot of research has been done on the connection between health and marital status. Here are examples of three studies.
- 19th Century Research of William Farr
William Farr was a British epidemiologist and one of the first scholars to propose a link between longevity and marriage. His ground breaking work was one of the first relationship studies of its kind and assisted in creating the field of medical statistics. Farr’s research involved French adults who he separated into three separate categories: married couples, never-married bachelors and spinsters, and individuals who have been widowed. He used birth, death and marriage records to help analyze the mortality rates of the groups at different ages. Farr found that never-married people were more likely to die of disease than married couples, and widows and widowers fared worst of all.
- 2013 Duke University Study
In a study on 4,802 individuals born in the 1940s, Dr. Ilene Siegler and colleagues identified some important correlations between marital status and life expectancy. They found individuals who were unmarried or did not have a permanent partner during middle age where much more likely to die during that period.
- 2013 Brigham Young University and Penn State Study
The results of the most extensive study ever on the correlation between physical well-being and marital happiness were published in 2013. Researchers followed 1,681 individuals for more than two decades. Authors Richard Miller, Cody Hollist, Joseph Olsen and David Law found couples involved in good marriages were much more likely to be physically healthy over the course of their lives, and marriage duration was not a factor in the equation.
Despite all the positive ways marriage can impact one’s life, research has shown troubled marriages can be harmful and even lethal to people’s physical and emotional well-being. A bad marriage can wreak havoc on one’s life, in which case staying single may turn out to be a healthier option. A recent study also concluded strained marriages may actually be worse for the heart than habitual smoking. Merely being married doesn’t protect your health. The quality of the relationship is what really matters.
Marriage is not for everyone and unhappy marriages can be very detrimental. However, there are some consistent positive links that connect happiness, health and marriage.