Academic studies can be fascinating… and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.
The popular line in research is that single people are less happy and healthy than their coupled counterparts. But more and more people — over half of the US population, in fact — are spending an increasing amount of their lives single, whether it’s because they delayed marriage, got divorced or simply didn’t want to couple off. Are these partner-free folks doomed to a life of misery? Obviously no. More and more research is showing that coupledom doesn’t suit everyone — relationships have plenty of perks, but they also come with their own unique conflicts and stresses that single people don’t have to deal with.
A new study out of the University of Auckland in New Zealand provides some insight into how the single life affects different types of people’s well-being. Turns out, having a romantic partner isn’t the be-all and end-all of happiness.
Researchers conducted two studies to see the short- and long-term effects of relationship status on well-being. For the first one, they gathered 187 undergraduate students ranging from 19 to 54 years old. Participants indicated whether they were “involved in a romantic relationship” and, if so, how serious that relationship was.
They then completed pre-established measures to see if they were high in avoidance goals (meaning: avoiding negative relationship experiences, like conflict and rejection, motivated them) or high in approach goals (meaning: they were motivated by the possibility of good things happening, so they approached relationships optimistically). Finally, participants rated how much they agreed with the statements “I am satisfied with my life” and “In most ways my life is close to ideal” on a scale of one to seven every day for 10 days.
In the second study, the researchers used data from two consecutive years of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, which gave them a sample of 4,024 participants ranging from 18 to 94 years old. They were able to see who was single, dating, living with a partner or married, as well as participants’ answers to the aforementioned measures of avoidance and approach goals. In this study, life satisfaction was measured by participants’ answers to how satisfied they were with their standard of living, health, future security and personal relationships.
The researchers found that certain types of people were as happy being single as those in a couple. Single participants high in avoidance goals reported just as much life satisfaction and well-being as participants in relationships. According to the researchers, this could be because, for them, being single means being blissfully “free from the potential vulnerability of experiencing hurt and conflict in relationships.”
But singledom didn’t suit everyone in the study. The people low in avoidance goals as well as people high and low in approach goals did actually see a boost in happiness when they were in relationships.
It’s important to note that the researchers weren’t asserting that everyone high in avoidance goals didn’t want to be in a relationship — these people were just considered more likely to avoid “the negative social outcomes that may need to be managed when in a relationship.” That said, the researchers emphasized that there are plenty of fulfilling, intimate relationships one can have outside romance — ever heard of friends and family? — so single people are certainly not islands. In fact, they often have particularly strong platonic relationships in their lives.
What these findings seem to suggest is that there really isn’t a single path to happiness. There are good and bad aspects of being in a relationship and being single, and how people fare in either situation really depends on the relationship and the individuals involved.
Perhaps Sarah Eckel (unscientifically) said it best in her 2014 book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single: “If you feel sad sometimes, it’s not because you’re single — it’s because you’re alive.”
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