Monday, March 17, 2003

Marriage doesn't make you happy

A story released by Reuters and published today by reports that
most newlyweds experience a brief emotional bounce after their wedding, but they eventually return to the same outlook they had on life before they married, according to a study released Sunday.

"We found that people were no more satisfied after marriage than they were prior to marriage," the researchers said.

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

Researchers tracked more than 24,000 people from 1984 to 1995, asking participants every year to rate their overall life satisfaction from zero (totally unhappy) to 10 (totally happy).

The average boost from marriage was small -- one-tenth of one point on the scale, researchers said.

The study, which took 15 years to complete, also found that people who were already satisfied with their lives before marriage were more likely to stay married longer.

"People who get married and stay married are more satisfied than average long before the marriage has occurred," the study said.

Researchers said the results were based on an average and that happiness is an individual experience, reflecting "the fact that marriage can be very pleasant and rewarding but has the potential to be very stressful."

Dorian Solot, co-founder of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, said the study showed marriage was not a cure-all.

"I think it reminds us that there's no magic ticket to happiness. Wedding bells might do it for some people, but true happiness is about you and your own life, not your marital status," said Solot, who also co-wrote "Unmarried to Each Other."

While long-term marriages tend to be happy, a constant search for that initial euphoria could be disastrous, said David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project, a Rutgers University-based think tank on marriage trends.

"It may be one reason for divorce is they are looking to maintain that high level of happiness throughout the marriage, which is kind of impossible for most people," he said.

The study also found that widows and widowers were less likely to regain the same level of happiness they had during their married years, especially if their marriages were satisfying. Most people who lost a spouse and who did not remarry took about 8 years to recover emotionally.

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