Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, February 12, 2018
My daughter is getting married this June. Wednesday is Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. And the question is — is that a good thing?
There is something called The Journal of Happiness Studies, which is devoted to a scientific understanding of subjective well-being. Recently they did a study that hoped to solve the eternal question — “Is marriage’s effect on happiness short-lived? And does marriage cause happiness, or is it that happy people are more likely to get and stay married in the first place?”
The study was done in England, with 30,000 people older than 18. They studied the time before marriage as well as after. In other words, if you were really just a curmudgeon, then marriage might have no effect on you. And finally they tried to allow for “the stiff upper lip” of the respondents. It seems that happy is as happy does, and that a good marriage is a good thing. Duh. (The trick seems to be in the definition of “a good marriage.”) And the marriage effect on happiness has a long tail distribution; it lasts a while.
However, by contrast, there is a suggestion that in America, a miserable marriage and the ensuing divorce has about the same lasting effect as a latte. We are a bit more cavalier, it seems, in the matter of toughing it out and learning how to be happy, often in spite of ourselves. Obviously, different cultures view marriage from multiple perspectives.
In the final analysis, it turns out that happiness is “U-shaped,” meaning that it normally rises when we are young, drops during middle age when life’s existential questions rise to the fore (that is code for children, money, job and aging parents), and then in our golden years it rises with equilibrium and acceptance. This augurs well for your romantic dinner; just don’t try to look too far into the future. Stay at the top of the U on Wednesday.
In addition, the study seems to affirm that getting married (in theory to someone you love) is a good thing. “Married people were 10 percent more satisfied than people who were single. But while cohabiting couples were happier than single people, they were only 75 percent as happy as married couples.” Seems like the ring’s the thing, and that “a legal document trumps just living together.”
The study then reports the obvious. If you are in a miserable marriage, you are probably not happy. (There is a bit of circular logic here, but after all, the study was done in Britain). If you named your spouse as your best friend, you were twice as happy as those who didn’t.
Now, let me complicate the puzzle a bit. A recent Harvard study has come out that says “only 25 percent of employees feel a connection to their company’s mission” — which means that 75 percent are not really there for you, baby, at work. They are somewhere between disgruntled, unhappy or just plain miserable. My idea is now to do a study and correlate how many of those unhappy employees are happily married — or in the alternative are about to get divorced. And if they get divorced, will they then quit the toxic workplace they are stuck in, and go off with their new love and a new company to find true happiness?
My daughter, the one getting married, is not particularly happy at her job. So the question one might pose: Do you think getting married will have a positive effect at work (and that your boss will suddenly become responsive and supportive)? It turns out from other studies that the answer is no. So I think she just needs to get another job.
As a point of history, our good Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers forbidden to marry. And to top it off, the saint was executed, and in the final note to his jailer’s daughter, he signed off with the farewell, “your Valentine.” And then they cut off his head. You might consider bringing this up to your date right before you order the dessert.
Wow. Execution or divorce, pick your poison. Me, I’m staying married. I’m happy, it’s just that my bride doesn’t know it.
Rule No. 548: I do.