MARRIAGE IMPACTS PEOPLE'S HAPPINESS
FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE
A couple walking hand in hand.
Seeking to better understand how people adapt to changes in their lives, Richard Lucas an assistant professor in the department of Psychology, explored how marriage impacts people's happiness. His study advances our understanding of the impacts events like marriage and divorce can have on our lives. Lucas' study builds on additional research in the College that seeks to advance our understanding of health issues.
Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone who gets married ends up happier in life, according to a new study conducted by Richard Lucas and others. "On average, people reacted to important events in their lives and then adapted back toward their baseline levels. Yet, some people may end up much happier than they were before marriage, and some people may end up much less happy," said Lucas.
"Substantial individual differences account for the changes reported by individuals in their levels of happiness. Individuals who have strong reactions to marriage, may remain at elevated levels of happiness many years into their marriage," said Lucas. "Others may feel that their overall satisfaction drops off after a life event like marriage."
Lucas found that contrary to popular belief, people who get married generally tend to be happier--even before their marriage--than people who do not get married. "However, that doesn't mean that there's nothing you can do about your level of happiness." Lucas found people are very good at adapting to changes in their lives from life events.
Studying results from a 15-year German survey that interviewed over 24,000 people for 15 years, Lucas researched a sub-sample of about 1700 people who were initially not married when the study began. The team investigated people's levels of happiness both before and after marriage and after other life events like widowhood.
"For example, a person who is very satisfied with life probably has a rich social network and has less to gain from marriage. On the other hand, a person who feels alone may gain much more by marrying. Likewise, a person who is more happy in marriage has more to lose if his or her spouse passes away."
Lucas studied an additional 500 people who became widowed during the study. Lucas found that people's happiness tends to fall initially after widowhood, but over time people adapt to their situation and return to near initial levels of happiness. "People are very adept at changing to events in their lives and have emotional resilience."
"Our results show that happy people are more likely to get and stay married and this may be partially responsible for the research that explains the association between marriage and higher levels of happiness," said Lucas. "In addition, people adapt more quickly to marriage than to widowhood. Individual differences greatly impact the extent to which people adapt to both events. Love and happiness are clearly intertwined but what we may not have known before is that it may not be just a result of marriage."
For the PDF of the full article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology click here: http://www.apa.org/journals/psp/press_releases/march_2003/psp843527.pdf
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