So That's What Friends Are For

A single consistent factor in many studies of SWB is the critical necessity for close connection, physical touch, the comfort of friendship, the deeper embrace of love. "Friends are good, but family's better," says University of Southern California professor of economics Richard Easterlin, PhD. In a National Opinion Research Center survey of 23,000 Americans over the past two decades, 41 percent of those who were married described themselves as "very happy," while only 22 percent of those never married, divorced, separated, or widowed could say the same thing, meaning that the SWB levels of married people are nearly double the levels of those who aren't. This raises an interesting question. Are married people happier because they're married—or were they happier in the first place? In other words, are people with higher SWB more likely to find a partner? Researchers are attempting to answer this.

It is intriguing to note that a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that happy individuals appear more likely to get and stay married, which may help explain why SWB has been found to be higher among married people.

Contrary to pessimistic predictions of marriage starting out with a honeymoon bang, then declining in terms of intimacy (and SWB), psychologist David Myers cites in his research a 1995 study that reveals it's the benefits of marriage that help make married people happier. "Intimacy, commitment, and support do, for most people, pay emotional dividends," he reports, offering spouses—along with additional stresses—new roles and rewards.

Dual careers, it would seem, pose special challenges. But couples have new opportunities to craft their marriages just as they can shift their jobs into a calling. If you and your partner find more joy doing charity work than pigging out at Club Med (or the reverse), by all means follow your unique desires; find the space to pursue the things that will keep you as focused on the relationship as on the phone bill or car pool.

In the end, happiness is a choice—the frame through which we choose to see. The larger the frame, the more vivid the picture. The more we remember that life is a gift—that everything changes, we're not in control—the stronger our sense of well-being becomes. Colette had disasters in her life but was also one of the most joyful people ever to walk the streets of Paris. Happiness can withstand all that—all it takes is wisdom.

Your Happiness Plan


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