Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness

I’m currently reading through the Oxford-published volume The Bible and the Pursuit of Happiness and the second chapter “Is There Happiness in the Torah?” discusses how family life is a major aspect of “the good life” in the pre-Israel, patriarchal narratives of Genesis. This reading combined with a browsing of older saved, but never published blog posts brought out these findings on happiness and marriage from a 2015 New York Times article:

Image result for happy marriage gifSocial scientists have long known that married people tend to be happier, but they debate whether that is because marriage causes happiness or simply because happier people are more likely to get married. The new paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, controlled for pre-marriage happiness levels.

It concluded that being married makes people happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who remain single – particularly during the most stressful periods, like midlife crises.

Even as fewer people are marrying, the disadvantages of remaining single have broad implications. It’s important because marriage is increasingly a force behind inequality. Stable marriages are more common among educated, high-income people, and increasingly out of reach for those who are not. That divide appears to affect not just people’s income and family stability, but also their happiness and stress levels.

…Those whose lives are most difficult could benefit most from marriage, according to the economists who wrote the new paper, John Helliwell of the Vancouver School of Economics and Shawn Grover of the Canadian Department of Finance. “Marriage may be most important when there is that stress in life and when things are going wrong,” Mr. Grover said.

For the most part, this is true worldwide (the exceptions are Latin America, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa). “Though some social scientists have argued that happiness levels are innate,” the article continues,

so people return to their natural level of well-being after joyful or upsetting events, the researchers found that the benefits of marriage persist.

One reason for that might be the role of friendship within marriage. Those who consider their spouse or partner to be their best friend get about twice as much life satisfaction from marriage as others, the study found.

…The benefits of marital friendship are most vivid during middle age, when people tend to experience a dip in life satisfaction, largely because career and family demands apply the most stress then. Those who are married, the new paper found, have much shallower dips – even in regions where marriage does not have an overall positive effect.

Seems like the patriarchal narratives might be on to something.