The truth about happiness

Vox report a recent study on adaptation to life-changing events. I don’t want to venture into a discussison of happiness research — a topic fraught with controversy — but the results are always fun to read!

Apparently marriage really isn’t all that exciting and most people get progressively less happy as it drags on. Unsurprisingly, ending an unhappy marriage by divorcing one’s partner is a fantastic thing for most people; however, I’m surprised to see a strong increase in happiness in the lead up to the divorce with no drop immediately around it. Providing more evidence that marriage is a happiness wrecker is the plot for widowhood: while the death of a spouse is devastating, people are happier 3-4 years later than they were during the marriage!

  • CPW

    It isn’t clear how they define divorce (I haven’t read the paper). I guess in most cases the legal separation probably occurs some time after the relationship break-up (in NZ, minimum two years) which might explain why (for men at least) happiness falls prior to divorce and climbs after it. I noted that men are both less happy before and more happy after than women.

    Although I’d heard the result before, the fact that it only takes 1-2 years to completely recover happiness from a spousal death is fascinating. I was also interested to see that getting laid off improves happiness (conditional on not remaining unemployed of course).

    Of course we should avoid inferring too much from averages, but does all this mean that (from a happiness perspective) newlyweds should hope to get fired from their jobs and get divorced?

  • Yeah, I’m not sure what the difference between being laid off and being made unemployed is, so I don’t know what it really means. If the paper wasn’t gated it’d be easier to figure out exactly what those plots are saying.

    I guess the divorced and fired thing has a selection bias to the sample which means that it’s not generally good for people. The only people we observe getting divorced or fired are likely to be unhappy in their jobs/marriages anyway. So it’s probably saying that leaving an unhappy marriage or ditching the job you hate will be good for you; hardly groundbreaking, but good to know 🙂

  • Being a widow of four years, who has made great strides forward in recovering from grief, any report that says someone completely recovers from grief in 1-2 years after the loss of a spouse is misinformed. Society as a whole has not much of a clue about the grief process, and unfortunately, unless you’ve lived it, it is hard for others to understand and grasp the incredible emptiness in one’s life.

  • “any report that says someone completely recovers from grief in 1-2 years after the loss of a spouse is misinformed’

    I understand that all losses are extremely difficult. However, what you have said the report said, and what the report said are different. The report said that on average, people say that they reach an equal-higher level of happiness 3-4 years after they lose their partner than they did just before their partner was gone – it is reported by the people that had the loss, not randomly decided on by the researcher.

    One reason for this could be that the persons partner was ill before they passed away. It is very depressing having to watch someone you love slowly pass away, and as a result the period before they go will be a time of relatively low happiness. As time moves on you can learn to deal with this and recover to some semblance of normatility – it doesn’t necessarily mean that the average person would be better off if they lost their partner.

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