The 7,532 participants were surveyed periodically from ages 18 to 60 and the psychologists sought to determine who reported to be happiest at the end of their lives.
The analysis of survey results found that participants fell of three groups: 79 percent were consistently married, spending the majority of their lives in one marriage; 8 percent were consistently single, or, people who spent most of their lives unmarried; and 13 percent had varied histories, or, a history of moving in and out of relationships, divorce, remarrying or becoming widowed. The scholars then asked participants to rate overall happiness when they were older adults and compared it with the group into which they fell.
Image provided by Michigan State University
Lifelong singles and those who had varied relationship histories didn't differ in how happy they were, suggesting that those who have 'loved and lost' are just as happy towards the end of life than those who 'never loved at all.'
Married people did show greater happiness, a 4 out of 5 on the scale of how happy they were, but consistently single people averaged 3.82 and those with varied history averaged 3.7. Those are tiny margins in improvement if the risk of failure involves a great deal of unhappiness. And consistently unhappy people didn't get happier being married (though perhaps they made the other people less happy.)
The available world is much larger than it was so for many, family pressure to get married and have a family is less. That means you can find happiness and fulfillment as a single person and you'll likely hold onto that happiness more than if you got married because it was expected.
"People often think that they need to be married to be happy, so we asked the questions, 'Do people need to be in a relationship to be happy? Does living single your whole life translate to unhappiness? What about if you were married at some point but it didn't work out?,'" said Professor William Chopik of Michigan State University, co-author of the paper. "Turns out, staking your happiness on being married isn't a sure bet."