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Are happy husbands and unhappy wives really the norm?

The idea that marriages between men and women make the men happy and the women miserable is not true, despite being a well-known “fact.” At least that is the conclusion of a scholarly researcher specializing in happiness.

According to her understanding of the best available research, everyone is happier having long-lasting connections with other people and a community. If marriage helps reach that goal, men and women are usually happier. If marriage gets in the way, men and women may be better off finding another path.

Another book revives a familiar story

Last year, a popular book about marriage touched off another round of debate about whether marriage is bad for women.

The book cited a telephone survey of women that began by asking if their husband was in the room. Women with a husband in the room generally declared they were happier, but they confessed to being generally less happy if he was gone.

The book cited the study as proof that women claim to be happier in marriage than they really are. But Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., points out that this survey could just as well mean than women really are happier when their husband is not absent.

Happiness experts see a more complex picture

Dr. Simon-Thomas is the director of science at The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The center sponsors scientific research into social and emotional well-being and finds ways to apply the science in the lives of real people.

Her article includes about a dozen links to peer-reviewed research articles that paint a much more complicated picture than the conventional wisdom.

Married people tend to be happier, but close examination of the reasons yields surprising results. The research also shows that staying married just to be married only increases misery.

The take-away message of the results, as Dr. Simon-Thomas sees it, is that married couples often actively try to cultivate happiness in the marriage. That focus is what matters, not just the fact of being married.

She quotes a Harvard happiness researcher as saying, “Marriage doesn’t make you happy. Happy marriages make you happy.”

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