Thursday, March 20, 2008

To be, or to marry, that is the question

For quite some time, I have been posting only my drawings and cartoons on this blog. For a change, let me return to writing. The good thing about writing is that it takes much less time. This may be an indication that I am not a very good artist/cartoonist, but then, who cares as long as I enjoy what I do, and I do. I think, that's what ultimately matters. "Happiness" is a concept that has been spoken about a lot, by philosophers, religious leaders, lovers, psychologists, and even economists. The only people who probably don't care about your happiness, are your mother-in-laws. The in-laws, that way never fall within the purview of any law, and thus, should be more appropriately called out-laws. Well, I don't really mean everything that I said about mother-in-laws. Certainly, there are a lot of great mother-in-laws out there, but for some reason many of us get a lot of happiness demonizing them, and it seems like I am no exception. "No wonder you are still single," some of you would say in response to my comments on mother-in-laws. But, is being single a bad thing? Am I unhappy if I am single? These are the questions that I will attempt to answer in my today's post.

I think the answer to both the questions is, "Yes and No." That is an escapist's answer you might say, but I am really not equivocating. Let me explain, first the "Yes" part. Most of the research done on mental wellbeing suggests that married people are happier than those who are single. These are large surveys in which married people report themselves to be happier than their single counterparts. So, yes, married people are more likely to be happier, but does that mean marriage caused their increase in happiness? That's doubtful, because survey type of research is not designed to make any causal inferences. Here, the results just show that marriage and happiness are associated with each other. However, if two things coexist, that does not automatically mean that one causes the other. So, the fact that married people are happier could be because of many reasons. I would put them into three categories: (1) marriage really improves the happiness level of people, (2) marriage specifically does not cause the increase happiness, but some other factors (e.g., increased income, extra savings on taxes, etc.) cause the increase in happiness, and (3) marriage does not improve happiness, but happy people are more likely to get married. Whatever is the reason, does it not make sense for me to marry then? The first two causes indicate that directly or indirectly, marriage will most likely make me more happy. Even in the condition that the first two causes were inaccurate, and only the last one was true, shouldn't I still get married? After all, I would like to be seen as a happy man who is eligible to get married.

Not surprisingly, my friends and family members are often coaxing me to get married soon. And of course, I keep pushing away the idea of marriage. Why? It's not that I don't want to marry, or that I have anything against marriage. The reason I don't listen to my well-wishers is that I think they are asking me to marry for the wrong reasons. They think I will get happier if I get married. I think there are two major problems in their thought. First, is the assumption that I am not happy enough, and second that my happiness will increase after marriage. I personally think I am no less happy than any married man. The only difference probably is that we derive our happiness from different things, but I am happy nonetheless. I know my friends won't argue about my happiness levels, but they will insist that marriage will increase my happiness even further. Does marriage really increase happiness? I will explore the answer to this question in the rest of my post.

I think marriage does not increase our happiness. I think what it does is fulfill many of our needs, but it does not increase our happiness levels. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that it does, and so they get disappointed when they discover the contrary. There has been lot of research done on what is called "affective forecasting." The basic finding of this stream of research is that people grossly overestimate the long term emotional impact of events in their lives. For example, people believe that they will be happy forever if they get to marry the person of their dreams, or win a million dollar lottery, or are conferred with the Nobel prize, but research shows that these events don't succeed in making us happier. The happiness level will certainly increase dramatically after these events, but soon, usually within days, weeks, or at the most a few months, happiness levels come back to where they were before the events happened. The phenomena applies to negative events as well. In other words, people think they will be permanently in grief if some disasters happened in their lives. Fortunately, it does not happen that way, and people bounce back to their regular level of wellbeing after some time. Human beings are very elastic and resilient in this sense. Events may shift the level of happiness/unhappiness for a while, but usually the levels readjust efficiently, and our happiness returns to where it was before any of those events happened. There is another stream of research that focuses on the stability of 'affect.' Even this research shows that people are pretty stable in their level of happiness and sadness for most of their lives. There are occasional spikes or drops, when a major event happens in their lives, but they soon revert to their baseline level of happiness.

So, the reason I am not overeager about getting married is because I know that the marriage's effect on my level of happiness will only be temporary. There may be an sudden spurt in the beginning, but it won't be very late before my enhanced emotional activation falls back to my baseline. Most likely, a year after my marriage, I will be as happy as I am now. You may ask, why then were married people found to be happier than single people. My view is that it is a case of rationalization: marriage does not increase the level of happiness of married people, but they still have to rationalize their decisions of getting married, so they have no other option but to report higher levels of happiness. That's a crooked way of thinking, you may say. I won't disagree. Singles can afford that.
........................until bitten by the marriage bug.

1 comment:

  1. As far as happiness is concerned, I think,it is well said, "Married people are happier than single." probably because (khushi bantne se badhta hai, gham bantne se kam hota hai). Think over it. You will have somebody to share your happiness.