Tag Archives: relationships

A Summary of Happiness Research

David Brooks brings ‘happiness research’ back to the wider public’s attention with a succinct summary of research into what does and does not make us happy:

Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow? […]

If you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

Brooks goes on to look at the confusing correlations between happiness and wealth before discussing the wider “correspondence between personal relationships and happiness”:

The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

via Fred Wilson

I discussed the ‘commuters paradox’ last year, noting that “a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office”.

Marriage as Scope Creep

Even though married life was progressing well and all involved were happy, Elizabeth Weil decided to actively apply herself to “the project of being a spouse” and to document the process.

Weil’s article is slow to start but becomes an absorbing inquiry in to what it means to be married.

I’ve never really believed that you just marry one day at the altar or before a justice of the peace. I believe that you become married — truly married — slowly, over time, through all the road-rage incidents and precolonoscopy enemas, all the small and large moments that you never expected to happen and certainly didn’t plan to endure. But then you do: you endure.

via Marginal Revolution

In a similarly absorbing manner, Jonah Lehrer discusses the concept of marriage from a neuropsychological perspective:

The only problem with this romantic myth is that passion is temporary. It inevitably decays with time. This is not a knock against passion – this is a basic fact of our nervous system. We adapt to our pleasures; we habituate to delight. In other words, the same thing happens to passionate love that happens to Christmas presents. We’re so impossibly happy and then, within a matter of days or weeks or months, we take it all for granted.

Choosing a Marriage Partner

When you’re looking, here are a few tips on choosing a marriage partner to increase your happiness and marriage longevity, from a summary of the research by Eric Barker:

  • There is mutual idealisation: “Spouses who idealized one another were more in love with each other as newlyweds. Longitudinal analyses suggested that spouses were less likely to suffer declines in love when they idealized one another as newlyweds. Newlywed levels of idealization did not predict divorce.” (Source)
  • Your partner has high self-esteem: On explicit measures of positive illusions, high self-esteem people continue to compensate for costs. However, cost-primed low self-esteem people correct and override their positive implicit sentiments when they have the opportunity to do so. Such corrections put the marriages of low self-esteem people at risk: Failing to compensate for costs predicted declines in satisfaction over a 1-year period. (Source)
  • The male has a high socio-economic status: Previous studies in developed-world populations have found that fathers become more involved with their sons than with their daughters and become more involved with their children if they are of high socioeconomic status (SES) than if they are of low SES. […] High-SES fathers [make] more difference to [their] child’s IQ by their investment than low-SES fathers do. The effects of paternal investment on the IQ and social mobility of sons and daughters were the same. (Source)
  • Your partner is conscientious and slightly neurotic: Conscientiousness [demonstrates] a compensatory effect, such that husbands’ conscientiousness predicted wives’ health outcomes above and beyond wives’ own personality. The same pattern held true for wives’ conscientiousness as a predictor of husbands’ health outcomes. Furthermore, conscientiousness and neuroticism acted synergistically, such that people who scored high for both traits were healthier than others. Finally, we found that the combination of high conscientiousness and high neuroticism was also compensatory, such that the wives of men with this combination of personality traits reported better health than other women. (Source)
  • Avoid ‘cheaters’ by trusting your instincts: The results of these experiments suggest that cheaters might look different from cooperators, possibly due to beliefs and personality traits that make them less ideal exchange partners, and the human mind might be capable of picking up on subtle visual cues that cheaters’ faces give off. (Source)
  • The female is the most attractive partner: Relative difference between partners’ levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives. (Source)
  • The female’s parents are not divorced: Results demonstrated that women’s, but not men’s, parental divorce was associated with lower relationship commitment and lower relationship confidence. These effects persisted when controlling for the influence of recalled interparental conflict and premarital relationship adjustment. The current findings suggest that women whose parents divorced are more likely to enter marriage with relatively lower commitment to, and confidence in, the future of those marriages, potentially raising their risk for divorce. (Source)

via @charliehoehn

The Benefits of Touching

‘Touchier’ basketball teams and players (those who bump, hug and high five the most) are more successful than those who limit their non-playing physical contact. Similarly, higher satisfaction has been reported in romantic relationships in which the partners touch more.

Just two of the findings from research looking at the importance of touching in relationships.

Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched. […] A massage from a loved one can not only ease pain but also soothe depression and strengthen a relationship.

via @charliehoehn

De Beers and the Diamond Market

I’ve previously mentioned, in passing, how the concept of the diamond wedding ring was manufactured. I’ve now been reminded of this upon rediscovering Edward Jay Epstein‘s comprehensive 1982 article in The Atlantic charting the story of how De Beers created the entire market for diamonds through supply/demand manipulation and PR.

De Beers proved to be the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. While other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber, and grains, fluctuated wildly in response to economic conditions, diamonds have continued, with few exceptions, to advance upward in price every year since the Depression. Indeed, the cartel seemed so superbly in control of prices — and unassailable — that, in the late 1970s, even speculators began buying diamonds as a guard against the vagaries of inflation and recession.

The article has numerous quotes from the strategy documents of the advertising agencies involved in the PR: N. W. Ayer and J. Walter Thompson–the former classing their assignment as “a problem in mass psychology”.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon set to become even more interesting now that the technology to mass produce flawless diamonds in a laboratory is becoming affordable: Wired looks at the rise of the manufactured diamond.