[Bella’s intro: This single-at-heart blog is mostly for people who embrace their single lives. Sometimes, though, readers ask me to say more about single people who don’t want to stay single. The psychotherapist Jennifer L. Taitz has a terrific new book for just those people: How to Be Single and Happy: Science-Based Strategies for Keeping Your Sanity While Looking for a Soul Mate. I’ve reviewed it for Psych Central and that review will appear here in the coming months. In the meantime, Dr. Taitz kindly offered to share an excerpt adapted from the book. It addresses the question, “Is a soulmate a short cut to happiness?” Even if you already know the answer, I think you will enjoy what Jennifer Taitz has to say and how she says it.]
Is a Soulmate a Short Cut to Happiness?
Guest Post by Jennifer L. Taitz
For people who are driven, thoughtful, and looking for love, it may feel tempting to concentrate on finding a mate in a critical way. After all, for most problems, careful strategizing and planning often leads to the desired outcome. The challenge is, in situations that aren’t entirely within your control—like relationships and dating— endlessly strategizing can be seriously depleting. You may even find that focusing on finding love, rather than loving your life, closes you off from great opportunities, or leads you to settle for something that doesn’t feel right. Yes, it’s a virtue to grow and improve, but it’s important to remember that being single does not mean you’re flawed and in need of fixing. Your relationship, or lack thereof, has little to do with your worth. I want to stop the cycle of loneliness breeding hopelessness. You deserve freedom from suffering as a single person, now.
Over the years I’ve spent as a clinical psychologist, one thing I’ve learned is that many of my clients are pretty much convinced that when they meet someone “amazing,” they’ll finally feel happy. I definitely empathize. Women get the brunt of this pressure to couple up; there’s still no acceptable female equivalent to a “confirmed bachelor” in our culture. Ages ago, older women who weren’t married were looked upon as “old maids,” a concept that’s never entirely left our psyches. Even the most well-intentioned family members and friends can make uncoupled women feel like there’s something wrong with them with comments like, “Don’t worry, you’ll meet someone” (as if that is the only way you’ll be okay) or “He doesn’t seem so bad. Maybe you’re being too negative. Why don’t you just give him a chance?”
For a long time, I certainly believed that meeting my soul mate was the key to my contentment. And it’s true that finding someone wonderful might increase your joy, though perhaps not as much as you might think. In this book, you’ll learn more about what psychologists know about love and how it relates to happiness, but first, I want you to take a moment to come up with your best estimate of how much you believe that meeting your dream person might increase your joy. Five percent? Fifty percent? One hundred and fifty percent?
Now hold onto that number as you read this next sentence: The belief that your happiness hinges on an external circumstance that you can’t control (i.e., meeting a romantic partner) not only makes it harder to find love, but it also sets you up for unhappiness. Letting go of the maddening myth that happiness comes from coupling up is the first step to freedom. Stressing out about meeting someone will not help you meet that person any faster or become happier more quickly. The healthiest way to increase your chances of finding love is to increase your happiness, right now.
While I’m all for love and relationships, there’s little upside to believing that finding a soul mate is a promising shortcut to lifelong satisfaction. I’ve come to realize that thinking that one person is your life purpose will either drive you to cling to a relationship or make you hopeless if you’re single.
Back to the question I started with, just how merry does marriage make people? Let’s step back from our biases and look at how marriage affects happiness on a larger scale. In a remarkable study looking at more than twenty-four thousand people over the course of fifteen years (utilizing data from something called the German Socio-Economic Panel Study), Michigan State University professor Richard Lucas and his colleagues noticed that on average, most people reverted to their happiness baseline after an initial emotional uptick following marriage. Lucas and his colleagues concluded, “On average, people only got a very small boost from marriage (approximately one tenth of 1 point on an 11-point scale),”—that’s a mere 1 percent! The authors share the unsexy finding that there were as many people who ended up less happy after marriage as there were people who reported being more content. All of which means that assuming happiness hinges on coupling can end up propelling you into a less-than-satisfying union. My hope is that these facts free you to think more clearly about relationships and empower you to remember you are complete, regardless of whether you have a +1.
[From Bella, again: Thanks again, Jenny Taitz! And to readers, one more word about Professor Lucas’s study: The tiny boost in happiness that people get when they marry is usually fleeting. It happens around the time of the wedding and dissipates over time. What’s more, only those who get married and stay married experience it! People who marry and then divorce are already becoming less happy as the day of their wedding approaches. You can learn more about that in Chapter 2 of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After or in my TEDx talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single.”]
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