Updated: Feb 11
Did you know that your relationship status doesn’t actually affect your overall happiness?!
With Valentine’s Day coming up next week, it’s hard to escape the messages about love. Couples are celebrating each other and the FOMO of being in a relationship is slowly building to the peak of the 14th February, and you find yourself thinking… “I’d just be SO MUCH HAPPIER if I was in a relationship!”
Well, let's stop you right there.
Whilst society might make it seems that all the couples out there are better than you, let's take a look at the science.
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology followed over 7000 people between the ages of 18 and 60 and found that relationship status throughout that time made very little difference to someone's happiness at the end of their life.
The consistently married group was scored 4 out of 5 for happiness, and consistently single people was 3.82, and of course, this is all averages so you could score yourself a 1 and be married, or a 5 and be single.
The point is that a 0.18 difference isn't significant enough to say that being in a relationship will make you happier. So to assume that you'll be happier once you're in a relationship is the WRONG way to go about all those feelings you have around being single.
The dangers of jumping into a relationship
Whether it's Valentine's Day encouraging you along, or you're just out of a relationship and want to dive back in, getting into a relationship for all wrong reasons can be a dangerous move. Instead of making you happy, finding someone to be in a relationship when you aren't already with the way your life is means that the relationship is likely to fill the void.
For a short period of time, the rush and excitement of a relationship will distract you from how you're really about your life, and whilst it might give you a boost, that feeling will be temporary.
Before you know it, the newness of the relationship will wear off and the dissatisfaction you felt before will creep back in and rear its head, and might even start to affect the relationship itself.
The compliments from your partner that once gave you confidence are now a given, and you still worry about what other people think of you. Having the attention of somebody made you feel valid and worthy, but now you've got it, it doesn't feel quite so special and you take it for granted. And you might even start to question if being single was so much easier, you were happier back then when you could do what you wanted, but now you've got yourself a boyfriend, you don't have the full freedom to even work out why you're feeling unhappy again.
Insecurities in yourself and a discontent towards your life can't be solve with a single magic pill in the form of a relationship. These feelings will always find their way to surface to the top, and they don't care whether you're in a relationship or not.
So what does happiness in single life look like?!
Happiness is an inside job, and it's something we can't achieve through external things. It's still nice to enjoy the start of a relationship, it's nice to move house, it's nice to get a promotion. But each of these things only lasts so long until you're chasing the next thing, evaluating every part of your life trying to work out what's wrong, when the problem all along is because you're looking outside of yourself to be in a constant state of happiness. It's also important to remember that happiness is a feeling. No one is happy all the time, to do so would deny ourselves the reality of life being a constantly swinging pendulum between happy and sad, and all emotions in between. Being content is a much safer approach to feeling okay with life, for accepting what is and for acknowledging that you can only appreciate the good, when you have the comparison of the bad.
Being happy, successful or content in your life, single or in a relationship, is about accepting life as it comes, being aligned with the way you live your life, both on a daily and long-term basis, and working to your own timeline - NOT the timeline the world told you to be on.
As I've mentioned in a previous blog posts on being happy as a single, happiness expert, Mo Gawdat, tells us that happiness is events being equal to or beating expectations. Unfortunately, life can't always do that, and we have to learn to be at peace with whatever life throws at us.
A relationship won't save you from your own loneliness
Despite the way society might make you feel about being single, if you make being in a relationship a box to tick off a list, you'll feel a disconnect with your own life. It's the classic case of experiencing a quarter-life crisis, where you experience conflict as you question societies narrative about what your life should look like versus the ideas you have for your life.
Loneliness isn't isolated to single people. Whilst it might be a risk factor for people that are single, it's not restricted to those out of relationships. Even being in a relationship doesn't make you immune from loneliness - if you only have the one person to rely on, and lack a network of friends who provide support, encouragement and people to share memories with, you can find yourself feeling lonely. That's because loneliness stretches far beyond the idea of solitude but instead, loneliness is about having a sense of belonging, a connection to other people, and a sense of purpose in this world. Often, we turn to relationships as the solution, when in actual fact, we need to find the true sense of ourselves and learn to live in alignment with that as much as possible.
That means saying "no" to doing the things we don't want to do. It means having difficult conversations, even if it's uncomfortable for both you, and the person you're speaking to. It means staying true to yourself even in the most challenging of times.
Most of the things you want from a relationship are achievable outside of a relationship. You want to travel? Go solo or book through travel groups. You want to buy a house? Start saving, maybe even investing, and focus on your savings and career to maximise borrowing power. You want deep, intimate conversations? Find the right people and introduce them to your network, removing anyone who you've outgrown along the way.
Doing all of these things will make you happy, whilst trying get yourself into a relationship (if you're successful in the dating realm) will only delay those feelings.
Remember, the science tells us that being in a relationship or not doesn't significantly affect us long-term. So whether it's short or long-term, your single status isn't the reason for your unhappiness. And Taylor Swift may well be true in saying, "it's me, hi, I'm the problem".