“Does being in a relationship make people happier?”

—Ali, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Ali,
The simple answer is yes, but it depends on a few key factors. We’re happier when we’re in healthy relationships in which we feel safe, secure, and inspired. We’re likely to be unhappy and stressed when we’re in relationships that are chaotic, demanding, controlling, or cause us to feel worse about ourselves. But the relationship doesn’t have to be a romantic one to have an effect on our happiness.

Identify the features of a happy relationship

The emphasis is on the characteristics of the relationship. Figure out what it is about relationships that makes you happy, then strive to find and create these types of relationships—whether in romantic relationships, family relationships, or friendships.

We are social creatures. Both introverts and extroverts benefit from meaningful relationships.

Is it neurochemistry or real happiness?

It’s important to remember that your happiness does not and cannot reside in someone else, no matter how attractive or fantastic that person is. Romantic infatuation creates neurochemical changes in our brain and body that certainly feel good, and we associate this with being happy—but this is really the chemistry of attraction, not happiness.

Real happiness is long-term

This temporary happiness, whether from a new relationship, a new pair of shoes, or a good grade, is like an energy drink. The short-term effect will pass. Lasting happiness must first be developed in yourself, then in relationships with others who honor, respect, and value you as a person and friend.

For more information on cultivating happiness, check out the Authentic Happiness website from the University of Pennsylvania.

While romantic relationships with the right person can certainly enhance our life, it’s dangerous to put all our eggs in one basket. In addition, there’s no evidence that romantic partners are more valuable to our happiness than close friendships. Rather than focusing on finding a romantic partner, it’s wiser to build a network of close friends whom you can love, laugh, and create memories with.