Here's How To Be Happy While Single

Everyone loves to speculate about whether single people can really be happy, and while it's rude to raise the point at someone else, surely some of the single people out there are wondering too. We now have something more scientific to go on than those horror stories about cat ladies — as it turns out, you need a certain kind of personality to be happy while single. This personality connection also probably explains who ends up staying single longer, as compared to people who are highly motivated to find and keep relationships.

The study, aptly titled "Happily Single: The Link Between Relationship Status and Well-Being Depends on Avoidance and Approach Social Goals," was conducted by researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who quite reasonably wondered whether people with different temperaments — and therefore different goals — were affected by relationship participation differently. They surveyed 4,000 adults twice, a year apart, and since one-fifth were single at the time of both surveys, they provided a glimpse at what the single life really feels like.

To make a long story very short, people with high "avoidance goals" do well when they're single, because relationships provide many opportunities for strongly unwanted conflict and social stress. On the other hand, people with low avoidance goals are happier in relationships. Since avoiding the stress inherent to a relationship is less important for them, they can focus on the relationship's upsides.

The emerging picture of who stays single, and why, is one of a complex interaction between what you're like by yourself, what you're like in a relationship in general, and what you're like in the right relationship. These new research results sort of vindicate the idea that it's not relationships and marriages that themselves make people happy, it's that happy people are more likely to get into relationships. While an unhelpful fear of being single causes people to settle for less in relationships, these are probably (and hopefully) not the relationships that last.

This new study doesn't seek to identify why some people find it more important to avoid relationship stressors than others in the first place, though. Like so many things, it may come down to a combination of nature and nurture. Some people are probably genetically predisposed to forming healthy attachments, and some are blessed with positive early care experiences to boot, perhaps motivating them to continue looking for healthy attachments in the future and to not be as afraid every time a relationship hits a bump.

But it probably helps us to realize that when some people report being quite unhappy single, and others report feeling mostly satisfied, they can all be right. There is no one-size-fits-all lifestyle and you are likely to know your own needs better even than your meddling family or friends, however well-meaning they might be. Only you can tell whether actively seeking intimacy or avoiding the drama of couplehood is more important to you.

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