Cat people and dog people are already pretty smug when it comes to their beliefs, but now dog people have some new official data they can point to in their argument for why dogs reign supreme. As reported by the Washington Post, a new survey shows that dog owners are happier than cat owners. Or at least they say they're happier. We'll get to that.
This survey was part of the General Social Survey, which "has been monitoring societal change and studying the growing complexity of American society" since 1972, and is run by NORC at the University of Chicago. This is the first time the survey has included questions about pet ownership.
In addition to finding out how many American households have at least one pet (almost 6 in 10), the survey also shows how these pets align with how happy people say they are.
When it comes to people who describe themselves as "very happy," 36 percent of dog-only owners, 32 percent of pet-less people, and 28 percent of dog and cat owners say they're "very happy." But, only 18 percent of cat-only owners say they are "very happy."
Go ahead and run off now to throw this information in your cat-loving friend's face, but there's more to the story, starting with the fact that this is how people describe themselves. There's not some sort of happiness meter that can actually quantify anyone's happiness. It's possible cat owners just aren't the sort of people who are willing to describe themselves as "very happy," while dog owners and people with no pets are.
As the Washington Post notes, there are also other factors that could explain the differences. For instance, the survey showed that dog owners are more likely than cat owners to be married and own homes, which are also both reasons that people describe themselves as happier. Those surveyed were also asked about their relationship with their pets and a higher percentage of dog owners than cat owners said "often" or "almost always" to all of the following: seeking comfort from their pet, playing with their pet, and considering their pet a member of the family. Still, the percentages were pretty high for both cat and dog owners on all of these points, especially when it comes to considering the pet a member of the family.
The publication also points to other surveys in the past that could help explain the happiness findings. One showed that dog owners tend "to be more agreeable, more extroverted and less neurotic than cat owners" (add this to your list of debate points, dog owners), and another showed that dog owners are more likely to participate in outdoor physical activities than those who don't own dogs, which could affect happiness, as well.
This doesn't necessarily explain the difference in happiness between those with no pets and with cats. The Washington Post does mention a study that showed that cats "alleviated negative moods" but did not lead to "enhanced positive moods." Cat people are just a little bummed before getting a cat and then just OK once they get one? Does this sound right, cat owners?
Regardless of why dog owners, cat owners, and people with no pets are reporting different levels of happiness, the main thing to take away is that getting a dog (or cat) (or nothing) won't necessarily make you happy. In most cases, it probably works the other way around.