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Okay—I’ve told this true story many times, because it always makes people laugh, so I’ll tell it again here.
As I stood in line at the ticket counter at LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport, a young flight attendant stood in front of me, talking to the older ticket agent behind the counter. The two women, obviously friends, were having a very personal conversation that I couldn’t help overhearing.
“Well,” the younger one said, “he finally asked me to marry him, but I just don’t know if I should!”
“Look, honey,” the older one told her young friend, “You got two choices—you can be lonely, or you can be miserable.”
I laughed for a long time after I heard that jaded, cynical advice.
The truth, however, has more nuance than those two bleak choices might suggest. That’s why weddings tend to be happy, celebratory occasions. Did you know that married people, on average, live seven years longer than single people? Married people have fewer health problems, including alcohol and drug abuse. Their suicide and accidental death rates are much lower. More subjectively, married people typically have another person to live for, to be responsible for, and to love. Married people even recover much quicker and more often from major surgeries—maybe because they have a loved one to take care of them.
The new World Happiness Report evaluates happiness data based on marriage, and concludes:
However, subsequent research using the same data has shown that marriage does indeed have long-lasting well-being benefits, especially in protecting the married from as large a decline in the middle-age years that in many countries represent a low-point in life evaluations.
Scientifically, then, a wide variety of research indicates that marriage contributes to our happiness and well-being. Obviously, those statistics represent the overall population in a general sense, and don’t account for unhappy marriages in individuals, or the effects of bad marriages on families. Instead, they indicate that married people report higher levels of happiness with their lives than single people.
So can marriage make you happy?
Yes, if you’re married to the right person, for the right reasons.
In this beautiful marriage prayer, the Baha’i teachings call marriage a “fortress for well-being:”
Praise be to God, the Ancient, the Ever-Abiding, the Changeless, the Eternal! He Who hath testified in His Own Being that verily He is the One, the Single, the Untrammelled, the Exalted. We bear witness that verily there is no God but Him, acknowledging His oneness, confessing His singleness. He hath ever dwelt in unapproachable heights, in the summits of His loftiness, sanctified from the mention of aught save Himself, free from the description of aught but Him.
And when He desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order, He revealed observances and created laws; among them He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation, and enjoined it upon us in that which was sent down out of the heaven of sanctity in His Most Holy Book. He saith, great is His glory: “Marry, O people, that from you may appear he who will remember Me amongst My servants; this is one of My commandments unto you; obey it as an assistance to yourselves.” – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 103-104.
From a Baha’i perspective, marriage must have a significant spiritual component to truly lead to happiness. If it doesn’t—if the marriage is solely based on physical attraction—it cannot last or contribute to lasting happiness:
Marriage, among the mass of the people, is a physical bond, and this union can only be temporary, since it is foredoomed to a physical separation at the close.
Among the people of Baha, however, marriage must be a union of the body and of the spirit as well, for here both husband and wife are aglow with the same wine, both are enamoured of the same matchless Face, both live and move through the same spirit, both are illumined by the same glory. This connection between them is a spiritual one, hence it is a bond that will abide forever. Likewise do they enjoy strong and lasting ties in the physical world as well, for if the marriage is based both on the spirit and the body, that union is a true one, hence it will endure. If, however, the bond is physical and nothing more, it is sure to be only temporary, and must inexorably end in separation.
When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 117.
Next: Staying Happy Through a Crisis