There is some research into this question. John Helliwell is a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics and the editor of the World Happiness Report. As he researched social connections a few years ago, he found that everyone derives benefits from online friends and real-life friends, but the only friends that boost our life satisfaction are real friends.
âBut while the effects of real friends on your well-being is important for everybody,â he said, âthey are less so for married people than for singles. Thatâs how we got to the idea that marriage is a kind of âsuper-friendship.ââ
Dr. Helliwell and a colleague discovered that a long-running study in Britain had data that may illuminate this question. Between 1991 and 2009, the British Household Panel Survey asked 30,000 people to quantify their life satisfaction. In general, married people expressed higher satisfaction, he said, and were better able to manage the dip in well-being that most people experience in middle age, as they face work stress, caring for aging parents and other pressures.
But an entirely separate part of the study asked people to name their best friend. Those who listed their spouse were twice as likely to have higher life satisfaction. Slightly more men than women made that choice, he said, âwhich makes sense, because men tend to have fewer friends.â
Is feeling this way about your spouse necessary for a good marriage? I asked.
âAbsolutely not,â Dr. Helliwell said. âThe benefits of marriage are strong even for those who are littered with outside friends. Itâs just bigger for those who consider their spouse their closest friend. Itâs a bonus.â
Others are not so sure.
Amir Levine is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia…