EMOTIONAL HEALTH
August 22, 2017

Happy Couples Take Risks

Having a spouse or partner who supports you not only encourages you to seek opportunity, it brings happiness.

There appears to be a good bit of truth to the saying, “Hang out with your fans.” It makes sense that it’s a good idea to surround ourselves with supportive people, but a new study shows how this plays out, finding that support makes us more likely to pursue opportunities. And there’s another step: Pursuing opportunities is linked to long-term happiness, both with one’s spouse and with one’s life in general.

Researchers had 163 couples come into the lab and fill out questionnaires about the strength of the relationship, what kinds of attachments they had, and how motivated they were to support each other (for example, answering questions like, “On occasions when I encourage or support my spouse’s goals, I generally do so because…”).

Not only do our relationships predict whether we pursue opportunities, but whether we pursue opportunities seems to affect our long-term psychological well-being.

Then one of the partners was asked to make decision about whether the couple should complete fairly simple puzzles (which they would do together), or to engage in a public speaking competition with other participants, for which they might win a prize of $200. The researchers recorded the couples as they discussed which opportunity the decision-maker should choose. Six months later they had the couples fill out questionnaires about their well-being and relationship quality.

Those partners whose spouses were more supportive, expressed enthusiasm and reassured them about their choice were more likely to compete for the prize. Those who had partners who were less encouraging or who expressed a lack of confidence in their spouse were more likely to choose to do the puzzles.

More interesting was that people who had chosen the public speaking opportunity were happier six months later — they also reported better relationships, better psychological well-being and more personal growth than those who’d chosen the puzzles.

So it seems that not only do our relationships predict whether we pursue opportunities, but pursuing opportunities seems to affect our long-term psychological well-being, though the experiment doesn't show exactly how these pieces fit together.

What is clearer, say the Carnegie Mellon University researchers, is that pursuing opportunities in life is in general linked to happiness. “We found support for the idea that the choices people make at these specific decision points — such as pursuing a work opportunity or seeking out new friends — matter a lot for their long-term well-being,” said study author, Brooke Feeney, in a statement.

Whether your spouse or partner is supportive certainly has an effect both on overall happiness and how you approach opportunities in life. “Significant others can help you thrive through embracing life opportunities,” said Feeney. “Or they can hinder your ability to thrive by making it less likely that you'll pursue opportunities for growth.”

So make sure to be supportive of your partner and encourage them to explore new opportunities as they arise. You’ll both be the happier for it. If you don’t have a partner, don’t worry: Surround yourself with friends who support you — they can be just as encouraging and supportive as a spouse.

The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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