Bernardo M. Villegas
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Get Married and Be Happy (Part 1)

           I just learned that my alma mater, Harvard University, is launching a new center funded with a $21-million endowment from the Lee Kum Kee family that will study the connection between happiness and health.  The research people in the Center will try to answer whether or not happiness makes people healthier.  The jury is still out:  some social scientists opine that there is a link, presenting studies that correlate optimism to better heart health.  A recent study, however, presented evidence that there is no direct tie between happiness and mortality.  The Harvard center intends to provide more evidence one way or the other.  It will explore what makes people happy.  It also hopes to explore how other factors like income, race, culture, geography, etc. play a role.

          I would like to give an unsolicited advice to the future researchers of the Center to explore the correlation among being married, being healthy and being happy.  I thought about the importance of marriage and the family to human happiness when I read the recent Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis entitled “The Joy of Love.”  In the chapter “On Love in the Family,” Pope Francis laments the modern trend of young people hesitating to get married for a variety of reasons: “At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future.  Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.  In some countries, many young persons postpone a wedding for economic reasons, work or study.  Some do so for other reasons, such as the influence of ideologies which devalue marriage and family, the desire to avoid the failures of other couples, the fear of something they consider too important and sacred, the social opportunities and economic benefits associated with simply living together, a purely emotional and romantic conception of love, the fear of losing their freedom and independence, and the rejection of something conceived as purely institutional and bureaucratic.  We need to find the right language, arguments and forms of witness that can help us reach the hearts of young people, appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism, and in this way inviting them to take up the challenge of marriage with enthusiasm and courage.”

          I would like to present here arguments in favor of marriage to yuppies or to the not so young.   In an issue of Health & Fitness (March 29, 2014), ten advantages of being married were succinctly enumerated.  The following are the ten advantages of being married:

          1.  Longer life.  A risk of mortality of married couples is twice lower than that of unmarried couples.  There is sufficient evidence that when you have a spouse and a family, you take better care of yourself, avoid taking unnecessary risks and live a longer, healthier life.

          2.  Taking better care of yourself.  According to statistics, married women and men live healthier and longer lives.  Married people assume more responsibilities towards their spouse and children.  They are less likely to harm themselves and they also take better care of themselves.

          3.  Lower risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).  Married women and men have a lower risk of STDs, because they have a regular and stable sex life.  Married couples attain bigger satisfaction from having sex with a partner they trust and love.  This reduces the chances of getting STDs as a result of unsafe sex.

          4.  Better health.  Another advantage of being married is that women have better health.  Good sex contributes to a full sense of happiness and satisfaction that promotes better health.  Studies have shown that married couples enjoy better physical and mental health than those not married.

          5. Drinking less alcohol.  Recent research shows that married men and women have less addiction to alcohol.  Married people rarely suffer from depression or turn towards alcohol.  They are convinced that life has far more meaning and happiness without excessive drinking of alcohol.

          6. More earnings.  Although it is reported that married women and men spend more money, they also earn more money.  Married people have a great stimulus in life in the form of their spouse and kids.  And this helps them to achieve higher social status.  Especially in the Philippine setting, mothers have a stronger incentive to undertake entrepreneurial ventures to augment the fixed salaries and incomes of their respective spouses. No wonder large corporations today were started by housewives, like National Book Store and Red Ribbon.

          7.  Easier to bring up kids.  It is relatively easy to raise children in an environment where both the father and mother show their responsibilities in taking care of children.  Married people provide happier and safer home for their children than single parents.  There is enough evidence that fatherless children are more prone to mental illnesses and disturbances.

          8.  Better quality of life.  Married couples can afford an apartment or a home in a nicer, more respectable neighborhood.  Married people also improve their quality of life.  It is easier to pull the load with someone else than to do it on your own.  In the condominium markets, families with both spouses earning are more reliable buyers.

          9.  Lifelong companionship.  A happy marriage also helps to ward off feelings of loneliness that people can experience in their lives.  The sanctify of marriage offers people a lifelong companionship that is quite difficult to get these days.

          10.  Health benefits.  Married men and women experience numerous health benefits due to their marriage.  Typically, such benefits include preserving their mental and emotional health, living longer, keeping their hearts healthy and so on.  And it’s also easier for married people to fight the diseases. 

          Some of these points may not directly answer the question posed by the new center at Harvard, whose primary goal will be to answer whether or not happiness makes people healthier.  At least in the Philippines, there have been a good number of surveys about the level of happiness of Filipinos in connection with the world-wide search for a Gross Happiness Index.  In these surveys, high on the list of the source of happiness of Filipinos is a loving family.  We can say that a bright and cheerful home leads to happiness, which in turn fosters the health of members of the family.  I know that a swallow does not make a spring but at least I can say that in the home of my parents, a happy home in the midst of the ordinary challenges and tribulations of any normal family, had helped to prolong the lives of my father and mother.  My father lived up to the age of 85 and my mother up to 102. Both passed away without any serious illnesses.  I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that the researchers at Harvard University will discover numerous cases of married couples similar to my beloved parents, who lived very long lives because they found love and happiness within the family.  (To be continued).