More Time Doesn't Mean More Happiness

While singles may have more “time” for socializing, the quality of their socializing isn't the same as married couples with children.
More Time Doesn't Mean More Happiness
Timothy S. Goeglein
Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an interesting piece on the dangers of loneliness. Citing a recent study published in the medical journal BMC Medicine, the article discussed how the lack of familial and friendship ties can ultimately lead not just to poor health, including anxiety, heart disease, and early dementia, but also, in some cases, early death.

The article goes on to state that people are now spending more time alone and less time socializing with family and friends—with a quarter of adults under the age of 30 reporting they felt lonely the day before they were surveyed. It goes on to say that the strongest negative factors were for people who were never visited by family or friends—resulting in a 39 percent increase in risk of death during the study period compared with those who had daily interactions with others.

John Cacioppo's book "Loneliness" also confirms the negative health consequences of living alone—stating that the negative health risks are far worse than those of air pollution or obesity.

As I read The Wall Street Journal's article and recalled Mr. Cacioppo’s work, I thought about the irony of how we, as a society, are embracing singleness as a more “fulfilling” lifestyle choice than marriage, which provides these vital social connections that keep us both physically and emotionally healthy.

For instance, Bella DePaulo wrote in Psychology Today, “Single people, especially those who live alone, are the captains of their own ships. ... People who love being single use their freedom to do what really matters to them.”
But if you talk to many a single person who lives alone, it isn't the choice they would make. And another recent report from the Institute of Family Studies (IFS) bears that out. That report looked into why married people are almost twice as happy as single childless Americans. It found that although singles may have more “time” for socializing, the quality of their socializing isn't the same.

Single non-parents spend more than 70 percent of their social/relaxing time in front of a television or computer screen, detached from meaningful human interaction. Although that's also true of 65 percent of married parents, those who are married with children are likely to use that additional 5 percent of time socializing with others—such as other couples or parents—because they're likely to be more involved with outside activities, such as church, playgroups, and school events, that encourage such interaction.

The IFS report goes on to state, citing American Time Use Survey data from 2016–2021, that single childless people spend 63 percent of their free time alone and that married parents spend only 37 percent of their free time in solitude. Even if they're watching television, married parents are doing it in community with others.

The result is that while singles may be “captains of their own ships,” they're captains of ships drifting without purpose—the purpose that's provided through the company and care of loved ones.

So, what's the takeaway from all this? I know there are many singles who aren't deliberately choosing to be single—all one has to do is listen to the heartbreaking stories of singles, especially those over the age of 30, who desperately want the social connections that marriage and family bring.

These singles wrap themselves up in other activities as a way to either dull or run away from the inner pain they feel from lack of social connectedness—and in some cases, they live in denial by embracing their “freedom” as a way to dull the emotional pain. But many would gladly trade their “freedom” for human connection.

For those of us who are married, these studies emphasize the importance of being involved in outside activities—such as attending church, participating in community organizations, or just being present in our children’s lives—enjoying multi-generational ties that bring joy and purpose. Rather than chasing “self-fulfillment,” we need to be reaching out to those around us and developing strong relational ties that will not only benefit us in the long term but also those around us, and, ultimately, our entire society. This is true for singles as well.

By doing so, we will not only live longer, happier lives, but we will also be more likely to build bonds that bring us together rather than keep us apart—bonds that can only be beneficial for a country that finds itself increasingly isolated and divided. Ultimately, it isn't the quantity of time that we have, but the quality, which comes through sacrificing being the captain of our personal ships and instead becoming contented first mates.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Timothy S. Goeglein is vice president of Focus on the Family, Washington, D.C., and author of the new book “Toward a More Perfect Union: The Cultural and Moral Case for Teaching the Great American Story” (Fidelis Publishing, 2023).