How To Be Happy When You’re Single (Yes, It’s Possible)

Photographed by Jessica Garcia.
Let’s be real: being single can be hard, especially if you’re over 30 — or even in your late 20s. As Emma Watson recently told British Vogue, “If you have not built a home, if you do not have a husband, if you do not have a baby, and you are turning 30, and you’re not in some incredibly secure, stable place in your career, or you’re still figuring things out… There’s just this incredible amount of anxiety.” And if even Emma Watson feels this way, then what chance do the rest of us have?
Society tells us that women in particular should be partnered by 30. And even if we know that the idea that everyone’s life should follow the same timeline is total BS, the pressure can still get to us. With some time and self-reflection, Watson learned how to be happy while single — or as she calls it, “self-partnered.” But can the rest of us, who don’t have all that Harry Potter money lying around, do so, too?
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Interestingly, psychological studies vary on whether married people are happier than single people. A May 2019 study by The Office for National Statistics in the UK found that married couples reported more happiness than widows and widowers, divorced and separated people, and single people.
But also in May 2019, behavioral scientist Paul Dolan announced that his latest evidence suggested that married women were less likely to be happy than single women. “We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: if you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother,” he said while speaking at Britain’s Hay Festival, as reported by the Guardian.
“[As a man, when you marry] you take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer,” he added. “She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”
In her 2019 book Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living, sociologist Elyakim Kislev went further than asking if single people were happier than married people, and looked at the circumstances that made them happy. Kislev found that happy single people over 30 were more likely to spend time with friends, family, and colleagues; enjoy their work; have more optimistic attitudes towards life; and feel more accomplished than unhappy single people. Happy single people also placed more importance on values including freedom, creativity, and trying new things. 
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While these factors affected married people’s happiness too, for single people, the effect was greater. As Psychology Today reports, “In just about every instance, single people got more happiness out of their socializing, their values, and their positive perceptions of themselves and their jobs [than married people].” 
If you’re single and feeling down about it, asking if you’d be happier in a relationship probably won’t do you much good (though I am bookmarking Dolan’s argument to send to people who fret about why I’m still single). But looking at Kislev’s research about the circumstances under which single people are happy could help lift your mood. You can focus on nurturing your relationships with friends and family, exploring new hobbies, and making your work life the best it can be.
And you can do all these things while dating too — if dating is something you’re interested in. Speaking to Refinery29, sex & relationship therapist and TENGA brand ambassador Shan Boodram suggests that single people invite dates along to new experiences they’d like to do anyway, rather than sticking to the old dinner-and-drinks combo.
“If you’re able to weave dating into the things you enjoy, I’m a big fan of that,” she explains. “If I’m already going to go to the sex museum, why not bring somebody along? I would have gone regardless; I enjoy the atmosphere, and if I don’t enjoy the person, it isn’t a complete loss. Centering dates around places you want to eat and things you enjoy — one, the person gets the benefit of seeing you in your element, but also, it helps you avoid dating burnout.”
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Of course, you don’t have to date around if it doesn’t sound fun to you. Whatever you choose, if you’d like to think of yourself as “self-partnered” rather than single, go for it — it seems to be working for Emma Watson.
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