“Zack, you just can’t understand the happiness I feel—because you’re single.”
My friend had been married for almost a year and was telling me about the void he felt in his life before he was married. Marriage filled that void.
At the time, I was single and just couldn’t understand the "happiness that would forever evade me if I stayed in my pathetic lonesome state."
He spoke as if happiness was this great ocean before me and I was stuck on dry ground.
It bothered me.
And it really bothered me that he was one of too many people who had told me the same exact thing: "Happiness is on the other side of singledom."
I always knew that if I was doing the right thing, I would be happy. And, in my opinion, trying to get married was the right thing regardless if I made it yet or not!
See, I really liked my single life.
I loved my friends, the dance parties, the trips, the hot tubbing, and meeting new people. I felt close to God and genuinely happy.
I never understood what void I was missing.
Now that I’m married I can say I really like my married life.
I love my friends, the dance parties, the trips, the hot tubbing, and meeting new people. I feel close to God and genuinely happy.
Marriage doesn’t make you any happier than winning the lottery does; you may have more money, but studies have shown that happiness is all relative.
Marriage doesn’t make you any happier than just going to church does; you can be in the building and walk out empty hearted.
Marriage doesn’t make you any happier than you already are.
Yes, indeed, it isn’t marriage that makes you happy—it is your choice to be happy regardless of circumstance.
Marriage doesn’t change you, but it reveals yourself to yourself and—scarily enough—to another.
And no, marriage isn’t the same as being single, but it is as great as your attitude will allow it to be.
Charles Swindoll (author, educator, and pastor) said, “Attitude, to me, is more important than … the past, … than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day” (Daniel H. Johnston, Lessons for Living (2001), 29).
Sure you can’t swim on the sand, but you can’t build sand castles in the water. Both are great, if your attitude looks for the greatness.
But too often, we only see the sands of time slipping away as we waste our best single years waiting to be happy when we’re married.
But waiting to be happy is like waiting for Godot.
Waiting to be happy is like starving to death waiting for a food truck while sitting on a loaf of bread.
Waiting to be happy is like searching the world for acres of diamonds that are hidden beneath your own home (that link is worth the read).
But it isn’t like these married people are all lying. They genuinely (and erroneously) think that it is marriage that makes them happy.
So what is it then that all these married people are really talking about? If not marriage, then why are they happier than when they were single?
It’s because marriage gives you more opportunities to do the things that make you happy.
Let’s go through these six examples:
1. Giving genuine service makes you happy.
If you are seeking to always make someone’s day better, then you will be happy. You can do that single, but marriage puts you in fairly close proximity to one person every day whom you can serve.
2. Being loved makes you happy.
Whether or not you are single, there are people who love you, but it can be hard to see sometimes. Being married allows you to look down at your left hand and see that someone said, "Even you, Zack, are worth being loved."
3. Best friends make you happy.
This ties very closely to being loved, but it is amazing knowing that I have a best friend who has my back. Marriage isn’t the only way to get this, though.
4. Purpose makes you happy.
We can have purpose whether we are single or married. Some people need a spouse to give them that purpose; others can have a spouse add to their purpose.
5. Having kids makes you happy.
Now I don’t know anything about this and quite frankly have heard mixed reviews about kids, but what I have heard in the end is that it is a sacrifice and service that goes beyond what I can now understand. I look forward to it and know that now that I’m married, I’m one step closer to it—but whether or not you’re married, simply preparing for this step brings happiness. For are we not all mothers/fathers?
6. Coming closer to God makes you happy.
Yes, making promises with God and my wife brings happiness, but married people don’t have a monopoly on God’s love. As Jeffrey R Holland said, “With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed” (“Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You"). If you are honestly trying to get married, that is enough.
So, to my dear friend who said that I couldn’t understand happiness, I thought you were wrong on the shores of singledom, and I still think you’re wrong in the ocean of matrimony.
While marriage provides a wonderful venue to practice these six (and many more) activities that create happiness in one’s life, it never will make anyone happy. (After all, have you ever heard of unhappy marriages? About half of my married friends certainly have.)
Now, when people ask me if I’m happier married than when I was single, I’d say yes—but not because of marriage. I’m happier now because I am able to do those things more frequently that bring me happiness.
Don’t look to marriage tomorrow for happiness.
Do the things that truly make you happy today.
Lead image from Zack's Bowl of Oates.
Zack Oates is an entrepreneur, newly minted husband, hot tubber, and blogger (but not in that order, necessarily). He lived in Ukraine for two years serving an LDS mission and started a nonprofit in 2008 called Courage to Hope, which works with victims of domestic violence. After working at an ad agency in NYC, he founded his first company. Four years later, he sold that startup and returned to BYU for his MBA. He has been a founder of five other startups, rung the NASDAQ bell, has been to 30 countries across 6 continents and currently lives in Dallas with his wife working as a business consultant for fortune 50 companies. Check out his blog, bowlofoates.com.