Altruism may breed better marriages, a new study suggests. Or, the data might mean that good marriages make people more altruistic.
Whatever, altruism and happiness seem to go together in the realm of love.
"Altruistic love was associated with greater happiness in general and especially with more marital happiness," concludes Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago in a report released today.
Study participants were asked whether they agreed with statements that define altruism, such as, "I'd rather suffer myself than let the one I love suffer," and "I'm willing to sacrifice my own wishes to let the one I love achieve his or hers."
Those who agreed with the statements tended to also report happiness with their spouses.
Among the more altruistic, 67 percent rated their own marriage as "very happy." Among those who were profiled as the least altruistic, only 50 percent said they were very happy in marriage.
And here's one for those of you who're still waiting for your partner to commit: Forty percent of the married people ranked near the top for altruistic responses, while only 20 percent of those who had never married did so. The divorced and separated came in at around 25 percent.
The study asked dozens of questions to gauge both altruistic intentions and behaviors. How often do you give blood? Do you return money when a cashier makes a mistake in your favor?
Smith said connection between romantic love and altruistic behavior probably comes from an appreciation of love developed in a healthy marriage and reflects the connection between marriage and love in general, which is part of the teachings of many religions.