Who hasn’t heard about how being married or in a relationship is good for you, but how being single is good for you, on the other hand? Not so much.
Whether or not it’s Valentine’s Day, singlehood more often gets cast as the ugly stepsister. Much of the messaging in popular culture, from reality TV to Hallmark movies to celebrity gossip, puts relationships on a pedestal. We’re taught to believe that happiness accords with pairing off and that better mental health requires a better half.
That begs the question: Are single people that bad-off? Is life for the four in 10 Americans who are “unpartnered” doomed to be, to borrow the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ description of life outside of civilization, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”?
Actually … no. A large body of research suggests the contrary, in fact. Here are just some of the perks of singlehood that are good for mental health….
Greater self-growth and development
Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that people who remain single experience greater self-growth over their lifetime. The researchers were able to gauge this development by measuring self-sufficiency. Higher levels occurred in those who had remained single versus those who had married. The scientists also noticed that lifelong singles had lower levels of negative emotions than people who had married.
Based on these findings and others, Dr. Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., author of the book Singled Out, argued in a presentation to the American Psychological Association that the predominant assumption—that if you’re single, you’re more lonely and more miserable—is “more ideology than science.” Dr. DePaulo went on to discredit some of the long-held stereotypes about married people being healthier and happier, while unearthing some of the positive traits that describe single people.
More exercise and better brain and body fitness
The mental and physical health benefits of exercise are indisputable, from improvements in mood, energy, sleep, and self-esteem to cardiovascular health to sexual fitness. A study of 13,000 Americans ages 18 to 64 found that single people get more exercise than married people. Single people were 70 percent more likely to meet the World Health Organization’s physical activity recommendations than married people. (The WHO recommends at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.) Of course, more exercise translates to better overall fitness.
More time for oneself = more time for self-care
A study in fall 2022 in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science discovered that a top benefit of singlehood was more time for oneself. That may help to explain the above findings that singles exercise more and have higher rates of self-growth; but more time for oneself can also mean more time for various forms of self-care, which is critical to mental and physical health. Some examples of self-care include:
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Preventative health appointments, including therapy for a mental health issue
- Social time with friends and family
- Recreational activities such as a hobby or creative pursuit
- Travel and vacations
More solitude = multiple mental health benefits
More solitude may be an extension of more time to oneself. More solitude can be good for your mental health if you’re someone who enjoys your alone time and finds it restorative. Research in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has linked solitude to numerous mental health benefits:
- more productivity
- creative inspiration
- greater life satisfaction
- and reduced stress, a major contributor to addiction and mental illness. (For more information, click here.)
Increased social connections
What may be most surprising, given the prevailing stereotypes, is that singles tend to be more social than married people—at least in some important ways. Single men and women had increased social connections and were more likely (than married or divorced people) to stay in touch with and provide help to close family members and friends. That was the conclusion of research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Such findings do not tell the whole story. Rates of mental illness are reportedly higher among single people than among married people. Even so, these five mental health perks can serve as a positive and reassuring reminder that the story can be just as good when we’re on our own.