In Japan, about 1 million men are hikikomori: shut-ins who deliberately retreat to their childhood bedrooms and hardly, if ever, come out. If current trends continue, half of Japanese adults will live alone by 2030. The World Health Organization claims that feeling lonely is more dangerous for your health than smoking, while a strong network of friends and acquaintances may add four years to your life. Make your next friend female. Women are better listeners than men, says psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which may be why men tend to be happier in marriage. And women are twice as likely to ask for a divorce.
Should you get married? Compared to 50 years ago, 20 percent more people choose not to in North America and Europe. But according to national polls in Europe, married people are still happier than the unattached. So marriage may make you happier, as long as you do it right.
Begin by choosing the perfect partner. Better yet, ask someone else to choose: romantic love (as measured on the Rubin love scale, which asks questions like “Do you find it easy to ignore your partner’s faults?”) in love-based marriages starts high but declines rapidly, say psychologists at the University of Rajasthan, India, but in arranged marriages, although it starts low, love increases gradually until, after 10 years, those in arranged marriages are twice as in love as those who married their sweethearts.
Live together. German researchers say that couples who cohabit before marrying report higher life satisfaction than engaged couples who don’t. They also say that happiness peaks in the first year of marriage, then gradually declines, so make sure you enjoy the honeymoon.
Pay for an expensive wedding reception: studies at Harvard University, USA, show that spending money on others increases your own happiness. In China, parents chip in US$15,500 on average for their children’s weddings, including the cost of staged photos and elaborate wedding “sets.”
Have lots of sex. In a survey of 900 women in Texas, USA, sex was the highlight of the day. Even try swinging: eight out of 10 swingers are “very happy” with their open-love unions, compared to six in ten monogamous people. But don’t have children: after their baby’s first birthday, many parents report lower levels of life satisfaction until their offspring leave home.
How to fall in love
On an airplane in 2002, US psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein sat down next to Venezuelan Gabriella Castillo, introduced himself, and began explaining his theory that two total strangers could learn to fall in love by carrying out a series of simple exercises. Would she be interested, he asked, in testing the theory with him? She agreed, and, amazingly, it worked. The relationship was short-lived, but only, claims Epstein, because of the distance between Caracas and California. Look for someone you find fairly attractive and try some of his exercises.
Approach each other and embrace gently. Concentrate on your partner’s breathing and aim to synchronize your breathing with theirs. Hold for around five minutes, after which time, says Epstein, “you may feel that the two of you have merged.”
Gazing is not staring. Staring is hostile and blank; gazing is calm and empathetic. Stand or sit 60 centimeters apart. Get comfortable, then look deeply into each other’s eyes for two minutes, thinking about the kind of person your partner is. Now tell them.
Stand or sit about a meter apart and start moving your arms and legs around freely. Keep moving, and without speaking begin trying to imitate your partner’s movements perfectly. You will both feel you are moving independently while being dependent on each other at the same time.
Write down a thought that you would like to tell your partner and keep it secret. Stand facing them and try to broadcast the thought to them without speaking. The time limit is five minutes, and if they can’t guess by then, tell them the secret and swap roles.
Stand 1.5 meters apart and gaze at each other. Holding eye contact, move slightly closer every 10 seconds until you are less than 45 centimeters apart (this is the rough average boundary for personal space). Now get as close as you can without touching.
Place the palm of your hand as close as possible to your partner’s without letting them touch. Hold them there for four minutes. According to Epstein, participants record experiencing a sensation of heat between the hands, and sometimes even sparks.