Happier Ever After: David Myers Belives Marriage Is Good for People and Society-Which Is Why He Feels It Should Be an Option for Everyone
Krejci-Papa, Marianna, Science & Spirit
SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST David Myers is a man with a mission: to interpret psychology's insights for a popular audience and to integrate those insights into a life of Christian faith. He is perhaps best known for his writings on happiness, including the book The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty, in which he makes the case that our country's rising affluence has not improved our collective well-being. He also has had much to say about marriage--the benefits of nurturing matrimonial bonds and the perils of their dissolution, for partners and for their children.
Most recently, Myers has taken on one of the most divisive topics of the day. In his book What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage, Myers and co-author Letha Dawson Scanzoni call on those whose religious ideals lead them to be ambivalent about same-sex marriage to rethink their positions in light of recent social science research. The authors argue that homosexuality is a natural and lasting disposition, and that from biblical and scientific perspectives, marriage results in stronger, happier individuals and better societies. Supporting the institution of marriage, then, is in everybody's best interest.
Myers told Science & Spirit's Marianna Krejci-Papa why he wrote the book, what it is that makes us happy, and why marriage--for everyone--is something worth fighting for.
Science & Spirit: In your studies of happiness, have you found any groups of people who are happier than average?
David Myers: Happiness is about equally available to people of any age, gender, or race. Income increases beyond what's needed for sustenance and security seem not to matter much. In the United States and other Western countries, the doubling of affluence over the last half-century has not increased our happiness by one iota, despite all the things you and I love about our lives today--from air conditioning to the Internet to Post-it notes. Happy lives are instead marked by positive traits, such as optimism and a sense of personal control; by close relationships; and by participation in faith communities that entail support, meaning, and hope.
S&S: Considering the failure rate of marriages in the United States, I was surprised to learn that married people--both men and women--rate themselves as happier than unmarried people. Is the difference significant?
DM: Forty percent of married people report that they are "very happy," compared with only twenty-three percent of never-married adults. I don't place much credence in [Sigmund] Freud, but he got this much right: The healthy adult, he said, is one who can love and work. Others have used different words for these two important domains: intimacy and generativity, affiliation and achievement, attachment and productivity. Regardless, satisfying lives are marked by close, supportive relationships and by meaningful commitments to tasks that take us beyond ourselves.
S&S: And those who practice a religion are more likely to be nurturing the qualities that make life satisfying?
DM: The percentage of "very happy" Americans ranges from twenty-six percent among those never engaged with a faith community to forty-seven percent for those engaged several times weekly. This comes from almost 43,000 Americans randomly sampled by the National Opinion Research Center over the years since 1972.
S&S: Homosexual couples cannot marry in most states, and many religious communities do not welcome them. The data you mention gives new urgency to the discussion of the rights and needs of homosexuals, as you write in your most recent and most controversial book to date. What motivated you to write What God Has Joined Together?
DM: As a Christian scholar-writer, my calling is to worship God with my mind and to give witness to the truth as best as I can discern it. I feel compelled to write when I become impressed by accumulating research that points to a different conclusion than what many people presume, leading me to think, "People should know about this. …