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Are Pet Owners Happier Than Other People? What the Science Says

Written by: Jessica Rossetti

Last Updated on June 17, 2024 by Dogster Team

golden retriever dogs lying on the floor with pet sitter

Are Pet Owners Happier Than Other People? What the Science Says

We pet owners think that our pets are amazing. We like pets, we enjoy spending time and interacting with pets, and we want pets in our homes and lives. However, some people are not pet owners and don’t enjoy spending time with animals. It’s possible for pet owners and non-pet owners to be happy. Happiness is subjective. It makes sense that animal lovers would feel that pet ownership is a source of great joy.

But are pet owners happier than other people? It depends on how you view happiness. Some people are unhappy until they get a pet, proving that the pet is directly related to their happiness. Other people may own pets and still feel unhappy due to other circumstances. Non-pet owners can feel great joy and happiness in their lives but have those feelings taken away from them if they’re asked to dog-sit for the weekend.

In this article, we look at happiness among pet owners and non-pet owners, but do keep in mind that everyone’s preferences for happiness in their lives are different. People can find happiness in various things, and one person’s happiness is no better or greater than another’s.

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Hedonic Adaptation

Hedonic adaptation is the idea that after positive or negative events occur, people return to a stable, baseline level of emotion again. For example, in 1978, a study by Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman showed that lottery winners were no happier 18 months after winning the lottery than those who did not win. The event may have brought up positive emotions in the winners, but eventually, those feelings evened out and they returned to a normal state of emotion.

This happens with pet owners too. In her book, “The Happy Dog,” Carri Westgarth writes that the happiness of getting a new pet eventually wears off. As your life returns to normal, the feelings of happiness begin to deflate. In some cases, these feelings can be replaced with negative emotions if your pet becomes a financial or emotional burden.

The positive side to hedonic adaptation is that it also works in reverse. If a traumatic event happens, like when a pet dies, feelings of normalcy and happiness will also eventually return once the terrible feelings begin to fade.

woman playing with her pets
Image Credit: Josep Suria, Shutterstock

Are Pet Owners Less Happy Than Other People?

In 2020, the General Social Survey showed that there’s no real difference in happiness between pet owners and non-pet owners. Around 31% of people from each group reported that they were very happy. About 15% reported being not too happy, meaning satisfaction with pet ownership was not the driving force behind happiness or unhappiness.

In 2016, 263 American adults were surveyed, and the pet owners reportedly felt more satisfied with their lives than the non-pet owners, but the two groups did not differ in other areas, like emotion regulation or personality measures.

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What Can Pets Do for People’s Happiness?

Pets can improve their owners’ lives. Owning a pet can reduce stress, ease depression, and ward off loneliness. Pet ownership can even improve your health by forcing you to get outside and walk the dog or play with them.

Pets can also reduce blood pressure and act as natural stress soothers. Petting a dog or cat can significantly lower your stress, and it also soothes and calms the pet. There’s a reason that therapy dogs and cats are often brought into nursing homes and hospitals to visit patients. The presence of a pet can provide much-needed comfort to those in need of it.

Owning a pet can also give people a sense of responsibility and pride. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, people flocked to rescue organizations to adopt a new pet. They wanted something new and fun to engage with when they were forced to stay inside the house. Pets brought them happiness, comfort, and company.

happy family with white dog
Image Credit: Drazen Zigic, Shutterstock

Can Pets Make People Unhappy?

Pets can cause stress to people in many ways. If you decide to get a dog and don’t have the means to care for them, it can create stress and anxiety in your life where there wasn’t before. Untrained dogs can have behavior problems, cats can tear up the furniture with their claws, and all pets can be messy and smelly. If you aren’t a true pet lover, this kind of responsibility may cause resentment.

Pets can also strain people financially, especially if they have myriad health issues or need to see the vet frequently. Food, medicine, and vet visits add up quickly. If you do have a pet, consider pet insurance for any emergencies that may arise. It can help offset the costs of your pet’s medical care.

Cat peed on sofa
Image Credit: cunaplus, Shutterstock

Are Pet Owners Happier Than Others?

It depends on who you ask. Some studies show that animal ownership has no bearing on happiness, and other studies show that pet ownership may even cause unhappiness. However, true pet lovers will disagree and say that their lives are made infinitely better by the presence of their pets.

Pet owners can find happiness with pets the same as those without pets can also find happiness, contentment, and fulfillment. Think about your idea of happiness and if that includes a pet or not.

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Conclusion

Happiness is subjective. Pet owners may feel happiness in their lives due to their pets, but that doesn’t mean that non-pet owners are unhappy. There are so many factors that indicate happiness in a person’s life. Emotions are constantly changing and fluctuating. You may find that owning a puppy is full of stress and anxiety, but once the dog is older, you’re much happier because they are finally trained and calmer.

If you think that a pet will automatically bring happiness into your life, you may not be wrong. Just don’t forget that owning a pet is a great responsibility, and there will always be difficult times to endure. Thanks to hedonic adaptation, though, we know that these times will pass and happiness will come back around.


Featured Image Credit: atyana Vyc, Shutterstock

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