NEW YORK (Money Magazine) - Turns out the old song is right: If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, make an ugly woman your wife. Gorgeous women work too, as do (on the other side of the aisle) husbands of varying aesthetic quality.
Yep, while most of us devote much of our waking lives to careers we may or may not love, the true secret to a wonderful life may be as close as that ring on your finger. Wedded bliss (or a rough approximation of it) is a much better predictor of happiness than cold, hard cash.
The moral: Find that special someone, and then hang on for dear life.
Who can we thank for this insight? The unromantic souls populating the economics departments of the world.
An ever-growing body of research shows that most of us adapt quickly to improvements in our finances; we simply learn to covet a higher class of goods. But the happiness-inducing qualities of a solid marriage last and last. Granted, economists don't quite understand why this is, and the explanations they offer aren't exactly eloquent.
According to a paper by two University of Zurich economists, getting hitched provides "basic insurance against adverse life events and allows gains from economies of scale and specialization within the family." (Try putting this sort of thing on a valentine: "Dearest Wife, I treasure the opportunities you've given me to maximize my utility.")
How much money would it take to make you as happy as a married couple in love? No one can offer a precise number, of course, but that hasn't stopped economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald from trying.
They figure a happy marriage is worth $100,000 a year.
But no matter how much you love money, it won't ever love you back. A survey by economists Ed Diener and Shigehiro Oishi reveals that those who place high importance on money are far more likely to be unsatisfied with their lives than those who love love. (While there's evidence that married people are happier because happier people marry more, marriage increases happiness even for the grumpy. The jury's still out on whether unwedded couples get the same benefits from lasting love.)
Now, love is messy, and love can be cruel (for details, consult the oeuvre of Tammy Wynette). D-I-V-O-R-C-E instantly erases the benefits of marriage, and then some, leaving ex-spouses considerably less happy than not only their married friends but also those who never married in the first place.
In other words, a seemingly overpriced Valentine's Day bouquet may be a better long-term investment than anything a hot stock picker can come up with.