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Why Matchmaking Makes Us Happy

You know the type of book that your library would like someone to take home and never return? I picked a little gem this way recently called How to Find the Love of Your Life: 90 Days to a Permanent Relationship, and was charmed to see that it contained this nugget:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in our technologically advanced age, a computer program were created that would like and match all the right people with each other? Unfortunately (or fortunately) this is not to be …which is why computer dating, once all the rage, has lost much credibility.

If you are surprised to hear that online dating is losing steam, you will be even more surprised to find that this guide to finding love was written in 1986, back when the Internet was still ARPANET and when the term ‘profile picture’ still meant a head shot taken from a side view (as opposed to the picture taken ten years ago that we believe still represents us well).

So how does one find the “Love of Your Life” now that computer dating has lost credibility? Well, the book recommends the creation of a pyramid scheme in which your unwitting acquaintances (friends, family members, teachers, co-workers and eventually random strangers) are roped into handing over a list of everyone they know who is single (with phone numbers!). The people on the original list are called and when they agree to meet you for coffee (and why wouldn’t they?) you ask them to create similar lists of every person they know who is single. You continue to do this (i.e. impose yourself on others) until one day (less than 90 days from the time you began) you meet the love of your life who, presumably, is not required to provide a list of his/her single friends. Easy.

Now, if you wonder if this technique will work, try making an appointment with your favourite professor (an actual suggestion from the book) and asking him/her to give you a list of single people with their phone numbers. I didn’t think so.

We live in this paradoxical era in which we are both willing to share the minute details of our lives with our acquaintances while, simultaneously, being intolerant of interference in our personal lives even from those who are close to us. For example, tweeting “Where is #princecharming?!” is not an invitation to be sent a list of potential candidates for the position. Matchmaking has essentially gone out of favour because people presume that others don’t want their help in finding love.
That may be true, but there is new evidence that suggests we should do it anyway, if for no reason but to increase our own happiness. In a laboratory experiment and an online survey, the research finds that people who work at bringing others together are over-all happier than those who do not.

What is interesting about this research is that an increase in happiness isn’t even dependent on a personal connection to the people being matched – happiness can be found in matching complete strangers. It seems as well that the less likely it is that the two people would have matched without help, the more satisfying the match is to the matchmaker. People are made happiest by matching people who bring together different qualities. For example, in the experiment participants were happier when they made inter-racial matches than when they made same race matches.

In Singapore, where the government has invested millions in promoting the concept of marriage to an indifferent generation, citizens can now participate in a publically funded program to learn how they help their friends find love. Maybe this is a skill that people would genuinely like to have. Their friends may, or may not, thank them for it later but it seems that it could make them happy.


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