Ask almost anyone with a cat if watching the antics of their four-footed companion brings them joy, and you’ll most likely get a resounding yes in response. But do cats make their owners happy? There’s no scientific evidence suggesting that cat ownership positively impacts long-term happiness. However, you can keep reading to learn more about cats, animal companionship, and personality traits.
Some Preliminaries — How Do We Measure Happiness?
Believe it or not, measuring happiness in a quasi-scientific fashion isn’t easy. No one’s quite sure how to define the concept or accurately determine how much of it you’re feeling. Most researchers use self-reporting, basing their conclusions on what people tell them in standardized multiple-choice surveys.
The problem with this measurement is that it’s inaccurate; it’s relatively easy to manipulate people’s happiness gauges by tinkering with their environment. Music, for instance, can impact your perception of an environment, directly influencing your feelings of happiness or sadness and your responses to a survey.
Using surveys to measure just about anything involving human behavior and emotions often skirts the edges of nonsense, and the variety and complexity of the human experience can’t be reflected in multiple-choice questions. In addition, we have to be careful when assuming the universal transferability of study conclusions.
Most studies on pets and their impact on happiness focus on answering limited questions, such as how pet ownership impacts the happiness of elderly adults in Australia or the relationship between pet ownership and happiness in a small group of Croatian adults.
With small sample sizes, focused research questions, and the near impossibility of transferring research conclusions between countries, genders, and even ages, answering whether pets universally make us happier is difficult.
Do Pets Make Us Happier?
The scientific evidence is pretty clear on that question; the answer is no. Between 1983 and 2021, around 12 scientific studies examining questions related to pet ownership and happiness were published in peer-reviewed journals. No study concluded that pet ownership of any kind positively impacted overall long-term happiness.
These findings appear to be pretty robust, with researchers studying populations in Mexico, the United States, and Australia all coming to the same conclusions, which makes perfect sense since not a single scientific study ever completed has reached the conclusion that a cat, achievement, a fancy new house, or winning the lottery can improve long-term happiness.
Do People Who Like Cats Tend to Be Happier by Nature?
Some studies suggest that cat owners tend to be happier than non-pet owners in general, experiencing less depression and anxiety. But that may have more to do with the type of people attracted to cats and the researcher’s assumptions than anything else. The issue of causality makes it impossible to say with confidence that cats improve happiness.
However, the evidence suggests that compared to dog owners, cat parents are more open to new experiences but are more introverted, less outgoing, decidedly less friendly, and a bit more inclined towards neurotic behavior. In other words, cat owners lose out to dog lovers when it comes to overall personality traits researchers say are indicative of general happiness and contentment.
On the other hand, cat owners tend to be more sensitive in social situations and more likely to trust others than those who don’t have a pet. However, that conclusion was based on a study of 60 undergraduate men and women, making it somewhat less than reliable for the rest of the world.
Are There Benefits to Cat Ownership?
There appear to be several benefits to having a cat companion! Adopting a cat appears to reduce health complaints such as back pain and headaches in some people, particularly in the short term. People who’ve owned cats in the past seem to be less likely to die from heart attacks, but the reason is not quite clear.
Cats can reduce our stress and calm us, which allows owners to see difficulties as challenges instead of stressors. Also, people with cats report feeling a greater sense of connection than people who don’t live with pets. But remember that perceived benefits to cat ownership are similar but decidedly different from happiness.
Factors that May Influence Cat Ownership & Happiness
Several factors can influence the relationship between having a feline companion and one’s long-term happiness.
Owning a cat can easily become a source of stress when extensive financial demands are involved in providing sufficient care for a sick animal. Loving a creature deeply and being unable to care for them could negatively impact your happiness.
While cats are pretty low-maintenance creatures, they still require love and attention. Due to a new baby or the demands of a tough job, a cat parent who doesn’t have time to provide the love and attention a kitty needs will likely experience the relationship as stressful and not supportive of their greater happiness.
Cats, like children, limit your choices and take away a fair bit of the spontaneity of life. Depending on an owner’s dreams, needs, and preferred lifestyle, having a cat can make it challenging to do what they need to be happy.
Destructive & Aggressive Behavior
Some cats are much harder to care for than others. Hybrid cats such as Bengals are high-maintenance creatures. Not only are they intelligent, but they also need plenty of mental and physical stimulation, or they quickly become destructive.
Many refuse to use the litter box when stressed. Others have incredibly high prey drives, making life unsafe for other households and neighborhood cats and dangerous for fish and small pets like guinea pigs and hamsters.
Death & Grief
Watching your companion become ill or decline over the years can be nothing short of torture. The emotional toll of feeling responsible for a cat’s accidental or untimely death can cause intense and long-lasting grief that many struggle to shake.
There’s ultimately no definitive answer to the question of whether or not cats make us happier. They love us and bring great joy to our lives, but our relationships with the magnificent creatures are rollercoasters full of joy, frustrations, laughter, and love. The minute you let a feline into your life, you’ve signed up for more moments of connection than you can imagine and the pain of saying goodbye.
Cats don’t make us happy or unhappy; they allow us to live more fully. They allow us to love, establish deep connections, and experience the unbearable pain of loss that we should be immensely grateful for because those experiences are life’s building blocks.
Featured Image Credit By: Oleg Ivanov, Unsplash
- Some Preliminaries — How Do We Measure Happiness?
- Do Pets Make Us Happier?
- Do People Who Like Cats Tend to Be Happier by Nature?
- Are There Benefits to Cat Ownership?
- Factors that May Influence Cat Ownership & Happiness
- Final Thoughts