Owning a pet makes people around the world happier, AI study reveals

LONDON — It’s no secret people love their pets, but are pet owners really happier than the average person? Thanks to all the photos pet owners take with their furry friends, a new study finds the answer is yes!

In a global analysis using artificial intelligence, researchers with Petplan have found that pet owners worldwide are significantly happier than their pet-free neighbors. In fact, pet ownership increases overall happiness by more than 22 percent globally.

That smile says everything!

A team from the pet insurance company used Microsoft Azure’s AI facial recognition tool to examine more than 250,000 pet owner selfies on Instagram and Google Images during this study. That allowed them to quantify how much happier having a pet companion makes people, regardless of what country they’re in.

Specifically, researchers looked at photos from dog, cat, and rabbit owners in every OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. Researchers found each photo by searching for the #selfie hashtag, as well as pet-related tags such as #rabbitowner and #dogowner. Microsoft Azure’s Face API tool then detected levels of emotions in clear photos with faces — scoring each emotion on a scale of 0 to 100.

From that giant pool, the program examined 9,000 images, generating scores for detectable emotions ranging from happiness to fear and disgust. In comparison to the average happiness score of 36.8 percent, the study finds the average happiness score among pet owners is 59.3 percent.

happiest pet owners

It’s hard not to smile in Belgium and New Zealand!

While owning a pet appears to bring people more happiness no matter where they live, the study finds the happiest pet owners in the world live in New Zealand. The AI tool found pet owners had an average happiness score of 88.4. Pet owners in Brazil (83.8) and Hungary (81.6) round out the top three. The United States did make the list, but finished in 14th, with pet owners having an average happiness score of 70.7.

As for how much a furry friend boosts someone’s happiness over the average person, nowhere does pet ownership lift our spirits more than in Belgium. The average pet owner there is a staggering 172.8 percent happier than the average person! Pets make people 158 percent happier in Canada and over 150 percent happier in China. Again, the U.S. finished 14th, but caring for a pet still nearly doubles someone’s happiness — raising it 87.3 percent above the average person.

Interestingly, Brazil is home to the happiest dog owners (average score of 94.2), New Zealand residents get the biggest boost from cats (89.4), and people in the Netherlands are the happiest to have rabbits (78.7).

Overall, rabbit owners actually post the highest number of positive social media posts regarding their four-legged companions (71.4%), following by dog owners (67.9%) and cat owners (64.7%).

happiest pet owners

What do pets bring into our lives?

The Petplan researchers note that pet ownership does a lot to improve a person’s well-being. The team says pet owners often get fitter and healthier, especially dog owners who take their pets for regular walks. This also allows pet owners to meet new people and have the companionship of their furry friend as well.

The team adds that pet owners may even see their mental health improve, their daily routines become more organized, and they might also pick up some new hobbies.

Of course, adopting a pet is a serious commitment. Researchers say anyone thinking of bringing home a pet should consider the time, money, and attention they’ll need to devote to their new friend.