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EAST LANSING, Mich. — The vast majority of dog and cat owners will say their pets enrich their lives in countless ways and bring immeasurable levels of extra happiness, but researchers from Michigan State University suggest that most pet owners may just be telling themselves what they want to hear. Their new study found that despite owners claiming pets improve their lives, researchers did not see a reliable association between pet ownership and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic was a stressful time for everyone, to put it lightly. Even the most laid-back among us found themselves overwhelmed by the lockdowns and social distancing guidelines that dominated 2020. So, the research team at MSU theorized that the pandemic represented an ideal time to study just how much comfort and happiness pets really provide to their families.

In all, the study authors assessed a total of 767 people on three separate occasions in May 2020. The research team opted to adopt a mixed-method approach that allowed them to simultaneously assess several indicators of well-being, all while also asking participants to reflect on the role of pets from their point of view in an open-ended manner. Generally, pet owners predictably reported their pets made them happy. More specifically, they said their pets helped them feel more positive emotions and provided affection and companionship.

On the other hand, the participants also articulated the dark side of pet ownership, such as worries related to their pet’s well-being or having their pets interfere with working remotely.

A woman working with her Shih Tzu on her lap
A woman working with her Shih Tzu on her lap (Photo by MilanMarkovic78 on Shutterstock)

Crucially, however, when study authors actually compared the happiness of pet owners to levels seen among non-pet owners, the datasets showed no difference in the well-being of pet owners and non-pet owners over time. The research team explains it also didn’t matter what type of pet people owned, how many they cared for, or how close a pet was to their person. Researchers also did not deem the personalities of the owners to be a factor either.

“People say that pets make them happy, but when we actually measure happiness, that doesn’t appear to be the case,” says William Chopik, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, in a university release. “People see friends as lonely or wanting companionship, and they recommend getting a pet. But it’s unlikely that it’ll be as transformative as people think.”

Study authors also explored several theories possibly explaining why there was no difference seen between the well-being of pet owners and non-pet owners. One of these hypotheses was that non-pet owners fill their lives with other activities and interests that make them just as happy as a pet would.

“Staking all of your hope on a pet making you feel better is probably unfair and is maybe costly given other things you could do in your life that could improve your happiness,” Prof. Chopik concludes.

The study is published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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88 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    Bull. My wife and I are going through a divorce. Things are always tense. She got a puppy and through watching it growing up and it’s “I could care less about anything but a good time” we learned to talk again. We both love animals and it brought joy and laughter back into our lives. Will we still divorce. Yes. But we learned to not hate each other by having him around because he he loves us both. People that truly want a pet around will always be happier.

  2. JAI says:

    Most 80%+ of studies like this one can not be replicated. Thus indicating it is BS or falsified or both.

  3. Aaron Butler says:

    Happiness is a temporary, relative, emotion. A person getting kicked in the face every morning will have an experience of happiness and relief after the face-kicking is over, because they are so much better off than they were during the face-kicking. Does that mean you need a face-kicking to be happy? Of course not, but the end of face-kicking does create an experience of relative happiness.

    On a more mundane level, I get happiness from my first cup of coffee in the morning, but a lot of that happiness comes from the fact that I hate waking up, and getting ready for work. The cup of coffee is a warm, sweet reminder that not everything is hard, and there are sources of energy to fight the misery. If it wasn’t for the former, the latter wouldn’t happen at all — I’d be sleeping.

    If you measure people’s “happiness” over time, you’re going to inevitably find them happy sometimes, not happy other times. The “happiness” comes from overcoming challenges/bad situations. Nobody is just “happy” randomly without anything to compare it to.

  4. DAVID says:

    Study shows that studys dont mean anything.

  5. DAVID says:

    A study shows that pets make people happy until the pet dies or gets killed or has to be put down.

  6. bob says:

    Most other studies done over the past few decades basically indicate that the one cited here is a pile of dog poop. What kinds of people were interviewed? For one thing, the author said the pandemic was SO stressful. Was it? Our family was all home with our dogs and kids and frankly it wasn’t stressful except maybe when you had to go out and deal with freaked out idiots. That said, you’re seriously drawing behavioural conclusions from the most aberrational year in the past 50?

    Seriously, the author merely lapped up the dreck that he/she/it was fed and regurgitated it in “Study Finds”. In the end, the real conclusion is to question articles like these because there’s a motive involved here. Anti pet? A freak out that “climate change” is going to kill us all next week? Or a mere case of stupidity? We’ll never know. But it’s all excrement.

  7. John says:

    The internet has become a terrible thing. I left a comment hours ago, and it is gone. What’s the point? It was not a dumb comment. No trolling. I have a Ph.D. and made a rational comment about the study. Why is nothing allowed to stay up anymore? It is frustrating.

    Discourse is so overly controlled now that it basically doesn’t exist as something free anymore. It is a pity.

  8. John says:

    Why sweet my comments censored?

  9. TPM says:

    The report is highly flawed

  10. DBM says:

    Stupid Study. Everyone knows that pets enrich our lives. Author is probably an animal hater.

  11. Bob Phillips says:

    Sounds like something a cat would say.

  12. Jrkeller says:

    Hello..pet owners already know they are right,,but I like dogs I like cats but honestly pet owners are more challenged dealing with humans than their pets,they can control their pets,they can not control people and the fact they can just go back to there pets and say they are much happier around my pets,is the easy way.
    But pet owners are not going to buy this article becuz they say so,and anyone thet doesn’t agree is a pet hater,end of discussion.
    The article stated thet pet owners would rather deal with their pet than with a human,and pet owners bringing the dogs and cats and ever other animals into grocery store or department stores,is wrong, and pet owners just can not get their head around anyone not wanting to be around their pet.
    Please please pet owners, Read this article again,and try to question the rightness of this article,and not just claim it was written by a cat or dog hater,but by a person who really has done some serious analysis.
    All the best to all..truly.j