Beautiful young woman with cute cat resting at home

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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. Randy Kincaid says:

    I take my Labrador Retriever Tyler, to the hardware store whenever I go.
    People will stand inline for a chance to interact will him. He loves the attention.
    Tyler takes away their problems for a few minuets and gives them a Big Smile and makes them very happy.
    Most of them have a dog at home. This shows you that a dog even a strange dog will make you happy.

  2. bobbcat says:

    Under “You might also be interested in….” there is a headline that says the following: “Dog owners experienced less stress and lonliness during Covid-19 pandemic”

    These people are a joke.

  3. Marcus Tomastia says:

    I had pets for years but now that I’ve retired I travel and don’t have the time to spend on a pet. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. How do the commenters with pets know how happy they’d be without pets? Answer: they don’t.

    The study doesn’t say that pets don’t make you happier, it simply points out the obvious; that pets fill a need that can also be achieved by getting a life. Humans can be great company, too.

  4. Jack Thomas says:

    767 respondents a study does not make. Such a small sample size and probably extremely homogeneous. A legitimate study would be conducted on numerous respondents across all strata of socio-economic status, age, location, etc. to be a legitimate study on well-being and happiness. Trash “science” at best.

  5. Nic says:

    Anyone who has ever loved a pet knows this is total bullshit. They most certainly do bring happiness and great joy

  6. Leslie says:

    “Studying” 767 people a total of 3 times in 1 month during an extremely traumatic period is NOT a reputable study by any means.

  7. Dee says:

    But, hey, don’t take my own empirical truth. Expect me to trust your own made-up nonsense. Lol.

  8. Ray says:

    This study is false on its face. Any dog owner for example, that loves their dog will tell you the joy and warmth their pet brings them. To call their feelings false as the study basically does is nothing short of arrogant and badly informed.

  9. Danielle C Gleason says:

    I bet the people who studied the pet owners never owned a pet. I gave up having a dog because at my age, 85, I didn’t feel that I could care for a dog properly. I can tell you, I am NOT happier without a pet, I miss my dogs and wish I could have one now. I loved being “on call” for my dogs. These people didn’t have anything else to do.

  10. Kurt S says:

    First off, how does anyone get funding for such a study?? I want in on that action!
    But this is similar to saying Friends and Family don’t enrich your life because… they’ll eventually have stressful health-issues and sadness may occur. My happiness is NOT based on “lack of stress”. I think the scientists followed people who “got pets to help them through the pandemic” and… not ones loving pets as their “kids” like we do. Next year there will be a study refuting this one.

  11. Robert B benjamin says:

    Just another reason to discount anyuthing these Kids say. Yup, that’s right KIDS being taught by those who can’t. Just looking at my dog lying next to me has saved me from eating my gun on more than one occasion.

  12. James Farwell says:

    The people who conducted this survey should think about a new vocation where they may add value to society: street cleaning or ditch digging. Apparently no one involved in the “study” – one uses the term only since they did — has never had a relationship or friendship with a pet.

    The people who conducted this study are stupid, ignorant, fradulent are all three. I would be happy to discuss my views with them.

  13. Dan says:

    I’ll bet MSU will tell you a man can be a woman too.

  14. jack says:

    what a load of crap. who makes up this garbage?

  15. olivia says:

    Propaganda to encourage people not to be happy and not to own pets. WEF / globalist anti-human agenda.
    More “Study Finds’ lies.

  16. Anthony Fuentes says:

    Garbage article, garbage author.

  17. Mike says:

    Lol. Nonsense.

  18. John Humenansky says:

    This is such a bull shit article and am amazed that any scholar would put their name on it. How do you measure happiness? Is there a happiness meter or fun meter? If these academics have a fun or happiness meter they better have them recalibrated. They would be far better off if they would direct their scientific efforts to more important issues like the nature and composition of belly button lint!

  19. M.P. says:

    This article is dead wrong. No one needs a study to know whether pets bring happiness and improve well being. Pet owners already know.

  20. Ellen says:

    The same people who try to force others to be captive in their own homes instead of using common sense to deal with something like a “pandemic”.
    My dogs have always been a source of great comfort to me, but not because I was cooped up because of some mandated quarantine.