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Are People with Pets Happier and Healthier?

people with pets are happierIn a study of ‘everyday people’ conducted by psychologists at St. Louis University and the University of Miami (Ohio), it was determined pet owners have better well-being outcomes and individual differences than folks who don’t share their lives with companion animals.

According to lead researcher Allen R. McConnell:

"Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extroverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners."

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Most studies of the benefits of pet ownership deal specifically with groups of people that have physical and/or emotional challenges, for example, HIV patients or people suffering from depression.

Apparently the intent of this study, titled Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership, was to measure the benefits of pet ownership on regular, everyday people as opposed to people suffering with significant health problems.

It will come as no surprise to those of you devoted to your furry, feathered, finned or other type of non-human companion that your pet is a huge part of your life, providing you with important social and emotional support.

The study also found pet owners are just as close to the important people in their lives as they are to their animals. This debunks the theory that people who are devoted to pets tend to struggle in their relationships with humans.

Do Pet Owners Enjoy Better Well-Being Than People Without Pets?

In one experiment conducted for the study, over 200 pet owners – primarily women with a mean age of 31 and a mean annual family income of $77,000 – were compared with a group of non-pet owners in areas that included:

  • Well-being -- depression, loneliness, self-esteem, physical illness and symptoms, subjective happiness, exercise and fitness
  • Individual differences – personality, attachment style
  • Inclusion and support – inclusion of others in the self, overall support measures

The two groups in the experiment had several differences, and the pet owner group emerged as happier, healthier and better adjusted than the people without pets.

In a second experiment there were 56 dog owners, and again the majority were women. The mean age was 42 and average annual family income was $65,000. This experiment looked at whether pet owners benefit socially from owning a dog.

The study found that owners whose dogs improved their sense of belonging and self-esteem, and gave their lives meaning, had greater well-being.

The third experiment involved 97 undergraduate students with an average age of 19, and was intended to see if pets help people handle rejection better. The students wrote about a time when they felt excluded. Study results indicate writing about pets is equally as effective as writing about a friend when it comes to coping with rejection.

Study Conclusions

According to study researchers:

"The present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support. Whereas past work has focused primarily on pet owners facing significant health challenges … the present study establishes that there are many positive consequences for everyday people who own pets."

But you already knew that, didn't you?

Read here for suggestions on how to reward your wonderful companion for all the ways he or she adds to your life.