Study Finds Pets Didn't Make People Happier During the Pandemic

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic
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Would you say that your pet help you feel better during the pandemic? Countless pet parents, myself included, would say they experienced less stress and anxiety during lockdown thanks to their four-legged companions. 

However, a new study led by researchers from Michigan State University suggests otherwise. Researchers couldn’t find a reliable association between pet ownership and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though owners claimed pets improved their lives. 

The pandemic was extremely stressful for everyone. The research team from Michigan State University theorized that the pandemic created ideal conditions to determine how much happiness and comfort pets actually provide to their families. 

The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, evaluated 767 people on three separate occasions in May 2020. The researchers used a mixed-method approach, looking at several indicators of well-being. They also asked owners in an open-ended question to think about the role of pets. 

Unsurprisingly, pet owners reported their pets made them happy. Owners claimed pets help them feel more positive emotions and provide companionship and affection, but also expressed worry about their pet’s well-being and reported their pets interfered with working remotely. 

But when researchers compared the happiness of pet owners to levels seen in non-pet owners they made a surprising discovery. Shockingly, the data showed no difference in the well-being of pet owners and non-pet owners over time. 

The research team explained that it did not matter what type of pet people owned, how many pets they had, or how close owners were with their pets. The personalities of the owners weren’t a factor either. 

People say pets make them happy, but when we actually measure happiness that doesn’t appear to be the case,” said 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 to be as transformative as people think,” added Chopik. 

The research team also explored several other potential reasons as to why there was no difference in the happiness levels of pet owners and non-pet owners. The most likely reason might be that non-pet owners have found ways to fill their lives with activities and interests that make them as happy as owning a pet would. 

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

Another study, involving 4,237 people, beginning at the start of the pandemic and ending in December 2021, had similar findings. Although owners grew closer to their pets, especially dogs, during the pandemic, that didn’t stave off stress.

In fact, the lowest stress levels were seen in non-pet owners. When you think about it, these results kind of make sense - pet owners had an additional mouth to feed during the lockdown and had limited opportunities to take their dogs out for a walk or play session. 

The results of these studies are surprising, to say the least. I was positive that I was happier than my poochless friends during the lockdown, but guess that wasn’t the case. 

After thinking about this a bit more, I realized that maybe we shouldn’t expect so much from our four-legged companions. Yes, there are many benefits to owning a pet, and pets can make us happy, but ultimately happiness depends on ourselves. 

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Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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