By Kathryn Doyle
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Fixing up your single friends this Valentine's Day might pay off for them, and it could make you happier too, according to a new group of studies.
"We are all matchmakers in some sense, and even if we don't self-define as one, we know at least one chronic matchmaker who can't resist but introduce people to each other," said Lalin Anik, from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina.
She and coauthor Michael Norton from Harvard Business School in Boston investigated how and why making matches makes the matcher feel good. According to their results, people who match a lot tend to have higher well-being and the least likely matches are the most rewarding.
Matchmaking in this case includes romantic links as well as professional and social ones.
People who make matches regularly may come from larger social networks, which have been linked with higher well-being, the authors write in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
For the first study, they used an online survey to poll 300 people on how frequently and successfully they matched. Regardless of social network size and personality traits, making frequent and successful matches were both linked to higher happiness scores.
Based on the second and third studies, which involved in-person and computer-based scenarios, the researchers determined they were not just sensing the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a task. Participants found matching people they thought would get along more rewarding than matching people who would not get along or people who just looked similar, Anik and Norton found.
For the final study, the researchers hypothesized that one reason making matches is rewarding is because it strengthens people's social groups. If that was true, making more unlikely matches would be more rewarding because matchmakers aren't just joining people who would have met anyway.
The researchers gave 132 participants "match cards" with a target who was either a white male or a white female and three potential matches varying in gender and ethnicity.
Lo and behold, more unlikely matches - those between people of different genders and ethnic backgrounds - were most rewarding, they found.
"One of the reasons not mentioned in the paper that matchmaking may make people happy is that it increases one's sense of meaning," said Sonja Lyubomirsky. She studies happiness at the University of California, Riverside and was not involved in the new research.
"Connections between others create a more orderly, easier to understand, and a more interdependent, productive, happier world," Lyubomirsky said.
Another reason could be that helping others make the same decisions you have made makes you happier and validates your choices, she said. For example, newlyweds love to make romantic matches, she said.
"Make matches that will work," Anik told Reuters Health in an email. "Don't make matches randomly, but rather, make matches with the goal of creating rapport between others. Don't accept any external rewards such as money in return for matchmaking; money diminishes people's motivation to play matchmaker."
Matchmaking is high risk and high reward, she said; she has made bad matches in the past, which can be awkward, but she keeps trying.
"Some matches may not work out, but the happiness benefits of trying seem to trump the occasional depressing failure," Anik said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1aWiZEi Social Psychological and Personality Science, online February 10, 2014.