Feel Like a Million Dollars: Matchmaking and Happiness

Lalin Anik and Katherine Bowers

Sad about being single this Valentine’s Day? Try playing matchmaker for someone else — research shows it’ll lift your spirits.

“Creating successful, thoughtful matches for others makes us happier,” says Darden marketing professor Lalin Anik. “Matchmaking is a social lubricant. It makes our social networks denser, our communities closer.”

Whether the matchmaking was romantic (a la a blind date) or platonic (introducing two colleagues), connecting others made the matchmaker happier. In a survey of 300 people, those who were habitual matchmakers reported greater well-being.

“We’re used to thinking of matchmaking as a specialized role, like the Yenta in the Yiddish tradition, but it turns out there’s a matchmaker in all of us. It’s probably evolutionary,” Anik says.

Human Nature = Social Nature

We know social connections matter — a lot. Humans spend, on average, 80 percent of their waking hours with others. Studies show people who have a rich network of relationships enjoy better physical and mental health, and increased longevity.

And it seems that helping others develop their network of relationships also benefits us. So-called “chronic matchmakers” were happier with their lives, even controlling for network size and personality type. Anik and colleague Michael Norton, of Harvard Business School, also investigated what type of matchmaking drives satisfaction. They discovered meaning is critical — when 118 participants were assigned to make matches among a group of strangers, only those asked to make pairs of people likely to get along experienced a lift in happiness. Groups asked to pair people who would not get along or to randomly pair people based on social security numbers showed no significant mood change.

Matchmaking increases happiness, Anik writes, “but only when that matching is done in the service of creating connections with others.”

Matchmaking and the Office

These days, matchmaking goes beyond playing Cupid — it’s a business imperative. People work across time zones and locations; to innovate and compete, they need to collaborate globally with customers, suppliers and colleagues. Companies may want to promote matchmaking, says Anik, to drive positive engagement (via happier workers) and to create cohesive, powerful workforces.

There’s an element of creativity that matters, too. Anik discovered people found it more rewarding to create “bridging ties,” matches between people who likely would not have otherwise met, than to pair people who are obviously similar. Translated to the office, that means it’s a greater thrill to connect your colleague to a researcher across the country than to introduce two peers in adjoining departments (although even the more obvious, local match would theoretically have an upside for the connector.)

“We seem to get a greater boost when we put time and effort into bridging social gaps,” Anik says. “The upside is huge.”

Anik’s Advice

  • When matching, think meaning. In several studies, Anik demonstrated that people are far more engaged when the matchmaking task has useful purpose (compatibility between people) rather being an exercise in seemingly random or counterproductive pairings. For managers, matchmaking benefits may possibly extend to things such as pairing high potential employees with mentors, stretch assignments and influential colleagues.
  • Create a varied matchmaking “opportunities.” Extroverts may prefer to match-make in large group meetings, parties or conferences; introverts might find it more comfortable to make introductions through technology (email, company wikis, chat functions or social media.) “More than ever before, we have so many tools and opportunities to encourage matchmaking,” Anik says.
  • Be wary of incentives. Anik’s research found that financial incentives may hinder the intrinsic pleasure humans take in matchmaking. When study participants were asked to make matches between strangers based on potential rapport, they voluntarily completed twice as many trials when they were not financially incentivized, versus when they were. “Incentives crowded out motivation” for the “intrinsically appealing match task,” Anik writes.

Lalin Anik co-authored “Matchmaking Promotes Happiness,” which appeared in Social Psychological and Personality Science, with Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School.

About the Faculty

Lalin Anik

Anik’s research on behavioral economics and marketing delves into how social connection impacts consumer behavior, both through motivation and influence. Her work has been published in Journal of Marketing Research, Social Psychological and Personality Science and Social Influence, as well as noted in mainstream channels including Bloomberg, CNN, Forbes, Harvard... Learn More