In an episode of “The Office,” Michael Scott takes on the role of matchmaker at a Valentine’s Day party. In an attempt to fix geeky Eric up with awkward Meredith, he helpfully points out their similarities: “So, Eric, you mentioned before that you are in Tool & Die Repair. Meredith recently had a total hysterectomy, so that’s sort of a repair. [uncomfortable silence] Alright, I’ll let you guys talk.”
Like Michael, most of us have made matches between people, from grabbing two strangers by the arm at a party and introducing them to each other to mediating preexisting romantic interests. Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and I wondered about the nature of this common behavior: why do people like to be matchmakers? Is it a desire to be popular, to fulfill social goals or to have an instrumental role in social networks? We show that it is simpler than that: people get a happiness boost from matching others!
We explored the impact of matchmaking behavior on happiness in different non-romantic scenarios. After being asked to make matches, our participants reported that they were happier post-matchmaking. We measured their happiness with a 7-point scale (1: very unhappy to 7: very happy) and examined their persistence in matchmaking (“would you like to make another match?”)
We first looked at whether people get a happiness boost when they make any type of match (e.g., à la Michael Scott). We found that matchmakers are happier when they make matches between two people they actually think will get along rather than on a random dimension such as looking alike. Furthermore, people enjoy matching those who are least likely to know each other; introducing a banker colleague to an artsy cousin makes people happier than introducing two philatelist co-workers from their workplace.
Another important dimension in matchmaking, of course, is the actual success of these matches. Do people still feel happy even when their matchmaking ends with a dating horror story rather than a happy marriage? When asked to think about previous matchmaking experiences, participants who recalled making a successful match (e.g., “my mom got along very well with my emo friend”) reported a happiness boost while failed matches (e.g., “my neighbor made my aunt uneasy”) was actually costly for well-being.
Though Michael Scott is rather hopeless at bringing lonely hearts together, given our findings we would recommend that he continue with his efforts but change his strategy; stay away from random introductions, match people who have a low likelihood of meeting but would enjoy each other’s company and aim for the matches to work out. Fewer awkward silences and happier matchmakers guaranteed.