Review of research challenges assumption that success makes people happy

December 18, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Personal and professional success may lead to happiness but may also engender success. Happy individuals are predisposed to seek out and undertake new goals in life and this reinforces positive emotions, say researchers who examined the connections between desirable characteristics, life successes and well-being of over 275,000 people.

From a review of 225 studies in the current issue of Psychological Bulletin, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), lead author Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., of the University of California, Riverside found that chronically happy people are in general more successful across many life domains than less happy people and their happiness is in large part a consequence of their positive emotions rather than vice versa. Happy people are more likely to achieve favorable life circumstances, said Dr. Lyubomirsky, and "this may be because happy people frequently experience positive moods and these positive moods prompt them to be more likely to work actively toward new goals and build new resources. When people feel happy, they tend to feel confident, optimistic, and energetic and others find them likable and sociable. Happy people are thus able to benefit from these perceptions."

Lyubomirsky and co-authors Laura King, Ph.D., of University of Missouri, Columbia and Ed Diener, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The Gallup Organization examined studies involving three different types of evidence - cross-sectional, longitudinal and experimental designs - to determine how happiness and positive affect are related to culturally-valued success.

The authors chose to use these different types of evidence to bolster their confidence in establishing cause-and-effect relationships among happiness, positive affect, and success. Cross-sectional studies compare different groups of people and answer questions like, "Are happy people more successful than unhappy people?" and "Does long-term happiness and short term positive affect co-occur with desirable behaviors?" Longitudinal studies examine groups of people over a period of time and address questions like, "Does happiness precede success?" and "Does positive affect pave the way for success-like behaviors?" Finally, experimental studies manipulate variables to test whether an outcome will occur under controlled conditions and answer questions like, "Does positive affect lead to success-oriented behaviors?"

The results of all three types of studies suggests that happiness does lead to behaviors that often produce further success in work, relationships and health, and these successes result in part from a person's positive affect. Furthermore, evidence from the cross-sectional studies confirm that a person's well-being is associated with positive perceptions of self and others, sociability, creativity, prosocial behavior, a strong immune system, and effective coping skills. The authors also note that happy people are capable of experiencing sadness and negative emotions in response to negative events, which is a healthy and appropriate response.

Much of the previous research on happiness presupposed that happiness followed from success and accomplishments in life, said the authors. "We found that this isn't always true. Positive affect is one attribute among several that can lead to success-oriented behaviors. Other resources, such as intelligence, family, expertise and physical fitness, can also play a role in people's successes."

"Our review provides strong support that happiness, in many cases, leads to successful outcomes, rather than merely following from them," said Lyubomirsky, "and happy individuals are more likely than their less happy peers to have fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health and even a long life."
-end-
Article: "The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?," Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside;
Laura King, Ph.D., University of Missouri, Columbia and Ed Diener, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The Gallup Organization;
Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 131, No. 6.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/bul1316803.pdf.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD can be reached by phone at 310-453-3603 or by email at sonja.lyubomirsky@ucr.edu.

Ed Diener, PhD can be reached by phone at (217) 333-4804 or by email at ediener@cyrus.psych.uiuc.edu

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

American Psychological Association

Related Happiness Articles from Brightsurf:

Happiness and the evolution of brain size
Serotonin can act as a growth factor for the stem cells in the fetal human brain that determine brain size.

The key to happiness: Friends or family?
Think spending time with your kids and spouse is the key to your happiness?

Hedonism leads to happiness
Relaxing on the sofa or savoring a delicious meal: Enjoying short-term pleasurable activities that don't lead to long-term goals contributes at least as much to a happy life as self-control, according to new research from the University of Zurich and Radboud University in the Netherlands.

When it comes to happiness, what's love got to do with it?
Researchers from Michigan State University conducted one of the first studies of its kind to quantify the happiness of married, formerly married and single people at the end of their lives to find out just how much love and marriage played into overall well-being.

Health and happiness depend on each other, Psychological Science says
New research adds to the growing body of evidence that happiness not only feels good, it is good for your physical health, too.

Happiness might protect you from gastrointestinal distress
Serotonin, a chemical known for its role in producing feelings of well-being and happiness in the brain, can reduce the ability of some intestinal pathogens to cause deadly infections, new research by UT Southwestern scientists suggests.

Spending on experiences versus possessions advances more immediate happiness
Consumers are happier when they spend their money on experiential purchases versus material ones, according to research from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

Braces won't always bring happiness
Research undertaken at the University of Adelaide overturns the belief that turning your crooked teeth into a beautiful smile will automatically boost your self-confidence.

In China, a link between happiness and air quality
In a paper published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, a research team led by Siqi Zheng, the Samuel Tak Lee Associate Professor in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Center for Real Estate, and the Faculty Director of MIT China Future City Lab, reveals that higher levels of pollution are associated with a decrease in people's happiness levels.

The 17 different ways your face conveys happiness
Human beings can configure their faces in thousands and thousands of ways to convey emotion, but only 35 expressions actually get the job done across cultures, a new study has found.

Read More: Happiness News and Happiness Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.