Happiness Breeds Success
What makes some people more successful than others? A better education? A stronger desire to get ahead? According to new research, these people may be more successful simply because they are happy.
Scientists recently reviewed 225 studies involving 275,000 people and found that chronically happy people are, in general, more successful in their personal and professional lives. "Perhaps happy people ... have a lot of good things come to them because of their happiness, their sociability, their energy," said lead author Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Reporting in the January issue of Psychological Bulletin, Lyubomirsky pointed out that throughout most of its history, psychology has tended to focus on what goes wrong with people emotionally; only recently has it switched that focus to the exploration of "good" emotions like happiness, contentment and joy. "It's a trend called 'positive psychology'," she explained.
At first, most of this work on happiness focused on its origins, Lyubomirsky said. "So, if you had a study and you saw a correlation between rising income and happiness, it was immediately interpreted as 'OK, money makes people happy'." However, the old saying that "money can't buy happiness" may be correct, too. The study surveyed people on the Forbes 200 list and found them only marginally happier than the ‘average Joe’. In fact, many of them cited feelings of accomplishment in their business and family as being bigger factors in their happiness than the money they had made.
"It's clear that the relationship is bi-directional," Lyubomirsky said. "It's an upward spiral." Hundreds of other studies appear to support that theory. In an infant study, babies who smiled and laughed more developed stronger bonds with their caregivers. Numerous studies have shown that happier people tend to perform better in job interviews, secure better jobs, and get more positive job-performance ratings while working. Other research has shown that happier individuals had more satisfying marriages and were more likely to describe their partner as their "great love." Happy people were also more likely to engage in new, pleasurable pursuits and recognize rewards in the most ordinary, mundane events. And experimental studies suggest a good mood can boost immune function, reduce colds, and even lengthen lifespan.
One of Lyubomirsky's recent studies focused on 30-year-old college yearbook photos. Researchers assessed each photo for what experts call "Duchenne smiles," a certain play of facial muscles that only occurs during truly happy, un-posed smiles. "Only very, very good actors can fake them," Lyubomirsky said. "In these yearbook studies, women who showed Duchenne smiles when they were in college had happier marriages by age 52," she said. In fact, studies consistently find that when people appear happy, total strangers rate them as sexier, too. "They're also more sociable, and sociability is really important," she says. "You get out there, you like people more. And people are more motivated to work with, and be friends with, happy people."
The study also revealed that some people may be more inclined to be happy because of their genetic makeup. In response to these findings Lyubomirsky reported; "It just means that the person who's born happy doesn't have to try as hard - just like thin people don't have to work at it as much. You can make yourself happier using all kinds of strategies - but you have to put some effort into it."
The easiest way to become happier is to determine what makes you happy and to do what is in your power to achieve it. When these scientists say happiness, they agree that "happy" doesn't mean empty-headed cheerfulness. "The research is not saying that being happy is incompatible with - on occasion - being critical and cynical, sad or angry," says James Maddux, professor and director of the clinical psychologist training program at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia. "That's just part of being a healthy, emotionally well-rounded human being."
The best way to achieve happiness is different for every person, but perhaps knowing the lifetime benefits of being happy will encourage people to pursue it, in their own way.