December 18, 2005

Review of Research Challenges Assumption that Success Makes People Happy: Happiness May Lead to Success via Positive Emotions

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.

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.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD can be reached by phone at 310-453-3603 or by email

Ed Diener, PhD can be reached by phone at (217) 333-4804 or by email

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 human welfare.