The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?

Sonja Lyubomirsky
University of California, Riverside
Laura King
University of Missouri-Columbia
Ed Diener
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
& The Gallup Organization

Published in ?Psychological Bulletin?, Vol 131 (6), 803-855, 2005

This paper reviewed cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental literature examining happiness and positive affect and their associations with successful outcomes.  The empirical evidence suggests that happy people tend to be successful and accomplished across multiple life domains, such as work life, social relationships, and health.  The authors of this review therefore propose that, because happy people experience frequent positive moods, they are more likely to strive toward new goals.  Furthermore, they suggest that happy people learn to build their skills and resources over time as a result of their previous experiences of pleasant moods.  Thus, happiness, or the long-term predisposition to experience frequent positive emotions should, according to Lyubomirsky, King and Diener, promote culturally valued success and thriving.

Happiness and successful outcomes were found to be positively related to one another within all of the major life domains (i.e. work, relationships, health).  In relation to employment, evidence suggests that happy people are more likely to secure job interviews; are evaluated more positively by supervisors once they obtain a job; show superior performance and productivity; and are able to handle managerial positions more efficiently.  Happy individuals are also more satisfied with their jobs and are less likely to show counter-productive workplace behaviour and job burnout.  

One of the most robust findings was that happy people have better social relationships than their less happy peers.  Friendship was found to have one of the highest positive correlations with self-rated happiness, with happy people being more satisfied with their friends and their social activities.  Some evidence suggested that satisfaction with marriage and family life is the strongest correlate of happiness.  Happy individuals tend to have fulfilling marriages and feel more satisfied with their marriages (although findings on marriage must generalise to other romantic relationships).

Happy individuals are also more mentally healthy than their less happy peers and report fewer symptoms of psychopathology, such as depression, hypochondria, or schizophrenia.  They are also less likely to suffer from social phobia or anxiety.  The evidence also suggests that people who frequently experience positive moods are less likely to engage in a variety of harmful and unhealthy behaviours, including smoking, unhealthy eating, and abuse of drugs and alcohol.  Furthermore, lowered positive moods have been associated with delinquent activity in adolescents.

Overall, happy and contented individuals are more satisfied with their family life, their romantic relationships and their friends, their health, their education and their jobs, their leisure activities, and even their housing and transportation, compared to their less happy peers.  The researchers conclude that happiness therefore leads to successful outcomes.  
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