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Posts Tagged ‘success

Can People Be Too Happy?

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Could the pursuit of happiness go too far? Most self-help books on the subject offer tips on how to maximize one’s bliss, but a new study suggests that moderate happiness may be preferable to full-fledged elation.

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The researchers, from the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois and Michigan State University, looked at data from the World Values Survey, a large-scale analysis of economic, social, political and religious influences around the world. They also analyzed the behaviors and attitudes of 193 undergraduate students at Illinois.

Their findings challenge the common assumption that all measures of well-being go up as happiness increases. While many indicators of success and well-being do correspond to higher levels of happiness, the researchers report, those at the uppermost end of the happiness scale (people who report that they are 10s on a 10-point life satisfaction score) are in some measures worse off than their slightly less elated counterparts.

To put the findings in perspective, it is important to note that happiness generally correlates with all kinds of positive measures, said Illinois psychology professor Ed Diener, an author of the study. In general, the happier you are the more successful you are in terms of money, employment and relationships.

“Happy people are more likely (than unhappy people) to get married, are more likely to stay married, are more likely to think their marriage is good,” Diener said. “They’re more likely to volunteer. They’re more likely to be rated highly by their supervisor and they’re more likely to make more money.”

Happy people are also, on average, healthier than unhappy people and they live longer, Diener said. And, he said, some research indicates that happiness is a cause of these sources of good fortune, not just a result.

“But there is a caveat, and that is to say: Do you then have to be happier and happier” How happy is happy enough?”

The research team began with the prediction that mildly happy people (those who classify themselves as eights and nines on the 10-point life satisfaction scale) may be more successful in some realms than those who consider themselves 10s. This prediction was based on the idea that profoundly happy people may be less inclined to alter their behavior or adjust to external changes even when such flexibility offers an advantage.

Their analysis of World Values Survey data affirmed that prediction.

“The highest levels of income, education and political participation were reported not by the most satisfied individuals (10 on the 10-point scale),” the authors wrote, “but by moderately satisfied individuals (8 or 9 on the 10-point scale).”

The 10s earned significantly less money than the eights and nines. Their educational achievements and political engagement were also significantly lower than their moderately happy and happy-but-not-blissful counterparts.

In the more social realms, however, the 10s were the most successful, engaging more often in volunteer activities and maintaining more stable relationships.

The student study revealed a similar pattern in measures of academic and social success. In this analysis, students were categorized as unhappy, slightly happy, moderately happy, happy or very happy. Success in the categories related to academic achievement (grade-point average, class attendance) and conscientiousness increased as happiness increased, but dropped a bit for the individuals classified as very happy. In other words, the happy group outperformed even the very happy in grade-point average, attendance and conscientiousness.

Those classified as very happy scored significantly higher on things like gregariousness, close friendships, self-confidence, energy and time spent dating.

The data indicate that happiness may need to be moderated for success in some areas of life, such as income, conscientiousness and career, Diener said.

“The people in our study who are the most successful in terms of things like income are mildly happy most of the time,” he said.

In an upcoming book on the science of well-being, Diener notes that being elated all the time is not always good for one’s success — or even for one’s health. Reviews of studies linking health and emotions show that for people who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses, being extremely happy doesn’t always improve survival rates, Diener said. This may be because the elated don’t worry enough about issues that can have profound implications for their ability to survive their illness, he said.

“Happy people tend to be optimistic and this might lead them to take their symptoms too lightly, seek treatment too slowly, or follow their physician’s orders in a half-hearted way,” he writes.

All in all, Diener said, the evidence indicates that happiness is a worthy goal for those who lack it, but the endless pursuit of even more happiness for the already happy may be counterproductive.

“If you’re worried about success in life, don’t be a 1, 2, 3 or 4 (on the 10-point scale),” Diener said. “If you are unhappy or only slightly happy, you may need to seek help or read those self-help books or do something to make yourself happier. But if you’re a 7 or 8, maybe you’re happy enough!”

Perspectives on Psychological Science December 2007 (Volume 2, Issue 4)

The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy?

Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, and Richard E. Lucas

Psychologists, self-help gurus, and parents all work to make their clients, friends, and children happier. Recent research indicates that happiness is functional and generally leads to success. However, most people are already above neutral in happiness, which raises the question of whether higher levels of happiness facilitate more effective functioning than do lower levels. Our analyses of large survey data and longitudinal data show that people who experience the highest levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of close relationships and volunteer work, but that those who experience slightly lower levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of income, education, and political participation. Once people are moderately happy, the most effective level of happiness appears to depend on the specific outcomes used to define success, as well as the resources that are available.

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Written by huehueteotl

January 29, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Why Some People Can’t Handle Success

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… it’s about self-sabotage. New research shows that how people view their abilities in the workplace impacts how they respond to success. Dr. Jason Plaks, a social psychologist at the University of Toronto and Kristin Stecher, a research scientist at the University of Washington, found that those who thought of their capabilities as fixed were more likely to become anxious and disoriented when faced with dramatic success, causing their subsequent performance to plummet, compared to those who thought of their abilities as changeable.

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“People are driven to feel that they can predict and control their outcomes. So when their performance turns out to violate their predictions, this can be unnerving — even if the outcome is, objectively speaking, good news,” says Plaks. He points out that the notion that people often sacrifice their success in the name of greater certainty has some intuitive appeal but it has never been put to a rigorous test.

In one representative study, Plaks and Stecher used a questionnaire to classify participants into those who endorsed a fixed view of intelligence and those who endorsed a malleable view. Then participants took three versions of what was purported to be an intelligence test. After the first test, all participants were given a lesson on how to improve their score. After the second test, participants were randomly assigned to be told that their performance had improved, stayed constant, or declined.

Among those who believed they had improved, those with the fixed view became more anxious and performed worse on the third test than those with the malleable view. However, among participants who believed that their performance had failed to improve, it was the malleable view participants who grew anxious and underperformed compared to their fixed view counterparts.

Plaks notes that if people gain an understanding of how they view their abilities, as fixed or changeable, then they can be aware of the advantages and pitfalls of both perspectives. This in turn may better equip them to adopt alternative theories to explain life’s ups and downs. “Both approaches are highly intuitive and that makes them relatively easy to teach,” says Plaks. “If we can get people to change their underlying assumptions about their abilities then they may improve their performance and that is positive news for those charged with the task of getting people to reach their full potential.”

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2007 Oct;93(4):667-84.

Unexpected improvement, decline, and stasis: a prediction confidence perspective on achievement success and failure.

Plaks JE, Stecher K.

Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. plaks@psych.utoronto.ca

The authors hypothesized that reactions to performance feedback depend on whether one’s lay theory of intelligence is supported or violated. In Study 1, following improvement feedback, all participants generally exhibited positive affect, but entity theorists (who believe that intelligence is fixed) displayed more anxiety and more effort to restore prediction confidence than did incremental theorists (who believe that intelligence is malleable). Similarly, when performance declined, entity theorists displayed more anxiety and compensatory effort than incremental theorists. However, when performance remained rigidly static despite a learning opportunity, incremental theorists evinced more anxiety and compensatory effort than entity theorists. In Study 2, this pattern was replicated when the entity and incremental theories were experimentally manipulated. Study 3 demonstrated that for both groups, theory violation impairs subsequent task performance. Taken together, these studies provide evidence that lay theory violation and damaged prediction confidence have significant and measurable effects on emotion and motivation. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for the literature on achievement success and failure. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved).