While much research confirms that successful outcomes can foster happiness, it has tended to be seen as a one-way linear relationship: you have to be successful to be happy. But might it be more of a circular relationship? A virtuous circle where being happy makes it more likely you will succeed? In 2005 Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ed Diener and Laura King pulled together all the research they could find that addressed the question: does happiness contribute to success?
What does it mean to be happy?
Happy people are those who frequently experience positive emotions such as joy, interest and pride while they experience negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety and anger less frequently. It is this ratio of time spent in positive as opposed to negative moods that predicts those who define themselves as ‘happy people’. From other research we know that the ratio needs to be 3:1 or above to start to move us to describe ourselves as generally ‘happy’.
One suggestion is that happy people feel positive emotions more frequently because they are more sensitive to rewards in their environment. In other words, they find more reasons to be cheerful.
How might feeling happy help us succeed?
It seems that experiencing positive moods and emotions leads us to think, feel and act in ways that add to our resourcefulness and that helps us reach our goals. Positive emotions, it appears, are a signal to us that life is going well, that our goals are being met and our resources are adequate. Since all is going well, we feel we can spend time with friends, learn new skills, or relax and rebuild our energy reserves. We are also likely to seek out new goals, to plan a new project, or get started on booking that holiday for instance. We can compare this with when we are in a negative mood state, when our concern can become to protect our existing resources and to avoid being hurt or damaged in some way.
Lyubomirsky and colleagues reviewed 225 papers and found that feeling good is associated with things like, feeling confident and optimistic, feeling capable, sociability, seeing the best in others, activity and energy, helpfulness, immunity and physical wellbeing, effectively coping with challenge and stress and originality and flexibility. We can easily see how these would help with motivation and tenacity in achieving goals.
Some of their findings
- Positive affect and job performance is bi-directional e.g. each affects the other
- Happy people seem to be more successful at work, in their relationships and experience better health
- Happy people set higher goals for themselves
- Happy people are more willing to do things beyond the call of dut
- Happy people are more successful across domains of marriage, friendship, income, work performance and health.
So effectively yes, happiness does lead to success.
What does all this mean for us?
The key to happiness is frequent positive mood states that outweigh negative mood states by at least a 3:1 ratio. When we are happy good things are more likely to happen and we can generally cope with life better. To pro-actively manage our mood states is a good investment for us and our organizations.
Some questions to help you think how to use this information
How well do you know your mood boosters? How do you find reasons to be cheerful, and how do you help others to do that? How effectively do you build them into your daily, hourly-even life? How good are you at spotting when the ratio is slipping and finding a way to boost your mood? How can you help others with this?
Lyubomirksy S, Diener E, and King L (2005) The Benefits of Positive Affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin Vol 131.No. 6. Pp 803-855
More on using Appreciative Inquiry and other positive psychology techniques at work can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.
See more about Performance Management in the Knowledge Warehouse.
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