Can Happiness Make You More Successful In Your Career?


Success in your career and at school can make you happy. But is the opposite also true? Can happiness make you more successful in your career and in life?

I once spent a research sabbatical in Hawaii studying creativity and language in dolphins.  My job was to wake up each morning, go to the research facility on the beach, and swim and communicate with dolphins.  My career makes me happy. In particular, successes in my career have made me happier.  And this is true for most of us.  Whether it is getting a coveted job, earning a raise, or achieving good grades, success at work and school can make us happier.  

However, if this was all there was to the relationship between success and happiness we might be in trouble. The problem is that happiness from career success may be short lived.  Once we achieve a success, whether it is related to grades, income or promotion, our brain quickly sets a new goal.  Lasting happiness from success in our careers is short-lived.


What if we flipped the happiness and success equation? Can happiness make us more successful in our careers?  The answer is a resounding YES! Leading researchers in positive psychology, Sonja Lyubomirksy, Laura King, and Ed Diener (2005), not only found a link between career success and happiness but they found that happiness often precedes success.

The results were clear; many studies show that happiness often comes before success.  For example, positive emotions at age 18 predicted a host of career successes eight years later:  increased financial independence, higher job attainment, and increased autonomy at work.  Additionally, people who experience more positive emotions now are more likely to be employed, receive better evaluations from their supervisors, and make more money in the future.  

Here is one dramatic example.  Diener et al. (2002) linked the cheerfulness of students when they entered college to their salaries when they were in their thirties.  For those students whose parents’ incomes were above $50,000 US a year, the students who were more cheerful in college made $25,000 US a year more than their less cheerful college classmates 16 years after college.

And it’s not just more money.  When people have their positive moods increased in experiments, they are more willing to resolve conflicts through collaboration (as opposed to avoidance) and help others.  They are nicer co-workers. Doctors who were made happy simply by being given a piece of candy made the right diagnosis faster and were more open-minded to consider other possible options.  People do better work when they are happy.  Next time you see your dentist, mechanic, plumber or professor, consider how you can add to their happiness – they just might do better work.

So happiness is both a consequence and a cause of career success.  Increasing your happiness is not just a way to feel better and enjoy your life.  It is a way to invest in your career.  We invite you to share the journey of happiness with Perked! This journey is not just about improving your mood – it is about improving your life, including your career!

So what will you do with your increased success at work? What will you do with the increased wealth? Well, the science of happiness can help with that too – stay tuned for the next blog.


Diener, E., Nickerson, C., Lucas, R. E., & Sandvik,  E. (2002). Dispositional affect and job outcomes. Social Indicators Research, 59, 229-259.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005).  The benefits of frequent positive affect” Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-355.