Jeanne Sahadi Commentary:
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C'mon, get happy. Seriously, it pays
Who cares if you like Judy Garland? Research suggests that being happy may boost your chances for professional and financial success.
By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK ( - When something goes well in your life, it's not uncommon to expect that your success would make you happy.

But some psychologists now believe that the reason things go well in the first place may be, in part, because someone is happy to begin with.

In other words, evidence suggests happiness begets success. Then success can bolster your happiness, which then can breed even more success. A happy domino effect if ever there was one.

This may not seem like the best news for anyone having a bad year or decade. But there's hope even for the disgruntled.

Psychologists Ed Diener of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside and Laura King of the University of Missouri-Columbia examined the results of tens of studies that tested the links between happiness and success.

They found that those with a song in their hearts are more likely to, among other things:

  • Get a job interview
  • Be employed
  • Perform well at work
  • Get higher evaluations from bosses
  • Make more money
  • Have jobs with more autonomy, meaning and variety
  • Avoid job burnout

They define a "happy" person as someone who frequently experiences joy, interest, and pride, and only infrequently experiences negative emotions like anger, anxiety and sadness.

Mind you, the joy they feel doesn't necessarily need to rock their world at every turn to yield professional advantages.

"The research evidence supports the notion that it is the amount of time that people experience positive affect that defines happiness, not necessarily the intensity of that affect," the authors explain in an article detailing their analysis.

So a little joy-light every day might yield better results than joy-concentrate every few months.

Should you fake it to make it?

Are the advantages conferred by happiness out of reach for those who don't down cups of sunshine before work?

Not necessarily. For starters, there are plenty of less happy people who enjoy professional success. They may have the edge, for instance, when it comes to jobs that require critical thinking, error checking or being on the lookout for potential problems, the authors suggest.

Second, "happiness is not the ultimate panacea," Lyubomirsky said.

Intelligence, conscientiousness, athletic ability, beauty and connections are among the factors that also contribute to success, she noted. So even if you occasionally answer to the name Eeyore, you'll probably still do well if you're a hard-working, Adonis-like Rhodes scholar with some serious Harvard lineage.

And lastly, though some have a genetic advantage when it comes to being happy -- about 50 percent of a happy disposition may be attributed to genes, Lyubomirsky told me -- "it is possible to become happier," she said.

In short-term studies lasting between six and 10 weeks, she found her subjects were able to boost their levels of happiness by doing one or more of the following:

  • Making an account every day of things in their life for which they're grateful
  • Practicing acts of kindness (for some financial examples, click here)
  • Making a concerted effort to think optimistically
  • Being forgiving

Lyubomirsky added that it's also helpful to have an important goal that you enjoy pursuing, or taking up something relaxing, such as meditation or yoga.

Like exercising to lose weight, it takes some effort to be happier. But the long-term dividends may make it worth it.

And you needn't completely abandon your allegiance to Murphy's Law. That's because over time, the psychologists say, you can accrue and bank the advantages happiness can yield -- e.g., the skills and social support you build in happier, more outgoing states -- and draw on them during your less-than-happy moments.

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for For comments on this column or suggestions for future ones, please e-mail her at Top of page

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