University of California, Riverside

UCR Newsroom



Which Comes First? Happiness


Happy People Set Goals and Achieve Them, UCR Researcher Says

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky is the lead author on a paper that contends that happiness leads to success, not only the other way around

(December 18, 2005)

Sonja Lyubomirsky, photo by Steve WalagEnlarge

Sonja Lyubomirsky, photo by Steve Walag

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) -- Everyone assumes that success creates happy people. But the truth is that frequently the happiness comes first.

So says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, who led a team of researchers that teased out the connections between life success, well-being and desirable personal characteristics in a review of 225 previous studies that involved over 275,000 people.

The paper, published in the current issue of the Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association (APA), contends that chronically happy people are in general more successful personally and professionally. But in many cases, it is the happiness that came first.

"This may be because happy people frequently experience positive moods and these positive moods prompt them to be more likely to work actively toward new goals and build new resources," Lyubomirsky said. "When people feel happy, they tend to feel confident, optimistic, and energetic and others find them likable and sociable. Happy people are thus able to benefit from these perceptions."

Lyubomirsky and co-authors Laura King, Ph.D., of University of Missouri, Columbia and Ed Diener, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The Gallup Organization examined studies involving three different types of evidence - cross-sectional, longitudinal and experimental designs — to determine how happiness and positive affect are related to culturally-valued success.

The authors chose to use these different types of evidence to bolster their confidence in establishing cause-and-effect relationships among happiness, positive affect, and success. Cross-sectional studies compare different groups of people and answer questions like, "Are happy people more successful than unhappy people? and "Does long-term happiness and short term positive affect co-occur with desirable behaviors? Longitudinal studies examine groups of people over a period of time and address questions like, "Does happiness precede success? and "Does positive affect pave the way for success-like behaviors? Finally, experimental studies manipulate variables to test whether an outcome will occur under controlled conditions and answer questions like, "Does positive affect lead to success-oriented behaviors?

The results of all three types of studies suggests that happiness does lead to behaviors that often produce further success in work, relationships and health, and these successes result in part from a person’s positive affect. Furthermore, evidence from the cross-sectional studies confirm that a person’s well-being is associated with positive perceptions of self and others, sociability, creativity, prosocial behavior, a strong immune system, and effective coping skills. The authors also note that happy people are capable of experiencing sadness and negative emotions in response to negative events, which is a healthy and appropriate response.

Much of the previous research on happiness presupposed that happiness followed from success and accomplishments in life, said the authors. "We found that this isn’t always true," Lyubomirsky said. "Positive affect is one attribute among several that can lead to success-oriented behaviors. Other resources, such as intelligence, family, expertise and physical fitness, can also play a role in people’s successes.

"Our review provides strong support that happiness, in many cases, leads to successful outcomes, rather than merely following from them, said Lyubomirsky. "Happy individuals are more likely than their less happy peers to have fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health and even a long life."

Article: "The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside; Laura King, Ph.D., University of Missouri, Columbia and Ed Diener, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The Gallup Organization; Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 131, No. 6.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/bul1316803.pdf.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. can be reached by phone at 310-453-3603 or by email, sonja.lyubomirsky@ucr.edu


The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

More Information 

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Department Information

Media Relations
900 University Avenue
1156 Hinderaker Hall
Riverside, CA 92521

Tel: (951) 827-6397 (951) UCR-NEWS
Fax: (951) 827-5008

Related Links

Footer