Ambition reported to reduce lifespan and happiness

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2012-03-12 16:52

NOTRE DAME, INDIANA - Ambition varies widely among individuals. Many ambitious Americans are focused on monetary success and are hopeful that happiness will accompany their affluent lifestyle. Unfortunately, a new study reports that, although ambitious individuals are more likely to land high-paying jobs and the accompanying accoutrements of success, they are prone to shorter and less happy lives

The study, which will be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. The researchers analyzed data from the Terman Life-Cycle study, which reviewed the lives of 717 "high-ability" Americans, starting in 1922 when the subjects were children and following them for up to 70 years. Because the participants were above average in intelligence, a significant number earned degrees from colleges and universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Oxford, and held impressive careers as physicians or college professors. Others, however, had more modest achievements; some only earned a high school education while others completed their education at a city college.

Participants were surveyed at certain points in their lives to measure how satisfied they were in five domains of life: occupation, family life, leisure activities, health and ‘joy in living.’ The majority were in their mid-50s, at the peak of their careers. The subjects’ level of ambition was rated according to descriptions provided during their youth by the subjects themselves and their parents. Lead author Timothy Judge, professor of management at the university, noted that the "ambitious" participants were clearly more materially successful, attending esteemed universities, working in more prestigious occupations and earning higher salaries. However, despite their successes, he noted that they were not successful in terms of what might be considered the most important variables: happiness and longevity of life. He explained that even though ambitious people ought to have the happiest lives in the world because they attain so much, they were only slightly happier than the “slackers” and lived for about the same length of time. However, those that did not attain successful careers were less happy and significantly more likely to die before less ambitious people.

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