Happiness pays

December 20, 2012

According to a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, financial success is not necessarily determined by education, IQ, family background or a strong sense of self. After studying the profiles of over 10,000 Americans ages 16, 18, 22 and 29 they determined that a personal sense of happiness and optimism were the key determinants to financial success in life.

The report maintains that people who express more positive emotions and a greater sense of life satisfaction earn ten percent more in salaries than their respective peers in their age group. Deeply unhappy individuals on the other hand, earn 30 percent less. The study went on to report that happier teens were “more likely to get a college degree, to get hired and promoted, and to be optimistic, extraverted, and less neurotic.”

As a veteran of more than 40 years in a college classroom, I’m not at all surprised by the National Academy’s findings. It’s been my experience that my best students were the ones who were happy in their private lives, and happy for the opportunity to be in school. I’ve found that happy students were excited to learn, excited to be exposed to new knowledge, new challenges, new opportunities. Their optimism makes them eager learners, and although they want to achieve high grades, they are unafraid of failure or the hard work necessary to succeed.

Sure, raw brain power does matter. Sure, good study habits help. Absolutely, personal standards and family expectations motivate individual student performance and success. But, the bottom line for me is this: Give me a room full of students who feel good about life in general and understood the importance of humor and laughter, and I’d be willing to take on any challenge with them.

Ironically, of course, there is an important philosophical lesson to be learned from this psychological study. That is to say: Money can’t buy you happiness. But it turns out that happiness can get you more money!

Al Gini is a Professor of Business Ethics and Chairman of the Management Department in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.

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