EMOTIONAL HEALTH
June 15, 2009

But Will It Make You Happy?

Happier people tend to focus on personal and social goals like personal growth and relationships, not fame and fortune.

Despite what reality television and popular ideas of the American Dream seem to indicate, being beautiful, rich, and famous doesn't actually equate with being happy, new research from the University of Rochester finds. The study tracked 147 individuals one year after graduating from college and then another year after that.

Individuals who were more interested in personal and social goals like personal growth, relationships, and the community were happier than those who were after money or fame.

The team, led by psychologist Edward Deci, found that individuals who were more interested in personal and social goals like personal growth, relationships, and the community were happier than those who were after money or fame. They scored better on measures regarding "life satisfaction, well−being and happiness," said Deci, than those whose motivations were based more on wealth, fame, and looks.

Why is this? As one participant put it, "[t]he whole process of being so on the treadmill to wealth, fame and image leaves me feeling like a pawn or a puppet in life."

Deci says that the current study supports his own theory on self−determination, which he conceived with his colleague, Richard Ryan. Individuals, he says, who focused on personal goals were satisfying their needs for "autonomy, competence, and relating to others," which are ultimately the aims that allow the individual to feel more fulfilled and happier. In contrast, "[b]y attaining the American Dream goals' you are actually feeling less satisfied in the need for autonomy and feeling effective in the world, and that leads to more ill−being."

Deci suggests that to attain real happiness, people "keep those American Dream goals in balance with these other deeper and more important human goals such as meaningful relationships, personal growth and community contributions."

The research was published in the current issue of The Journal of Research in Personality.

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