So do happy people earn more?
Mostly. Happy people earn more, except in the case of lawyers.
In the past decade, law has been the most highly paid profession in the United States. Yet both divorce rates and alcohol and drug abuse are higher for lawyers than non-lawyers. Plus, a lawyer is 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression.Yet, unlike in most other jobs, negativity and pessimism can help lawyers.
Psychologist Martin Seligman measured the level of optimism and pessimism in the entering class of Virginia Law School in 1990. Upon graduation, the pessimists tended to have higher grades and higher placement rates into prestigious law journals. This pessimistic outlook allowed these soon-to-be lawyers to recognize potential dangers for their arguments. Fortunately, for the rest of us, optimism wins.
Seligman found that optimistic high school students tend to get better grades than pessimists. Further, among elite Olympic athletes and NBA teams the optimists perform better in their competitions.
In another study, doctors who have just eaten chocolate and then experience the surge of happiness that comes from a delicious chocolate morsel, tend to give better patient diagnoses. (Note to self: bring chocolate to my next doctor’s appointment.)
Why do these positive emotions cause people to perform better?
There are a couple of reasons that may surprise you.
Happy people are better problem solvers. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson authored the Broaden-and-Build Theory. Her studies show that positive emotions help us to see new possibilities, whereas negative emotions narrow our vision.
Have you ever seen an angry person demand something be done a certain exact way, when simpler solutions seem right in front of her nose? Or have you heard a disagreement that you know ‘rational’ people could resolve in like 2 minutes flat? When problems need to be solved, new and creative solutions are going to come from happy people. (Note to self: bring chocolate to my next team-brainstorming meeting.)
Since the ability to solve larger and more challenging problems is a common reason for career promotion, happy people are more likely to meet those challenges and advance their career.
Another very relevant psychology concept is dubbed, “locus of control”. When something bad happens to an optimistic person, they see it as a temporary set back. The optimist believes that working harder and learning new skills can overcome the setback. When something bad happens to the pessimist, they see it as their lot in life and believe that there is nothing they can do about it. Rather than try harder, the pessimists give up.
Listen, I can’t tell you that money can buy happiness. Yet I can say that while being happier isn’t guaranteed to earn you more money, it probably will.
And remember, when you’re feeling down and struggling to answer a question at work, pop a tasty piece of chocolate in your mouth.