So you think that achieving loads of money, good looks and others' admiration would make you happy? Well, then think again, for a new study has shown that such achievements can actually make a person less happy.
In fact, the study by three University of Rochester researchers has found that growing as an individual, having loving relationships, and contributing to the community are what make a person happy in the true sense.
"People understand that it's important to pursue goals in their lives and they believe that attaining these goals will have positive consequences. This study shows that this is not true for all goals," said author Edward Deci, professor of psychology and the Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences at the University.
He added: "Even though our culture puts a strong emphasis on attaining wealth and fame, pursuing these goals does not contribute to having a satisfying life. The things that make your life happy are growing as an individual, having loving relationships, and contributing to your community."
In the study, the researchers analysed 147 alumni from two universities during their second year after graduation.
They used in-depth psychological surveys to assess the participants in key areas, including satisfaction with life, self-esteem, anxiety, physical signs of stress, and the experience of positive and negative emotions.
Aspirations were identified as either "intrinsic" or "extrinsic" by asking participants how much they valued having "deep, enduring relationships" and helping "others improve their lives" (intrinsic goals) versus being "a wealthy person" and achieving "the look I've been after" (extrinsic goals).
The participants were also asked to report the degree to which they had attained the above goals.
The study confirmed previous findings that the more committed an individual is to a goal, the greater the likelihood of success.
But contrary to earlier results, the new analysis showed that getting what one wants is not always beneficial.
"There is a strong tradition in psychology that says if you value goals and attain them, wellness will follow. But these earlier studies did not consider the content of the goals," said Niemiec.
He said that the research was "striking and paradoxical" because it showed that reaching materialistic and image-related milestones actually contributes to ill being.
But despite the accomplishments of such goals, individuals experience more negative emotions like shame and anger and more physical symptoms of anxiety such as headaches, stomach-aches, and loss of energy.
On the contrary, individuals who value personal growth, close relationships, community involvement, and physical health are more satisfied as they meet success in those areas.
Such individuals experience a deeper sense of well-being, more positive feelings toward themselves, richer connections with others, and fewer physical signs of stress.he study will be published in the June issue of the Journal of Research in Personality.