Researchers give that the mindless pursuit of more happiness for the already happy, might not be a good idea after all.
The study, led by Illinois psychology professor Ed Diener, suggests that moderate happiness may be preferable to full-fledged elation.
The researchers looked at data from the World Values Survey, a large-scale analysis of economic, social, political and religious influences around the world. They also analysed the behaviours and attitudes of 193 undergraduate students at Illinois.
The study indicates that those at the uppermost end of the happiness scale, i.e. people who report that they are 10s on a 10-point life satisfaction score, are in some measures worse off than their slightly less elated counterparts.
"Happy people are more likely (than unhappy people) to get married, are more likely to stay married, are more likely to think their marriage is good. They're more likely to volunteer. They're more likely to be rated highly by their supervisor and they're more likely to make more money," Diener said.
"But there is a caveat, and that is to say: Do you then have to be happier and happier" How happy is happy enough,"" he added.
The researchers started off with the prediction that mildly happy people, i.e. those who classify themselves as eights and nines on the 10-point life satisfaction scale, may be more successful in some realms than those who consider themselves 10s.
This prediction was based on the idea that profoundly happy people may be less inclined to alter their behaviour or adjust to external changes even when such flexibility offers an advantage.
The researchers' predictions were affirmed by the analysis of World Values Survey data.
"The highest levels of income, education and political participation were reported not by the most satisfied individuals (10 on the 10-point scale, but by moderately satisfied individuals (8 or 9 on the 10-point scale)," the researchers said.
The student study revealed a similar pattern in measures of academic and social success. In this analysis, students were categorized as unhappy, slightly happy, moderately happy, happy or very happy. Success in the categories related to academic achievement (grade-point average, class attendance) and conscientiousness increased as happiness increased, but dropped a bit for the individuals classified as very happy.
Those classified as very happy scored significantly higher on things like gregariousness, close friendships, self-confidence, energy and time spent dating. The data indicate that happiness may need to be moderated for success in some areas of life, such as income, conscientiousness and career, Diener said.
"The people in our study who are the most successful in terms of things like income are mildly happy most of the time," he said.
The study is published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.