Mendoza School of Business

Ambition = success = happiness? Not quite.

Published: March 7, 2012 / Author: Anne Fisher

How do you define success?

That’s the question at the core of an exhaustive research project by Timothy Judge, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. “Despite their many accomplishments, ambitious people are only slightly happier than their less-ambitious counterparts, and they actually live somewhat shorter lives,” says Judge.

His study tracked 717 go-getters, born in the early years of the 20th century, and measured ambition, achievement, and various indicators of health and happiness at key points in the subjects’ lives, from childhood into young adulthood and beyond.

Many in the group graduated from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and other prestigious schools, and then went on to demanding, high-status, highly paid careers. Yet, when compared with a control group of more laid-back peers — folks with the personality profile psychologists sometimes label Type B — the high-achieving group was not markedly happier. What’s more, the slackers, on average, outlived the high-achievers.

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Topics: Mendoza