Successful People are also Happy and Well-Adjusted

It’s perhaps a consequence of the just-world hypothesis that we think beautiful people can’t be smart, wealthy people must have few friends, and people with greatly successful careers must have sacrificed a happy home. There are, of course, many such examples but alas there are also many people who are ugly and dumb, poor and friendless and unsuccessful and dysfunctional. So, is there any correlation? Probably not.

We examined the wrecked-by-success hypothesis. Initially formalized by Sigmund Freud, this hypothesis has become pervasive throughout the humanities, popular press, and modern scientific literature. The hypothesis implies that truly outstanding occupational success often exacts a heavy toll on psychological, interpersonal, and physical well-being. Study 1 tested this hypothesis in three cohorts of 1,826 high-potential, intellectually gifted individuals. Participants with exceptionally successful careers were compared with those of their gender-equivalent intellectual peers with more typical careers on well-known measures of psychological well-being, flourishing, core self-evaluations, and medical maladies. Family relationships, comfort with aging, and life satisfaction were also assessed. Across all three cohorts, those deemed occupationally outstanding individuals were similar to or healthier than their intellectual peers across these metrics. Study 2 served as a constructive replication of Study 1 but used a different high-potential sample: 496 elite science/technology/engineering/mathematics (STEM) doctoral students identified in 1992 and longitudinally tracked for 25 years. Study 2 replicated the findings from Study 1 in all important respects. Both studies found that exceptionally successful careers were not associated with medical frailty, psychological maladjustment, and compromised interpersonal and family relationships; if anything, overall, people with exceptionally successful careers were medically and psychologically better off.

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