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Ambition May Breed Success, But Not Happiness

Ambition May Breed Success, But Not HappinessIs ambition a virtue or a vice?

It can be both, according to new research that finds that ambitious people don’t necessarily lead more successful lives.

“If ambition has its positive effects, and in terms of career success it certainly seems that it does, our study also suggests that it carries with it some cost,” said Dr. Timothy Judge, 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,” he said.

Tracking 717 “high-ability” individuals over seven decades, Judge used multiple criteria to measure ambition from childhood to young adults just beginning their careers. Their education ranged from attending some of the world’s best universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Notre Dame, to more modest educations, including high school diplomas and community college degrees.

“Ambitious kids had higher educational attainment, attended highly esteemed universities, worked in more prestigious occupations, and earned more,” Judge said.

“So, it would seem that they are poised to ‘have it all.’ However, we determined that ambition has a much weaker effect on life satisfaction and actually a slightly negative impact on longevity. So, yes, ambitious people do achieve more successful careers, but that doesn’t seem to translate into leading happier or healthier lives.”

Judge’s study does not address the underlying reasons for the higher mortality of ambitious people.

“Perhaps the investments they make in their careers come at the expense of the things we know affect longevity: Healthy behaviors, stable relationships and deep social networks,” he said.

The article, entitled “On the Value of Aiming High: The Causes and Consequences of Ambition,” is to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: University of Notre Dame

Business man standing photo by shutterstock.

Ambition May Breed Success, But Not Happiness

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Ambition May Breed Success, But Not Happiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2019, from
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Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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