It sounded like a line out of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” – “Ambitious People Unhappier, Don’t Live as Long.” Instead, it was the headline on FoxNews.com just a week ago.
It seems a research team from the University of Notre Dame tracked 717 “high-ability” people from college to retirement. Subjects were chosen based on displaying high intelligence in a series of tests.
According to the researchers, the study’s results were not good news for those who dedicate their lives to success. The study found that, while the “high-achievers” tended to hold degrees from prestigious universities and secure well-paying jobs, they reported only being slightly happier than their less-ambitious counterparts and actually lived shorter lives.
Being smarter than the average bear, those in the study attended prestigious learning institutions like Harvard and Yale and moved on to high-profile careers in medicine and higher education. “It would seem that they were poised to have it all,” said lead researcher Timothy Judge.
Over the years, Judge and his colleagues looked at five areas of the subject’s lives – occupation, family life, leisure activities, health and ‘joy in living.’ Most were surveyed in their mid-50’s, which was the apex of their professional careers.
Submitting self-reports, those driven for success reported that their ambition was weakly related to their happiness. The scary statistic was that those deemed most ambitious had a 15.5 percent higher mortality rate than those labeled less ambitious.
The negative health and happiness impact was even greater for those highly ambitious people who failed to realize their goals. Though, they had attended a top-notch university and acquired a high-paying job, those who failed to achieve their life-long goals reported they were “significantly less happy” and died even earlier than those who attained their stated goals.
“Ambitious people who were successful in school and at work lived longer,” Judge says. “Ambitious people who did not find success in these areas lived shorter lives. So, if one is to be ambitious, one had better insure that they translate it into success. Otherwise, they may experience the negative effects without any of the positive.”
The impact of the overwhelming drive to succeed, according to the Teen Ethics Poll, shows up in early adolescents where one in ten teenagers think they must cheat on tests in order to be successful. The poll of 787 teens aged 13 to 18 found that 44 percent reported feeling significant pressure to succeed and 8 in 10 believed that being successful in school and later in a career was important no matter what the cost.
The pressure on American youth doesn’t seem to improve as they move on to college. “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010” – a survey of 200,000 incoming freshmen – reports that, while 75 percent said they were above average in their drive to achieve, 48 percent rated their emotional health below average.
The rant against ambition and competition may have reached its apex with the book “No Contest: The Case Against Competition” by Alfie Kohn. Kohn writes and lectures extensively on human behavior, education and parenting.
In his book, Kohn claims that “competition is to self-esteem as sugar is to teeth.” He contends that “the best amount of competition for our children is none at all and the very phrase healthy competition is a contradiction in terms.”
Now, that’s got to be a line out of “Atlas Shrugged!”
I can hear the chants all over America now – “We’re number 2, we’re number 2!” Or is number 3 or 4?