A new study has debunked the famous Freudian idea that successful people are destined for unhappiness, showing, among other findings, that people who have highly successful careers are just as happy or even happier than others. Despite the ideas of Sigmund Freud, it seems that while some may certainly suffer from increased pressure and success, for the average person success brings happiness.
Sigmund Freud, despite being considered the “father of psychoanalysis”, was known for some very strange ideas. So it’s no surprise that many people are happy to prove him wrong.
One of Freud’s most prominent ideas was that one can be “destroyed by success”: successful people are often unhappy, the Austrian neurologist theorized, citing the example of a man who tried desperately to surpass his mentor, only to fall into depression and develop mental illness.
According to new studies, success brings happiness
Freud wasn’t the only one to notice this perceived phenomenon, with Steven Berglas publishing his famous book The Success Syndrome, explaining how people “fall when they get high”. This was the most complete characterization of Freud’s ideas, focusing on how people at the top of their careers often fall into self-destructive tendencies or mental illness as a result of the rewards of success, he writes IFL Science.
It’s easy to see why this idea has gained so much traction: Celebrities falling victim to substance abuse seemed almost inevitable not long ago, and people carrying heavy burdens in business often describe the struggle that comes with it. However, new research suggests that this may have only been the case for a vocal minority, and that success does in fact bring happiness.
How do successful people compare to others?
To investigate, the researchers took three cohorts of 1,826 high-potential intellectuals and compared those with exceptional careers to those with more typical careers. Psychological well-being and general happiness metrics were considered, as well as health metrics.
Across all cohorts, those with highly successful careers were just as happy and healthy (or more so) compared to their peers. A second study, which took people in highly stressful elite STEM fields and compared them to peers, found that the careers did not affect the participants’ interpersonal relationships or psychological well-being, and often they were actually more happy.
“Both studies found that exceptionally successful careers were not associated with medical frailty, psychological maladjustment, and compromised interpersonal and family relationships; “In general, people with exceptionally successful careers were better off medically and psychologically,” the authors write.
Freud was wrong
The results suggest that Freud was wrong and that the opposite appears to be true: success brings more happiness than a typical career.
There were also interesting differences in the families that successful people had compared to their peers: successful men had more children, more of them were married, and divorced less; while successful women had fewer children compared to the others.
The study was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.