Home All Does Happy and Healthy Precede Wealthy?

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

overworked.jpg How often have you heard someone boast that they had worked 70 hours last week? Were you impressed and envious or did you think the speaker was either exaggerating or inefficient? Why do some take pride in proving that their work is more effortful, difficult, or even painful than that of others? In too many cases, this need to feel indispensable comes at the expense of one’s health and happiness.

This lifestyle choice is not only unfortunate, but worse, it is counter-productive. Exchanging happiness for difficulty could damage your life in the following areas. Read on so that next time someone tries to show off how demanding their schedule is, you have solid arguments to explain why their sacrifices may be unwise.

1. Physical. In his conference call to the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) earlier this week, Ed Diener discussed findings released in his new book, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. He explained that happier individuals are also healthier. They benefit from higher immune systems, adopt better health behaviors, and succumb to fewer lifestyle diseases such as alcoholism and substance abuse – all characteristics facilitating one’s success in the work environment. Stressed individuals are not necessarily happier or healthier. People who make room for physical activity also enjoy better sleep patterns and higher energy. In The Power of Full Engagement, Loehr and Schwartz explain how higher energy in turn produces higher engagement and better result.

2. Mental. We know from very many sources – and most of us know it from experience as well – that exercise boosts motivation. John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain further writes that exercise sharpens thinking, increases attention and facilitates learning through brain cell growth. These are all powerful conditions facilitating success. Giving up your workout to plug in a few more hours at the office on a regular basis may therefore be highly ineffective.

3. Emotional. Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada demonstrated that a positive to negative emotional ratio of 3:1 is optimal for creative thinking, problem solving, social bonding, learning, goal achievement, and mindfulness. Achieving this delicate balance can certainly increase one’s work performance. To do so, most will have to learn to decrease their negative emotions and increase their positive affect simultaneously. Physical activity does both: it decreases felt stress and anxiety, elevates stress thresholds, and lifts mood. For regular exercisers, its effects are not only felt during exercise, but between sessions as well.

friendly-workplace.jpg4. Social. Back to the IPPA conference call: Diener also discussed how happier individuals are more likely to have self-confidence, leadership, warmth, sociability, and more numerous friendships, all of which are qualities desirable in the business world. When the name of the game is often about who you know rather than what you know, self-confidence, warmth, and sociability enhance one’s ability to be a successful networker and influencer.

5. Spiritual. People who experience meaning and purpose at work – what Martin Seligman identifies as a calling – are more satisfied and more engaged. As such, they are also more likely to produce superior results. Diener’s research shows that everything else being equal, happier workers get higher performance reviews and higher income. They are also better organizational citizens – making that extra unexpected contribution – again, improving their chances of being favorably noticed and progressing to further stages of their career more easily.

From the above arguments, it would be reasonable to say that happy and healthy people are more likely to also be more wealthy. But is wealth just about money? Might it also be about health, education, accomplishments, friendships, community, family, spirituality, and anything else that matters to you? In an article titled Beyond Money, Ed Diener and Martin Seligman suggest that measuring national accounts of subjective well-being would give society higher-quality information than does measuring GDP.

On the other hand, at the 2007 Gallup Conference, Ed Diener revealed that GDP is about 80-90% correlated with measures of well-being. Christopher Peterson says, “What is valued gets measured, and what gets measured becomes valued.” In the near future, we may learn from research whether measuring national accounts of subjective well-being could teach us about increasing a nation’s wealth – whether the concept is defined in broad or financial terms.




Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Wiley-Blackwell.

Diener, E. & Seligman, M. (2004). Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being. American Psychological Society, 5(1), 1-31.

Diener, E. (2008). Conference call for the International Positive Psychology Association.

Fredrickson B. L. & Losada M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60, 678-686.

Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.

Peterson, C. (2006). Lecture prepared for MAPP students, University of Pennsylvania.

Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

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Wayne Jencke 24 July 2008 - 4:17 pm

Chris Peterson ironically notes that the three champions of PP – himself, the flow dude (can’t spell his name) and Seligman – are all very overweight men. You could argue that fat people are happier.

Personally I love exercise – I’m luck to experience an exercise HIgh – but this isn’t everyone.


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