Are Ambitious People Happier?

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Atlantic writer Emily Esfahani Smith can wield a semicolon: “Ambition drives people forward; relationships and community, by imposing limits, hold people back.”

To Smith, the tension between ambition, relationships, and happiness is at the center of our conversations about leaning in, having it all, and why we’re always so busy.

It’s often a problem of latency: As Clay Christensen once told us, the extra hour you spend at work might yield positive feedback the next morning, but you won’t get that same immediacy when you leave that work to have dinner with your family.

A defining inattention

Though it’s central to American life, Smith says that the ambition-happiness tension receives surprisingly little academic attention, though new research drawing from a 90-year longitudinal study of gifted children sheds new light.

From what the researchers found, ambition had clear causes and effects on lives as they grew into maturity. The most ambitious had common traits: They had parents with occupational prestige, and their personalities were organized, disciplined, and goal-seeking. As you’d expect, the more ambitious were better educated, made more money, and landed more prestigious jobs.

Are Ambitious People Happier?

By Drake Baer

If you go and get yours, you may get more in the end–but contentment or longer life span may not be among the spoils, new research shows.

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