Ambitious, successful people who actually make it to the top not only are richer than the rest of us, but they apparently live longer, too, a new study shows.
Researchers found that ambitious people who achieve their goals live longer than those with average drive and determination. Making matters worse, they’re even a little happier than everyone else, according to a study to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
“I guess you could say that those people got it all,” says the study’s lead author Timothy Judge, the Franklin Schurz Chair of Management at the University of Notre Dame. “Of course we don’t know what they did to claw their way to the top, but they took their aspirations and made good.”
Like most everything else, ambition does come with a dark side: climbers who don’t manage to scratch their way to the top are most likely to die younger, the researchers found.
Judge and co-author John D. Kammeyer-Mueller of the Warrington College of Business looked at data collected as part of a multi-decade study that followed more than 1,500 California children who had scored high on intelligence tests. The teens were followed for more than 70 years starting in 1922 by a Stanford psychologist named Lewis Terman.
The Stanford study looked at a wide range of topics, including the teens’ level of ambition. The study volunteers were asked about their physical and emotional development, school histories, recreational activities, home life, family background, as well as educational, vocational and marital histories. As the years passed follow-up surveys asked about the evolution of the participants’ careers, activity patterns and personal adjustment.
Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller looked at the impact of high and low ambition on death rates among study volunteers. They found that very ambitious people were more likely to die younger than those with less drive. Of those who scored among the top 10 percent on ambition more than 45 percent were dead by 1982, which was some 60 years into the study. The overall death rate for study participants at that point was 33 percent.
But things got more interesting when the researchers divided the ambitious volunteers into two categories: those who had fulfilled their life goals and those who had not. The death rate among those who achieved their ambitions was 31.7 percent, as compared to 46.7 percent among those who had not.
In other words, ambitious people who failed to achieve their goals tended to die younger.
Another just-published study in Japan found that hard-driving male managers and professionals there are dying younger than other men, apparently because they put work before their health.
Scientists who examined the death certificates of Japanese men who died between 1980 and 2005 found managers and professionals had a 1.7 times higher risk of dying before the age of 60 than those in clerical, sales, services, security, agriculture, production and transport jobs.
"Managers and professionals have higher stress and poor lifestyles, they don't have time for exercise, sleeping," said study leader Koji Wada at the Kitasato University School of Medicine, according to Reuters. "Even with higher wages, they have unhealthy lifestyles," Wada said.
One thing that might give us all pause: The American study found that people with the lowest ambition scores also were likely to live longer. By 1982 only 30 percent had died, compared with 33 percent for the overall group.
The moral of the studies may be: Don’t worry, be happy and you’ll live a longer life.