Mom was wrong- power does make you happier
TEL AVIV—Television characters from mob boss Tony Soprano to Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” suggest that power is a gateway to loneliness, corruption and unhappiness. But new findings from two Tel Aviv University researchers are challenging this perception.
In a quest to discover whether power inevitably brings misery and emotional devastation, Ph.D. candidate Yona Kifer and her supervisor professor Daniel Heller of TAU’s Department of Organizational Behavior at the Faculty of Management have shown that power can actually make people happier. In their study, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers found that a sense of power led to a heightened sense of well-being, and that one of the reasons for this effect is that power increases “authenticity”—the extent to which people feel they are being true to their deepest desires.
Overall, those who felt more powerful in their lives described themselves as 16 percent more content than those who did not. The effect was the most pronounced in the workplace, where those who reported having more power at work were 26 percent more satisfied at their workplace than lower-power colleagues. These findings reveal an interesting paradox, notes Kifer. While the pursuit of power has been found to reduce happiness, possessing power actually increases it.
Despite the prevailing notion that power leads to misery and alienation from the self, the researchers hypothesized that in reality, those who are powerful have the ability to live their lives more authentically—appeasing their internal desires and inclinations—and can therefore be happier.
In a set of three studies, they surveyed 600 participants about the effect of power on feelings of authenticity and well-being, both generally and in specific contexts such as work and personal relationships. The results showed that the possession of power leads people to be more authentic and true to themselves, allowing their actions to reflect their own beliefs and desires.
This effect was stronger in the context of the workplace than in a person’s personal relationships, Kifer adds. The researchers believe this may be due to the different nature of the social relationships in each environment. Whereas work relationships are typically formed within the hierarchical structure of the workplace, personal relationships—whether with a romantic partner or friend—are usually based on mutual affection, meaning that power plays less of a defining role.
These findings can be a valuable tool for managers who wish to boost employee morale. “In organizations, giving people a sense of power can dramatically improve job satisfaction, which is linked to improved performance,” Kifer advises. This can also have a positive impact on creativity. If an employee feels more authentic, they may be less guided by expectations and mainstream norms, and more willing to think outside the box.
The researchers hope to expand on the study by exploring the impact of power in other cultures. Of particular interest is the East Asian culture, where power has different connotations. Whereas Western cultures are individualistic and glorify independence and self-actualization, East Asians are typically more collectivistic, Kifer explains. The researchers hope to discover whether the happiness associated with power is more common in individualistic cultures.
In addition, Kifer believes that it is important to look at whether the type of power a person exerts can make a difference in terms of happiness. One question is whether people are happier if their power is exerted through positive means, such as charisma, rather than negative means, such as physical punishment.
This work was done in collaboration with professor Wei Qi Elaine Perunovic of the University of New Brunswick and professor Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia University.