Feeling Powerful Fuels Happiness

By: Jenna Savage


From time to time, we visit the subject of happiness and the different ways that people can improve their moods and mental states. We’ve addressed how acts of kindness can lead to satisfaction and eating fruits and veggies can improve mental health. We have also explored how diets high in fat can lead to negative symptoms, like depression and anxiety. As researchers continue to conduct research into the factors that influence mood, they have discovered that the choices a person makes throughout his or her life can make a difference on overall happiness. And, as a recent PsychCentral article has addressed, it turns out holding positions of power can also affect mood – but not like you may think.

Typically, media like TV shows and movies portray people in positions of power as being unhappy – overworked and, despite their authority, lonely. Recent research, conducted by Tel Aviv University’s Yona Kifer and colleagues and published in the journal Psychological Science, indicates that the opposite may be true.

To discover the effect of power on people, the researchers conducted a survey of over 350 people. They examined how they felt in various settings, like at work or within their families. In general, they found that the powerful participants were 16% happier with their lives than the least powerful people. The gap was largest among powerful employers and their employees – the employers were 26% more satisfied with their careers.

To continue their research, Kifer and colleagues studied the way power and feelings of authenticity relate. They found that people who are in positions of power are able to be themselves and feel more authentic, which in turn leads to stronger feelings of happiness. Meanwhile, powerless people feel as though their positions prevent them from acting according to their desires.

This area of study could use more research, particularly in the way that different kinds of power affect feelings of happiness and the different dynamics between the powerful and powerless. However, researchers now have a better understanding about the role that people’s desires play in influencing their mental state. If they feel as though they are powerful enough to achieve their goals and get what they want, then they will experience happiness.

In addition, researches are also able to conclude that it is not objective power that matters, but subjective power. People who perceive themselves as powerful and able to pursue their desires benefit most from the heightened feelings of authenticity and happiness, which improves their overall feelings of well-being.