University of Rochester researchers tracked and surveyed 147 alumni from two universities during their second year after graduation.
"Even though our culture puts a strong emphasis on attaining wealth and fame, pursuing these goals does not contribute to having a satisfying life," study author Edward Deci says in a statement. "The things that make your life happy are growing as an individual, having loving relationships and contributing to your community."
The study, published in the June issue of the Journal of Research in Personality, shows that reaching materialistic and image-related milestones actually contribute to ill-being; despite their accomplishments, individuals experience more negative emotions like shame and anger and more physical symptoms of anxiety such as headaches, stomachaches and loss of energy.
By contrast, individuals who value personal growth, close relationships, community involvement and physical health are more satisfied as they meet success in those areas. These people experience a deeper sense of well-being, more positive feelings toward themselves, richer connections with others and fewer physical signs of stress, Deci says.