Does playing music make you happy? A new study followed 450 music students for 11 years to see what careers they chose. Does playing music make you happy? A new study followed 450 music students for 11 years to see what careers they chose. Does playing music make you happy? A new study followed 450 music students for 11 years to see what careers they chose. (Photo: Momente / Shutterstock)

What science says about following your heart

A new study about career choices shows that pursuing your passion — not money — is a better idea.

Should you be an artist or a lawyer? A veterinarian or a computer programmer? A new study reveals that people should follow their heart and choose a career based on what they're passionate about, and not choose a career based on how much money they might make. The scientists discovered that, at the end of the day, people will get more satisfaction from a job they love.

There are two sides to choosing a career – what your heart wants, and what your head is telling you to do. "Given the economic reality today, people commonly face trade-offs as they make decisions that pit the two sides of careers," said Dr. Daniel Heller of Tel Aviv University in Israel who conducted the research with his colleague Dr. Shoshana Dobrow Riza of the London School of Economics in England.

"We wanted to examine people who chose to follow more challenging career paths, such as those in the arts, and assess their chances of making it," said Heller, whose research in Israel is being conducted at one of the world's most entrepreneurial college campuses. The scientists also found that those who exhibit a passion for a career in their teens are more likely to be successful later on, regardless of their inherent talent.

Dr. Heller and Dr. Riza surveyed about 450 high school students at two elite summer music programs in the United States over the course of 11 years as they developed from teens to professional musicians. "We found that participants with stronger callings toward music in adolescence were likely to assess their musical abilities more favorably and were more likely to pursue music professionally as adults regardless of actual musical ability," said Heller, whose study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

University students attend a career fair in Beijing, China.University students attend a career fair in Beijing, China. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr. Andrea Weber, an undergraduate curriculum coordinator at West Virginia University, is familiar with what motivates students' career choices. "They get so fixated on 'What can I do with this degree?' and 'How much money can I make?' that they miss out on the reason they are in college, to lay a foundation common to all career paths," she told From The Grapevine.

She recently gave a presentation on this topic at a conference for the Global Community for Academic Advising in Las Vegas. "There are so many factors that may contribute to your career trajectory and you just can't plan for them all. If you focus on what you enjoy and what gives you energy, at least you are controlling one aspect of your career that can lead to happiness."

Not surprisingly, happiness research is quite popular. Want to know which countries are the happiest? There's a report for that. There are studies which show that bringing your pet to work and listening to certain songs can increase your level of happiness. Duke University professor Dan Ariely has found that the more you give to others, the happier you're going to be in the long run.

As for students choosing a career path, a classic headline from the satirical news site The Onion sums it up best: "Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life."

Jeff Sheets, a professor at Brigham Young University, has worked with companies like Nike, Nintendo and Apple. He gave a Ted Talk at his university to get students thinking about what career they would choose if money was no object, if they could choose to do whatever they want. "What is it that drives you, what do you care about, what do you love, what's deep in your heart?" he asked the students in attendance. "What were you brought on this earth to do? Do it. Become that person." You can watch the complete video below:

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