Winning and How It Can Affect Your Mental Health

Mental health is a big topic in 2020, especially so following on from the recent and tragic deaths of celebrities like Caroline Flack. One in four people in the UK will be affected by mental illness in any year, the most common being depression and anxiety according to Mind. Mental health problems are common, and as the years have gone on, we’ve come to better understand the true importance of mental health, and how our minds need to be cared for no less than our bodies.

Recent research on winning and human successes has come to unveil the full extent that winning can have the human brain, and how that can come to impact our mental state.

The Winner Effect

Some people just seem to be a roll of continuous successes. We can all probably think of somebody like that. And whilst some of their success can probably be put down to good old-fashion hard work, science is suggesting that there actually might be a little more to it than just that alone.

In nature, research has suggested that an animal who has won a series, or even a couple, of fights against a weaker opponent is much more likely to go on to defeat a stronger competitor. This is referred to as “The Winner Effect” by biologists.

Each time the animal wins a fight, their dopamine and testosterone levels are boosted, which in turn gives them the confidence and drive to take on future competitors. This increase in hormones not only stays with the animal in the short-run but in the long-run too. Overtime, the animal learns from their successes. The chemical makeup of their brains alters, and they become smarter, more focused, more motivated and more competitive.

Interestingly, “the winner effect” not only applies to animals, but to humans too. World-class scientist, John Coates has talked about how high testosterone and dopamine are a predictor of success in the stock market. Dopamine and high testosterone potentially allow you to have greater success, as it gives you a boosted sense of self-value and self-esteem. However, Coates also notes that if the winner effect becomes too strong on an individual, they can end up making stupid decisions.

This infographic courtesy of is a really useful visual tool that helps to clearly explain the varying range of impacts that winning can have not only our bodies, but also our minds.


Does Winning Actually Make Us Happy?

It’s an age-old myth that succeeding in life will make us happy. However, there are many examples of hugely successful people, like Robin Williams and Avicii, who very sadly were not in fact happy despite all their talent, fame and wealth.

A recent review of numerous studies by the Psychological Bulletin, in fact found that happiness is far more likely to lead to success in life, as opposed to success leading to happiness. The dopamine hit that comes with achieving success, whether that be a promotion at work, or a new personal best on a run, does make us experience that “feel good” buzz. However, it is understood that people who are generally happier in life are much more likely to seek out new challenges, which in turn reinforces their positive emotions.

This doesn’t mean that people who struggle with poor mental health are unlikely to ever achieve success. But it does reinforce the importance of taking good care of our mental health, as it will likely set us up to do better in life. It is also worth remembering that “success” means different things to different people. For one person it might mean running a successful small business, for another it might simply mean getting outside most days of the week.

The Impact Of Failure

In life, many of us are often afraid to give new challenges a go in case we fail. However, it is understood that whilst the chemical makeup of our brains changes with success, the impacts of failure on our brains are not in fact long lasting in the same way. We may feel disappointed by failure, but it won’t make us more prone to failure in the long run.

Success in life, whatever that means to you personally, will likely be much easier to achieve if you first take good care of your mental health. Being happy and positive is much more likely to bring you success than success is likely to bring you happiness and positivity. This undoubtedly an important factor to remember in your strive to do well in life. Making your mental well-being a priority will definitely prove to be beneficial in the long-run.



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