Josh Gonzales M.A.

Points On the Board

Does Happiness Increase Productivity?

NBA superstars exemplify the link between being happy and being productive.

Posted Jul 02, 2019

Photo by Leslie Holder on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Leslie Holder on Unsplash

On the first day of the 2019 NBA free agency period, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets. Kyrie came from the Boston Celtics while Durant arrived via the Golden State Warriors. Both came looking for happiness.

After demanding a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie became an enigma in Boston. He went from franchise savior to pariah in less than a two-year span. Even though he averaged nearly 24 points and 7 assists in the 2018 – 2019 season, he clashed with the Celtics younger players and was at odds with the team’s coaching staff.

Kevin Durant had a more successful tenure with the Golden State Warriors. He won two championships, taking home two Finals MVPs, and was potentially a torn Achilles away from winning a third title. While he enjoyed more accolades than Irving, news came out that Durant was not happy with the pressures that came with playing for an outspoken franchise, and rumors swirled that he felt under the shadow of Stephen Curry.

Rumblings of Kyrie and Kevin joining forces have been spreading for a while. What people ultimately want to know is: will this make them, and those who surround them in Brooklyn, happier? And if they are happier, will this make their team more productive?

Will this make them happy?

Neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Durant has been classified as bad people, but both have been enigmatic figures. Kyrie talks about flat earth hypotheses and posts long Instagram videos that few can decipher. He makes communication with his teammates and coaches difficult. Kevin Durant refuses to answer media questions citing their irrelevancy and tweets from burner accounts to defend himself. Nobody seems to know what he really wants.

Will a change of scenery to Brooklyn solve their interpersonal problems and make them happy?

In an earlier Psychology Today article, Suzanne Degges-White outlines the “big four happiness factors:” friendliness, cheerfulness, compassion, and gratitude. Based on those factors, any “happiness gains” are likely to be temporary for the duo. Irving and Durant are great basketball players, but friendly, cheerful and grateful are not descriptors used to portray their personalities. There’s also evidence that chasing happiness, in fact, makes you less happy.

Jumping to Brooklyn is a happiness play for the two. Neither was content on their previous teams. Moving to Brooklyn gives both a chance to be in a city of their choice, partnering with a teammate they believe they will enjoy playing with. Unfortunately for the two of them, they weren’t able to find happiness on their previous teams, and there’s little evidence that the change in scenery will do much for their long-term dispositions. In a year or two, we will probably see the same signs of discontent that marred their tenures on previous teams.

This move will also affect their future teammates, coaching staff, and other team personnel they will have to deal with on a regular basis. There’s no evidence from their previous stops that they will do much to improve the moods of those around them. Few teammates seem to be genuinely sad each player is gone, and they have each had national attention on feuds they've been involved in. Both players helped their previous teams win games, but neither seems to have left many evangelists for their ability to help team chemistry.

In summary, there's little to no evidence that happiness will be a long-term by-product of their joint move to Brooklyn. However, regardless of the evidence, let's say they are happy on their new team. Will this help their new basketball team?

Would happiness make the Brooklyn Nets more productive?

There’s an assumption that happiness increases productivity. But does it actually? A set of 4 experiments run by Andrew J. Oswald, Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi show that happiness is linked to productivity. Happiness accounted for roughly 12% of the productivity produced by the participants in their study.

Irving will be 27 and Durant 31 when the new season starts. There is typically roughly a 4% decline at age 27 and a 22% decline at age 32 for NBA players (Durant will likely be out all of next season). If Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving follow typical trends, we’ll see their own productivity decrease regardless of happiness. If they continue the trends we see in their (lack of) happiness, we’ll see further decreases in productivity from Kyrie and Durant. Those who routinely interact with the duo and become more unhappy by proxy will also suffer productivity losses. 

Will Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joining up in Brooklyn ultimately be a success? We won’t know the answer for at least another two years as KD recovers from his Achilles injury. Their successful attainment of winning an NBA championship will depend on much more than just happiness. How Brooklyn fills the rest of its roster over this span will be a sizeable factor. There’s also a chance each individual superstar grows as a leader and basketball player. What we can infer is that, if we see signs of unhappiness, this will likely impact their productivity, and the on and off court productivity of those who surround them.

Signing Durant and Irving was by no means a bad move. Brooklyn was able to add two superstar players who have been very productive over their careers. Whether they’ll enjoy their tenure is another matter entirely.


Oswald, A. J., Proto, E., & Sgroi, D. (2015). Happiness and productivity. Journal of Labor Economics, 33(4), 789-822.