Self-concordant goals, optimism and well-being


A new study (Sheldon et al., 2020) combines the self-concordance theory with the attribution theory. 

Self-concordance theory 

Self-concordant goals are goals related to what you find interesting and important (Sheldon, 2002). An important premise in self-determination theory is that when we do what we find interesting and important, we really support what we do. Previous research (Sheldon et al., 2004) showed that the pursuit of self-concordant goals is associated with more subjective well-being. This applies to people from different cultures. western and non-western cultures. 

Attribution Theory 

Research on attribution styles has shown that people's propensity to give optimistic explanations for life events is also associated with well-being (see Peterson & Seligman, 1984). Optimistic attribution styles express themselves in two ways. First, through the idea that positive events will repeat and expand into other areas. 

Second, through the idea that negative events are temporary and will remain limited to this one area. These optimistic attributions contribute to the person's subjective well-being to his / her persistence in the pursuit of goals. This applies to people from different cultures (Hu, Zhang, & Yang, 2015).

This study

The researchers related the self-concordance theory and the attribution theory. Their hypothesis was that the pursuit of self-concordant goals predicts well-being because it elicits a more optimistic attribution style. They examined by having American (N = 253) and Russian (N = 230) college students describe three career goals they had and complete some questionnaires. They analyzed the data via SEM


The researchers found support for their main hypothesis. Self-concordance predicted optimism after positive outcomes (that they will return) and that optimism predicted well-being. 

Incidentally, self-concordance did not predict optimism after negative outcomes (that they will end). The latter may be because people generally see negative events as more unpredictable and therefore less easily influenced. 

Although the results pointed in the same direction among American and Russian students, the relationship between self-concordance, optimism and well-being was stronger among Russian students than among American students. As an example, the figure below shows the results for the Russian students.


The results suggest that choosing life goals that fit our interests and values releases something in us that makes us interpret goal achievement more optimistically and make us feel better.  

Perhaps it would be good if you, as a reader of this article, would consider the following question: What do I find really interesting and important and how can I get started with that in my career?