What have you achieved with your life? What could you look back and claim at the end of your life? What positive difference has your life made? What is the best use of this life, given this much good fortune?
The words “accomplishment” and “achievement” are often retrospective, as people look back at their lives or the immediate past at something already completed. This may be why they appear to be less interesting to positive psychologists than words like “goal pursuit” or “motivation” that affect ongoing and not yet completed endeavors. For example, neither accomplishment nor achievement appears in the index of either Positive Psychology in Practice or Flourishing. The book Character Strengths & Virtues lists achievement only in the expression achievement motivation that relates to the measurement of the Persistence character strength. The Positive Psychology Handbook mentions achievement in the context of self-esteem and of flow.
In his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin Seligman argues that accomplishment is something that people seek even in the absence of other aspects of the full life, such as positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. Whether it is truly separable is an ongoing matter for debate. In the references below, it is closely linked to goal pursuit in particular. Perhaps goal pursuit, accomplishment, and meaning form a continuum from looking forward, to experiencing now, to looking back.
|Hewitt, J. P. (2005). The social construction of self-esteem. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez, Handbook of Positive Psychology, pp. 135-147. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Nakamura, J. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2005). The concept of flow. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez, Handbook of Positive Psychology, pp. 89-105. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Perennial.
|Latham, G. (2006). Work motivation: History, theory, research, and practice. Sage Publications.|
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness. New York: Penguin Press.
Happiness activity number 10 is Committing to Your Goals (pp. 205-226).
“People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations.” P. 205.
|Here.Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131. Available|
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues. Oxford University Press.
Courage: Emotional strengths that exercise the will to accomplish goals in the face of obstacles
Humility and modesty: Letting accomplishments speak for themselves, not seeking limelight
|here for personal use only.
Sheldon, K. M. & Krieger, L. (2004). Does law school undermine law students? Examining changes in goals, values, and well-being. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 22, 261-286. Available |
Dr. Sheldon has a number of PDF versions of his articles available here for personal use only.
Sheldon, K. (2004). Optimal human being: An integrated multi-level perspective. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.