Self-concordant goals are goals which represent a people’s enduring interests and self-defining values (Sheldon, 2002). People pursuing more self-concordant goals evidence higher subjective well-being, as shown in participants from both Western and non-Western cultures (Sheldon et al., 2004). In a different literature, attributional style research has found that tendencies to provide optimistic explanations of life events also predict well-being. We hypothesized that people pursuing self-concordant goals would make more optimistic attributions about goal-specific outcomes, and that this tendency would help explain the link between self-concordance and well-being. Structural equation and multiple group modelling of 253 American and 230 Russian university students found support for these hypotheses. Self-concordance primarily predicted optimism following positive outcomes (that they will recur), not following negative outcomes (that they will end), and also, the mediational pattern was slightly different in the Russian than in the American sample. The results suggest that when people choose life-goals that fit their interests and values, they derive resources including the ability to interpret positive goal-outcomes in an optimistic way. This helps to explain why pursuing such goals makes them happy.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Abramson, L. Y., Metalsky, G. I., & Alloy, L. B. (1989). Hopelessness depression: A theory-based subtype of depression. Psychological Review, 96, 358–372. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.96.2.358.
Bailis, D. S., & Segall, A. (2004). Self-determination and social comparison in a health promotion setting. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 26, 25–33.
Blouin-Hudon, E. M., Gaudreau, P., & Gareau, A. (2016). Coping as a building mechanism to explain the unique association of affect and goal motivation with changes in affective states. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 29(5), 519–532. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2015.1100298.
Byrne, B. M. (2012). Structural equation modeling with Mplus: Basic concepts, applications, and programming. New York: Routledge.
Carraro, N., & Gaudreau, P. (2011). Implementation planning as a pathway between goal motivation and goal Progress for academic and physical activity goals. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(8), 1835–1856. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00795.x.
Downes, P. E., Kristof-Brown, A. L., Judge, T. A., & Darnold, T. C. (2017). Motivational mechanisms of self-concordance theory: Goal-specific efficacy and person–organization fit. Journal of Business and Psychology, 32(2), 197–215.
Elliot, A. J., Chirkov, V. I., Kim, Y., & Sheldon, K. M. (2001). A cross-cultural analysis of avoidance (relative to approach) personal goals. Psychological Science, 12(6), 505–510. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.00393.
Gaudreau, P., Carraro, N., & Miranda, D. (2012). From goal motivation to goal progress: The mediating role of coping in the self-concordance model. Anxiety, Stress & Coping., 25(5), 507–528. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2011.628015.
Gordeeva, T. O., Sheldon, K. M., & Sychev, O. A. (2020). Linking academic performance to optimistic attributional style: Attributions following positive events matter most. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 35(1), 21–48. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-019-00414-y.
Ho, M. Y., Cheung, F. M., & Cheung, S. F. (2010). The role of meaning in life and optimism in promoting well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(5), 658–663.
Hu, T., Zhang, D., & Yang, Z. (2015). The relationship between attributional style for negative outcomes and depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology., 34(4), 304–321. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2015.34.4.304.
Ionescu, D. (2017). The process of life goals’ pursuit and the satisfaction of basic psychological needs: the predictive role of personality factors. Romanian Journal of Applied Psychology, 19(1), 23–29. https://doi.org/10.24913/rjap.19.1.04.
Keyes, C. L. M., Wissing, C., Potgieter, J. P., Temane, M., Kruger, A., & van Rooy, S. (2008). Evaluation of the mental health continuum short form (MHC-SF) in Setswana speaking in south Africans. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 15, 181–192.
Koestner, R., Otis, N., Powers, T. A., Pelletier, L., & Gagnon, H. (2008). Autonomous motivation, controlled motivation, and goal progress. Journal of Personality, 76, 1201–1229. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00519.x.
Koletzko, S. H., Herrmann, M., & Brandstätter, V. (2015). Unconflicted goal striving: Goal ambivalence as a mediator between goal self-concordance and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin., 41(1), 140–156. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167214559711.
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2015). Mplus user’s guide (7th edn.). Los Angeles: Muthén & Muthén.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (1984). Causal explanations as a risk factor for depression: Theory and evidence. Psychological Review, 91(3), 347–374. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.91.3.347.
Peterson, C., Semmel, A., von Bayer, C., Abramson, L., Metalsky, G., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1982). The Attributional style questionnaire. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6(3), 287–300. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01173577.
Peterson, C., Villanova, P., & Raps, C. S. (1985). Depression and attributions: Factors responsible for inconsistent results in the published literature. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94, 165–168. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.94.2.165.
Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40(3), 879–891. https://doi.org/10.3758/BRM.40.3.879.
Preacher, K. J., & Kelley, K. (2011). Effect size for mediation models: Quantitative strategies for communicating indirect effects. Psychological Methods, 16(2), 93–115.
Ryan, R. M., & Connell, J. P. (1989). Perceived locus of causality and internalization: Examining reasons for acting in two domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 749–761.
Satorra, A., & Bentler, P. M. (2010). Ensuring positiveness of the scaled difference chi-square test statistic. Psychometrika, 75, 243–248. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11336-009-9135-y.
Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Bridges, M. W. (2001). Optimism, pessimism, and psychological well-being. In E. C. Chang (Ed.), Optimism & pessimism: Implications for theory, research, and practice (pp. 189–216). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10385-009.
Shaffer, J. A., & Postlethwaite, B. E. (2012). A matter of context: A meta-analytic investigation of the relative validity of contextualized and noncontextualized personality measures. Personnel Psychology, 65(3), 445–494.
Sheldon, K. M. (2002). The self-concordance model of healthy goal striving: When personal goals correctly represent the person. In E. L. Deci & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 65–86). Rochester, NY, US: University of Rochester Press.
Sheldon, K. M. (2014). Becoming oneself: The central role of selfconcordant goal selection. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18, 349–365.
Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1998). Not all personal goals are “personal”: Comparing autonomous and controlling goals on effort and attainment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 546–557.
Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1999). Goal striving, need satisfaction, and longitudinal well-being: The self-concordance model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 546–557.
Sheldon, K. M., & Kasser, T. (1998). Pursuing personal goals: Skills enable progress but not all progress is beneficial. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 1319–1331.
Sheldon, K. M., Elliot, A. J., Ryan, R. M., Chirkov, V. I., Kim, Y., Wu, C., Demir, M., & Sun, Z. (2004). Self-concordance and subjective well-being in four cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35, 209–223.
Sheldon, K. M., Osin, E. N., Gordeeva, T. O., Suchkov, D. D., & Sychev, O. A. (2017a). Evaluating the dimensionality of self-determination Theory’s relative autonomy continuum. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(9), 1215–1238. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217711915.
Sheldon, K. M., Titova, L., Gordeeva, T. O., Osin, E. N., Lyubomirsky, S., & Bogomaz, S. (2017b). Russians inhibit the expression of happiness to strangers: Testing a display rule model. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48(5), 718–733.
Sheldon, K. M., Prentice, M., & Osin, E. (2019). Rightly crossing the Rubicon: Evaluating goal self-concordance prior to selection helps people choose more intrinsic goals. Journal of Research in Personality, 79, 119–129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2019.03.001.
Smith, A. L., Ntoumanis, N., Duda, J. L., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2011). Goal striving, coping, and well-being: a prospective investigation of the self-concordance model in sport. J. Sport Exercise Psychology, 33(1), 124–145.
Thacher, T. M., & Bailis, D. S. (2012). Selective defensiveness or nondefensiveness: How does relative autonomy relate to excuse-making when goal pursuits do not succeed? Motivation and Emotion, 36(3), 323.
Vasalampi, K., Salmela-Aro, K., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2009). Adolescents’ self-concordance, school engagement, and burnout predict their educational trajectories. European Psychologist, 14(4), 332–341. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040.14.4.332.
Wang, A. Y., & Richarde, R. S. (1988). Global versus task-specific measures of self-efficacy. The Psychological Record, 38(4), 533–541.
Werner, K. M., Milyavskaya, M., Foxen-Craft, E., & Koestner, R. (2016). Some goals just feel easier: Self-concordance leads to goal progress through subjective ease, not effort. Personality and Individual Differences, 96, 237–242.
Żemojtel-Piotrowska, M., Piotrowski, J. P., Osin, E. N., Cieciuch, J., Adams, B. G., Ardi, R., Bălţătescu, S., Bogomaz, S., Bhomi, A. L., Clinton, A., de Clunie, G. T., Czarna, A. Z., Esteves, C., Gouveia, V., Halik, M. H. J., Hosseini, A., Khachatryan, N., Kamble, S. V., Kawula, A., Lun, V. M. C., Ilisko, D., Klicperova-Baker, M., Liik, K., Letovancova, E., Cerrato, S. M., Michalowski, J., Malysheva, N., Marganski, A., Nikolic, M., Park, J., Paspalanova, E., de Leon, P. P., Pék, G., Różycka-Tran, J., Samekin, A., Shahbaz, W., Khanh Ha, T. T., Tiliouine, H., van Hiel, A., Vauclair, M., Wills-Herrera, E., Włodarczyk, A., Yahiiaev, I., & Maltby, J. (2018). The mental health continuum-short form: The structure and application for cross-cultural studies-a 38 nation study. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74(6), 1034–1052. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22570.
The paper was supported by the Russian Academic Excellence Project ‘5–100’.
Conflict of Interests Statement
The authors have no conflicts of interest.
Ethical Approval Statement
The studies have been approved by Institutional Review Board of University of Missouri (FWA Number 00002876, IRB Registration Numbers: 00000731, 00009014). IRB Project Number 2011114, IRB Review Number 259122.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Sheldon, K., Gordeeva, T., Sychev, O. et al. Self-concordant goals breed goal-optimism and thus well-being. Curr Psychol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-01156-7
- Self-concordant goals
- Optimistic attributions