top of page
  • Anne Ward

What Predicts a Successful Life?

Because physical and emotional health has such a bearing on our quality of life, success is very dependent on wellbeing. In fact, in 2012, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve stated that the ultimate purpose of economics is to understand and promote the enhancement of wellbeing. Interesting opinion from the head of a bank.


Success and emotional health

The question of what predicts a successful life was the subject of a large British study that examined wellbeing in the general population. The study found that the most important predictor of adult life-satisfaction is emotional health, not income. The study also found that an adult’s emotional health is significantly influenced by their emotional health and behaviour as a child. It seems that learning to regulate emotions and get on with people are important lessons in childhood, that have a lasting impact in life.

Being able to tolerate emotions such as anxiety and frustration helps children to develop impulse control and staying power. Parents can help children to manage anxiety by teaching them how to “self-soothe” and calm down when feeling upset, and to solve problems rather than avoid them. These skills are important to being able to complete tasks and goals, which, in turn, helps to build confidence.

Grit is the ability to persevere. This involves having the staying power to work toward goals and maintain effort and interest, despite setbacks. The gritty individual stays the course, rather than getting bored and giving up. Grit is more important than intelligence or talent to success. Even becoming an expert in any field requires consistent practice over a long period of time – at least ten years.


Skills that build grit

Optimism – Optimism is about having a realistic sense of a) what is possible and b) what effort will be needed to achieve the desired result. Realistic optimism is about being hopeful, but still acknowledging difficulties that will need to be overcome.

Handling mistakes – Our beliefs about mistakes are crucial to whether we are likely to keep going, or give up. The belief that mistakes mean failure prevents us from learning information that provides important clues to the steps needed to get back on course. It also leads to discouragement. Handling mistakes requires a learning mindset that sees mistakes and setbacks as an opportunity for learning, rather than cause for making a negative judgement about ourselves.

Perseverance – Perseverance is about persisting through setbacks and failure. Research with children as young as one year old has shown that children take cues from adults about the value of persistence. As children observe how adults around them work toward goals and deal with difficulties, they make assumptions that form the basis of their own beliefs about the value of hard work and what is involved in reaching goals. This can prepare them to anticipate failures, setbacks and maintain follow-through. These assumptions lay the foundations for adult wellbeing and life-satisfaction.

Many people have come from a childhood involving adversity and where caregivers were not available to provide the kind of parental guidance and coaching that helps develop skills in emotional regulation and perseverance. Because our brains are capable of life-long learning, these skills can be developed in adulthood. People can find this very empowering and life-changing. It’s never too late to improve our emotional wellbeing, and this leads to much better life satisfaction.


Anne Ward is principal psychologist of Mindinsight, providing evidence-based psychology and coaching services. Mindinsight is located in the T&G Building at 45 Hunter Street Newcastle. Visit or phone 4942 7660.

Gaslight Square.gif
School of Rock Square.png
bottom of page