What Does Adult Success Look Like?

How do you know if you are successful?

How do psychologists think about success? For the most part, success is measured by the accomplishment of goals – completing a college or professional degree, owning a home, getting a coveted promotion, or by gaining great wealth.

Our recent research has focused more on people’s perceptions of success. We began with the question of whether a person could feel like they have been a success in life if they have attained relatively few of the milestones (e.g., college degree, prestigious job, money) that are stereotypically  considered to be markers of success.  Success, by our reckoning, is actually in the mind of the perceiver.

What have we found?

Perceptions of success come from many sources – good relationships with partner, family, and friends, feelings of success at work, ability to manage finances and limit debt, parenting, etc.

What other factors contribute to a sense of success?

  • Maintaining good physical and mental health.
  • Having a family life that is low in conflict and high in rewarding relationships
  • Accomplishing self-set life goals, regardless of how lofty or mundane they might be.
  • Staying intellectually curious, motivated, and active
  • Having an impact at work or in the community – what we are calling being an “everyday leader”

So, does it take the accumulation of wealth or prestige to feel successful? No. Success comes in many forms and each and every one of us can feel successful regardless of our station in life.



Gottfried, A.W., Preston, K.S., Gottfried, A.E., Ramos, M.C., Reichard, R.J., & Riggio, R.E. (2018). Diverse perspectives of adult succcess: A 38-year study of early predictors. Presented at Association for Psychological Science meeting, San Francisco, May 25, 2018.

Originally published at Psychology Today

More Stories
Top Translation Apps in Everyday Life