EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


December 15, 2012

What makes for success, and how do we define it anyway?

Dear Doctor: Why are some kids more successful than others?

Young Parent

Dear Parent: That’s a tough one. Begin by asking yourself why anyone is more successful than another? Then, again, how do we measure success?

Psychology has been interested in this question for years. There are two elements to achievement. One is motivation. The other is volition.

Motivation is very complex, and I am not certain we know what builds a fire in the human mind. Volition is the power of choice. For example, when we diet, we have motivation to lose weight, to become more healthy. Volition is the hard part. It is the choice to resist the chocolate pie for desert.

I would submit that both have to do with qualities of character -- that is, the relatively enduring patterns of behavior that characterize us. Many studies have been done on character traits in children. These are the apparent secret to eventual academic success.

Beginning with a psychologist named Seligman and continuing over the years, an actual list of character traits have been compiled.

They are:


Self control,


Social intelligence,



and curiosity.

These traits, it seems to me, should be the core of a curriculum both at home and at school. That, more than lengthening the school day or endless tests and measurements, would contribute to the lives of children and our future as a country.

We are so hung up on content (math and language scores, for instance), that we have forgotten the process, the bedrock of what makes a great human being.

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