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The Concepts of Positive Psychology in The Movie Pursuit of Happiness

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The Pursuit of Happiness is a truly inspirational movie that focuses on overcoming hardships in life to achieve happiness and success. The movie revolves around the life of Chris Gardener who invests all of his money on making portable density scanners. Although these scanners produce an image of a slightly greater resolution than the traditional X-rays, they are really expensive and hence not worth the cost. For this reason, Chris finds it really difficult to sell his scanners as no one is interested in buying them. Thus, Chris faces severe financial crisis that destroys his marital life to such an extent that his wife leaves him and he is left penniless with a son to take care of. As he is indebted with a huge amount of money, he is thrown out of his house and has to spend a night in prison, right before his internship interview. As a result, Chris appears for the interview in dirty clothes with splashes of paint on them. Yet, he succeeds in the interview only to realize that unfortunately it is an unpaid internship.

With no other option on hand, Chris agrees to do this internship as a stockbroker. Without any money, Chris has to leave work early everyday so that he could spend the night with his son in the homeless shelter. Hence, this limits his working hours and subsequently the potential for contacting his clients. In an attempt to compensate this loss, Chris develops certain strategies that could increase his productivity per unit time, like only reaching out to potential high-value customers, defying protocol and not drinking any beverage during work so that he does not have to waste any time in the washroom. Despite numerous struggles, Chris’ unmatched passion and determination allows him to get a highly competitive permanent job in the company and his success does not just end there; he develops his own multimillion-dollar brokerage firm. Therefore, this movie depicts Chris journey of rising from the ashes of poverty to become a millionaire.

Relationship between the Movie and Positive Psychology

Pursuit of Happiness reflects several concepts of positive psychology that have been highlighted as follows:

Definition of Success

From the very beginning, this movie shows that every individual defines and perceives success in a different manner. Linda believes that one’s success is determined by the amount of wealth one possesses. Perhaps, this perception is shaped by the circumstances that she faced as she was suffering from severe financial crisis even after doing double job shifts. Hence, she associated wealth with success and believed that Life satisfaction is heavily linked with wealth. On the other hand, Chris also suffered from poverty but he associated Happiness with positive relationships. Therefore, he tried his best to sustain his marriage but when it seemed impossible, he kept his son with himself. He himself had been separated from his father at a very young age so he knew the importance of relationships and tried his level best to provide for his son. Despite the harsh circumstances, he was always there for his son and believed that he was successful as a father.


Resilience is defined as one’s ability to bounce back from setbacks. This phenomenon is heavily evident in Chris’ personality as he had to endure multiple hardships but he remained headstrong and never gave up. Chris had invested all his life savings on making high density bone scanners but this business plan didn’t work out. Even after numerous rejections, he got up every morning, arranged meetings with the clients and tried hard to sell his scanners. Some of the scanners got stolen but he tried hard to find them. His wife left him, he was kicked out of his house, had to spend a night in jail, listen to multiple taunts, give the job interview in dirty clothes with paint splashes on them, go to the office without shoes and run hard to find shelter every night. To make the matters worse, he had a young son to look after but even after all these hardships, he never gave up. After every difficulty, he used to bounce back quickly and continue his routine as normal. Hence, the amount of resilience he exhibited was exceptional since he quickly bounced back even after enduring the most challenging hurdles of life.

Positive and Negative Affect

Emotions are displayed in a vivid manner in this movie. Chris displays all sorts of positive and negative emotions like anger, frustration, happiness, joy etc. Some of the negative emotions, like fear of letting his son go to bed on an empty stomach, motivates him to work harder every day and hence contributes towards his success. In contrast, certain negative emotions, like the ones that he experienced when his wife left him breaks him apart from inside but he disguises these emotions really well and doesn’t share them with anyone. Even in the saddest of the moments, positive affect comes into play, like Chris celebrates his son’s birthday by gifting him a football, and they share a great joyful moment together. All in all, both positive and negative affect appear side by side in this movie, reflecting its resemblance to real life where such affects can also be experienced in a similar manner.

Self-Regulation and Self-Control

Chris possessed a high degree of self-regulation and self-control since he was able to control his desires and redirect his actions so that he could achieve his desired goals. When he was unable to sell the high density scanners, he redirected his actions and applied for an internship as a stockbroker so that he could achieve his goal of earning a handsome amount of money in the future and provide a secure future to his son. Similarly, when he had to achieve the target of attracting the maximum number of clients towards the company, he also monitored his actions multiple times where he screened out the high potential clients so that he could achieve his future goal. It is also worth noting that Chris was able to regulate his emotions efficiently as well since he didn’t let the feelings of sadness or despair create a hindrance in his future goals.

Linkage of the Movie with the Theories of Positive Psychology

This movie is highly related to the theories of positive psychology that have been discussed as follows:

Control Theory

The control theory is based on the principle that self-regulation comprises of four steps namely Test, Operate, Test and Exit. Chris followed these steps in an attempt to regulate his emotions and cognitions so that his behaviour could be directed towards his future goals. For example, Chris started off with the Testing phase where he manufactured the bone density scanner and then started selling them. However, he realized that he could generate enough income through selling these equipments. Therefore, in the operating phase, he started searching for other job opportunities and applied for an internship. This was followed by the testing phase where he investigated if he could manage the internship as well as his job of selling the bone density scanners simultaneously. Once, he was able to efficiently manage them and achieved success, he exited this procedure and picked up another task of establishing his own multi-million-dollar company.

Self-Discrepancy Theory

The self-discrepancy theory believes that an individual’s actions are directed by ‘self-guides.’ It explains the relationship between three types of self; actual self, ideal self and ought self. In terms of Chris’ life, each type of self was vividly highlighted in the movie. Chris wanted to become a good father who could provide all the necessities to his child so this reflected his ideal self. His actual self consisted of a struggling father who lived in poverty and was working really hard to make the ends meet. His ought self involved the social obligations where he had to provide shelter and food to his son. Similarly, at work, his ought self consisted of the duties about what constitutes a good stockbroker like good communication skills, interpersonal relationships, ability to persuade others and a decisive personality. Hence, the interaction between the various types of self and how they Chris’ actions that allow him to accomplish his future goals is clearly highlighted in this movie.


All in all, Pursuit of Happiness is highly related to positive psychology since it explicitly highlights the factors influencing Eudaimonic and Hedonic Happiness like the definition of success, resilience, positive and negative affect, self-regulation as well as self-control. It also reflects the importance of the control theory and the self-discrepancy theory in directing one’s actions towards success. Hence, I believe that Pursuit of Happiness is a really interesting movie that captures the essence of positive psychology in a comprehensive manner. Yet, I feel that it fails to highlight the relationship between spirituality and life satisfaction which makes it a little un-relatable as religion is given immense importance in the East. Hence, I would suggest that if in future a similar movie is produced, it must contain the element of spirituality so that people in the East can relate to it in a better manner.

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