How to Be an Optimal Human with Kennon Sheldon

by Scott Barry Kaufman, April 25, 2018

“The happiest person is the person doing good stuff for good reasons.”

— Kennon Sheldon

Dr. Kennon Sheldon is a psychologist at the University of Missouri who studies motivation, goals, and well-being, from both a self-determination theory and a positive psychology perspective. He has authored or co-authored multiple books, including “Optimal human being: An integrated multi-level perspective”. Dr. Sheldon has been cited more than 30,000 times, and in 2010, he was named one of the 20 most cited social psychologists.

In this wide-ranging episode we discuss:

  • How Ken went from aspiring musician to leading research on goals
  • Whether the pursuit of happiness is worth it
  • Is happiness in your genes?
  • The link between goals and happiness
  • The what and why of motivated goal pursuit
  • The basic needs of self-determination theory
  • Deprivation vs. growth needs
  • Self-concordance theory
  • The link between values and happiness
  • How much can we use science as a guide to values?
  • Are there some ways of being more conducive to happiness than others?
  • How to get in touch with your OVP (organismic valuing process)
  • Marrying positive psychology and humanistic psychology
  • The relationship between personal goals and personal projects
  • How to know when to change your goals
  • The good life: well-being or well-doing?


3 Responses to “How to Be an Optimal Human with Kennon Sheldon”

  1. Great episode. Dr. Sheldon’s work is right in line with my work as an artist, I would love to talk to him. Lucky you.

    Thinking about the love for mankind you spoke of, I am thinking voluteer hours would be a good place to measure rather than democratic qualities. Though I am sure people volunteering would self-report more satisfaction, considering that they have time to help with other people’s needs.

  2. I love all of your podcast interviews, but this one wins the award for nerding out in the areas of goals and success, and how self-determination theory can be unpacked and understood from different perspectives. I kept backing this up and listening to certain passages over and over – fantastic!!!!

  3. What a fantastic episode. As others have said, such depth, and in truth a real resonance with the findings I observe while coaching senior executives and teams.

    Exploring with them their personal insight and growth over a career, really does show their move towards intrinsic goals and often (all too often) can verbalise a sadness that they ‘sold their soul’ to extrinsic goals. Discussions exploring the why often reveal a missing link – the ability to live and breathe reflective practice.

    Thank you – thought provoking and very educational in equal measure.

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