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Title: Achieving success and getting the blues : success, self-identity and disappointment
Author: Mullins, Jane
ISNI:       0000 0004 2679 5999
Awarding Body: The University of Essex
Current Institution: University of Essex
Date of Award: 2009
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Usually we associate personal success with pleasure and happiness, rather than anything depressing or disappointing. When I received the results for my Psychology degree I questioned the meaning of my life. I wondered what I could do next after having fulfilled that goal; this is probably a common feeling for many individuals. I had put all my energies into my studies for the degree but things felt quite flat afterwards. It was not depression as such but it made me wonder why individuals felt depressed after having fulfilled their goals. I decided to undertake a Master's degree in Psychoanalytic Studies, and I focused on the issue of depression after success in adulthood for my thesis. I found that psychoanalytic theorists had researched the reasons for the occurrence of depression after success in adults. They argued that a successful event may sometimes trigger an unresolved internal conflict causing depression after the successful event. I was reluctant to accept a psychoanalytic argument as a definitive answer. I wanted to know if there were any particular social influences on the individual that could cause such depression. Around about that time, I watched an episode of the American comedy 'Fraser'. The particular episode seemed to highlight a social connection between success and depression. Fraser was portrayed as in his thirties, a psychoanalyst who gave advice on the radio for personal problems based on his psychoanalytic knowledge. In the episode he was presented with a lifetime's award for both roles; however, in the days following the presentation he suffered from depression. He was seen as reflecting on his award and repeatedly asking his father 'If I've had a lifetime's award, what do I do now?' As far as I know, the character hadn't suffered from depression before the award. His award was clearly intended as a public or social distinction for his work which might be expected to make him feel good. However, the events in the episode suggested Fraser had achieved his award ahd did not know what to do next and this seemed to cause his depression after success. The social event had led to Fraser's negative feelings about his success. I decided to study this issue from a sociological perspective for my PhD. I undertook a study of 24 women and 6 men; who were or had been depressed. The study revealed that only eight of the individuals had depression after what they perceived to be a successful event, such as after giving birth, or after losing a partner and becoming a successful single parent. However I could not conclude that the success had caused the depression because most of the individuals had suffered from depression intermittently for several years prior to the success. The individual's depression may have led them to believe that it was their success that had caused their depression. Only one individual with postnatal depression, which was presumably physically caused, said that she had suffered no previous depression before giving birth to each of her three children; however I did find feelings of disappointment after success in some of the individuals. This was an interesting finding as I had recently read Ian Craib's (1994) book The importance of disappointment. He argued that disappointment is an inevitable feature of 'all individuals' lives,' and his work suggested individuals feel disappointed whether they do, or do not, obtain success. I discarded the interview data from the depressed individuals and started a new study. I decided to interview successful individuals focusing on the role of disappointment or negative feelings after success rather than depression. To explain how, and why, individuals respond to success in the way they do, I analyse their success, failure and disappointment. Consequently the areas to be explored in the thesis are the linkages between success, failure, and disappointment. I now discuss each of these concepts in turn. Key concepts: Success is often thought of as an achievement or fulfilment of a goal. Achievement is defmed as a successful accomplishment of, or performance in, a socially defined goal (Marshall, 1994: 3), such as obtaining a highly paid professional job, or passing an exam at college. Success and achievement seem to refer to the same sequence of events, success is the achievement of a goal and achievement is successfully fulfilling a goal. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defined success as 'the prosperous achievement of something attempted; the attainment of an object according to one's desire: now often with particular reference to the attainment of wealth or position' (1989: 93). Success can therefore be defined as an achievement of a desired aim or goal that is usually linked to wealth, position or skill. Individuals are likely to feel successful when they save money and accumulate wealth or when they take on a business venture and accumulate profit. Success may be the obtaining of a high position within an organisation or structure, or it may be connected to work produced by an author, or artist who receives some form of reward for their work. An actor may feel successful when he or she gets a good review or becomes famous. Alternatively an athlete may feel successful and euphoric when they win a gold medal at the Olympics.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available