Grit is good. At least, that’s the advice most college counselors, middle managers, Spelling-Bee coaches, and most anyone who’s ever advised someone will give you. American culture, in particular, esteems the Jobs of the world (both the Biblical and Steve-ial), who stick to it when everything is going wrong.
Psychologists, too, have long viewed perseverance as a plus. Writing in Science magazine in 1907, the psychologist William James called on his peers to study how certain people seem to draw on inner strength to accomplish great feats:
The human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum … [T]he habit of inferiority to our full self—that is bad.
Then again, amid all the exhortations to be “too legit to quit,” what if another song actually serves as a better guide to life—one whose message is less demanding, perhaps, and understands what it’s like to have eff reserves hovering dangerously near zero. What if it’s more important to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, and know when to walk away?
For a recent study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University put hundreds of participants through a series of three studies on grit. In each, the researchers quizzed subjects about how “gritty” they are, based on how much they agree with statements like, “Setbacks don’t discourage me” and “I finish whatever I begin.”