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The Psychological Development and Personality of Chris Gardner

“The Pursuit of Happyness” is a film based on a true story directed by Gabriele Muccino and released in 2006. The movie’s main character is Chris Gardner and a San Francisco salesman. Gardner experiences financial and relationship struggles on his journey to getting his dream job of becoming a stockbroker. Gardner transitions from struggling to meet his basic needs to achieve his full potential as a stockbroker. Gardener demonstrates resilience as he adapts to real-life challenges and returns to a successful life from failure, conflicts, frustrations, and misfortunes. In addition, Gardener demonstrates self-efficacy through his strong belief in his ability to become a successful stockbroker. Gardner gains motivation to gain skills despite the continued discouragement from his wife and customers. Chris secures a placement position at Dean Witter Reynolds and becomes the best among other interns to secure a job. “The Pursuit of Happyness” film portrays psychological concepts, including Maslow’s theory, resilience, and self-efficacy, through the psychological development of the character of Chris Gardner.

Relevant Theories

Maslow’s theory is a psychological concept that explains how people establish their priorities. For instance, Maslow categorized personal needs into a hierarchy from biological needs, such as shelter, food, air, and water, to safety and belonging needs, including self-esteem and self-actualization, which constitute top-level needs (Shi & Lin, 2021, p. 229). People transition from one stage of Maslow’s theory to another as they fulfill their needs. This transition enables people to achieve psychological well-being as they gain satisfaction from their achievements. Maslow’s theory of needs is applicable in many fields, including the workplace and school, where people gain the satisfaction of higher needs by fulfilling their fundamental needs (Shi & Lin, 2021, p. 230). To gain satisfaction, an individual must achieve lower-level needs, which depend on necessity. Successful attainment of fundamental goals enables people to move to more luxurious needs. Hence, Maslow’s theory involves a hierarchy of priorities arranged considering urgency.

In addition, resilience theory is a psychological concept that describes how individuals gain motivation during adverse conditions. For example, resilience refers to one’s ability to expand, recover quickly, and develop during challenging life experiences (Southwick et al., 2014, p. 2). People with greater resilience can cope with adverse challenges without experiencing a psychological breakdown. Besides, such individuals find practical ways to cope with challenging circumstances. For instance, resilience is utilizing available resources to maintain well-being (Southwick et al., 2014, p. 5). Resilient individuals use accessible social, cultural, or financial resources to gain the motivation to overcome real-life challenges. Effective utilization of such resources enables people to leverage their inner abilities to succeed despite inhibiting forces. Hence, resilience is a psychological concept that refers to one’s ability to develop and sustain well-being during challenging times.

Nevertheless, self-efficacy is a psychological concept that explains how individuals use belief to influence a desired outcome in a stressful situation. For example, self-efficacy is the belief that one can implement strategies to achieve targeted personal goals (Freire et al., 2020, p. 2). People with high levels of self-efficacy demonstrate courage to execute essential goals. Self-efficacy motivates people to find innovative ways to achieve their desired goals. Self-efficacy theory explains the level of persistence and success that an individual may achieve (Freire et al., 2020, p. 1). People can use self-efficacy to analyze and cope with situations that may inhibit their progress. Effective management and control of situations enable people to focus on essential goals and objectives. Hence, self-efficacy is an effective stress management psychological concept encompassing one’s capacity to take control of a situation.

Application of Theories to Chris Gardner

Maslow’s theory applies to the psychological development of the character of Chris Gardner in the film. For example, Chris applies Maslow’s theory when he prioritizes safety over esteem by running away from the Taxi driver because he does not have the money to pay for the ride and continues to escape from the person threatening to kill him (Muccino, 2006, 00:28:51-00:30:03). This example shows that Chris strives to achieve the basic needs in the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. In a different instance, Chris prioritizes physiological needs over esteem by agreeing to paint his house’s wall in exchange for staying for an additional ten days (Muccino, 2006, 00:37:38-00:37:41). Chris’ ability to secure a home was more important than public image. Chris humbles himself to paint the house and secure shelter for a few days. Hence, Maslow’s theory is evident in the film as Chris Gardner chooses his safety over esteem and his physiological needs over his career.

In addition, resilience theory is applicable in the film through the psychological development of the character of Chris Gardner. Some customers underate Chris when they hang up on his calls and experience unappreciation at work by his office manager, Mr. Frakesh, when he sends him for coffee (Muccino, 2006, 01:02:53-01:03:18). Chris does not lose motivation due to these social challenges. Instead, Chris focuses on improving his skills to become an outstanding stockbroker. Jay Twistle congratulated Chris for completing “a fantastic job” during his last day of the internship (Muccino, 2006, 01:48:00-01:48:15). This case shows that Chris overcame social challenges to improve his skills. Chris demonstrates his resilience by supporting other people to overcome their challenges. For example, Chris utilizes his time as a resource to socialize with Mr. Ribbon to maintain his well-being in his work (Muccino, 2006, 01:13:00-01:14:20). This strategy allows Chris to expand his social networks, which are essential in promoting his development as a professional stockbroker. Therefore, Chris Gardner applies resilience to respond to challenges from a hostile work environment and utilizes his resources to develop and maintain his well-being at work.

Self-efficacy is a psychological concept applied through the psychological development of the character of Chris Gardner in the film. Chris portrays self-efficacy when he tells his wife that he will apply for a stockbroker job despite her sarcasm that he could become an astronaut (Muccino, 2006, 00:10:45-00:11:21). Chris demonstrates a strong belief in his sales and marketing capabilities. Other people’s negative opinions did not discourage Chris from pursuing his dream. Despite not attending college, Chris secured a job following an internship at Dean Witter Reynolds (Muccino, 2006, 01:49:40-01:50:04). Chris’ determination to succeed was instrumental in his exemplary performance during his internship. Chris uses self-efficacy to become the best stockbroker among other interns. Thus, self-efficacy is evident in the film as Chris believes in his capabilities of becoming a successful stockbroker.


The film “The Pursuit of Happyness” demonstrates a real-life application of Maslow’s resilience and self-efficacy theories. The main character, Chris Gardner, struggles to overcome many challenges that he faces in his life. Chris utilizes Maslow’s theory by prioritizing achieving basic needs. Chris opted to paint his apartment to secure the shelter for a few days. Accessing shelter and food was more important to Chris than comfort and having a positive public image. In addition, Chris prioritizes his physiological needs over his career, which compels him to rely on resilience to thrive in the face of challenges. Chris does not lose hope and resilience when experiencing complex challenges. Instead, he draws motivation from emerging challenges to improve his skills as a prospective stockbroker. Finally, Chris portrays self-efficacy by believing in getting a job as a stockbroker to achieve happiness. Chris secures an internship opportunity at Dean Witter Reynolds despite the discouragement by his wife. He strongly believes in his unique abilities to become a successful sales and marketing professional. The hindrances by some customers do not deter Chris’ intention to succeed as a stockbroker. Instead, he works hard to become a notable stockbroker.


Freire, C., Ferradás, M. D. M., Regueiro, B., Rodríguez, S., Valle, A., & Núñez, J. C. (2020). Coping strategies and self-efficacy in university students: A person-centered approach. Frontiers in Psychology11, 1–11.

Muccino, G. (2006). The Pursuit of HappynessIMDb,

Shi, Y., & Lin, X. (2021). A test of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs concept by a correlational model among adult learners. American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. 229-234.

Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., Panter-Brick, C., & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: Interdisciplinary perspectives. European Journal of Psychotraumatology5(1), 1–14.


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