Individuals who set realistic goals have a greater sense of well-being, according to psychologists at the University of Basel. In a study focused on nearly 1,000 participants, the experts found that later life satisfaction depended on whether or not goals are attainable and how much they mean to the individual.
Life goals say a lot about a person’s character because they serve as a sort of compass that influences behavior. For this reason, goals can contribute substantially to life satisfaction, or to dissatisfaction if important goals are unattainable.
The team conducted a detailed investigation into how life goals are embedded in people’s lives. The research was focused on data from 973 people between 18 and 92 years old living in Switzerland.
The participants were asked to measure the importance and the perceived attainability of life goals in ten areas including health, community, personal growth, social relationships, fame, image, wealth, family, responsibility for younger generations, and work.
The study revealed that perceiving one’s personal goals as attainable was a strong predictor for well-being later in life. This suggests that people are most satisfied if they have a feeling of control and attainability.
Life goals were also found to hold predictive power for specific domains. For example, participants who set social-relation goals or health goals were more satisfied with their social relationships or their health.
The relationship between life goals and subsequent well-being was relatively the same among the individuals, regardless of age. There was an age-related difference, however, in what people wanted. The younger the individuals were, the higher they rated goals involving personal-growth, status, work, and social relations. The older the participants were, the more they rated social engagement and health as important.
“Many of our results confirmed theoretical assumptions from developmental psychology,” said study lead author and PhD student Janina Bühler. “If we examine, however, whether these goals contribute to well-being, age appears less relevant.”
The study is published in the European Journal of Personality.