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Personal Goal Attainment, Psychological Well-Being Change, and Meaning in Life

  • Author(s): Stauner, Nick
  • Advisor(s): Ozer, Daniel J
  • et al.

Does goal attainment relate to the development of meaning in life and psychological well-being? If so, do these relationships depend on the nature of the goal and why one pursues it? This study sought to generalize the relationship between goal attainment and subjective well-being to meaning in life and psychological well-being, and test whether goal contents and motives moderate this relationship. At two times about seven weeks apart, 360 undergraduates rated their meaning in life and subjective and psychological well-being. All well-being variables loaded on a single general factor of well-being. Further results replicated evidence of the relationship between subjective well-being change and goal attainment, and generalized it to meaning in life and psychological well-being, but not to autonomy or purpose. This evidence offers new support for theories describing goals as sources of meaning, though the causal direction of this connection remains unestablished. In addition, the results of moderation analyses concord with prior research that demonstrates not all goals relate equally to well-being change or meaning in life. However, these results also pose challenges to the finer points of these theories that describe the inequalities among goals in terms of their supposed service to well-being. Many direct relationships and goal attainment moderators from the literature on self-determination theory failed to replicate, extrinsic motivation being the primary exception to this surprising trend of null results. Mixed results also emerged for theories regarding other goal characteristics. Retrospective ratings of environmental support and inter-goal facilitation (versus conflict) moderated the relationship of goal attainment with overall well-being change, and environmental support related to well-being change directly. Time frame, willingness to invest, extrinsic motivation, and overall self-determination predicted changes in well-being directly, but no other motives or characteristics did so prospectively. Only extrinsic motivation and expectations of success prospectively moderated the relationship between goal attainment and well-being change. This relationship with attainment held across most varieties of goal content, most notably vanishing with goals participants identified as financial in nature, though independent judges' categorizations of goal content did not support this distinction. Furthermore, important limitations to the evidentiary value of the research paradigm have gone unacknowledged in prior literature, as discussed last.

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