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Goal setting and wellbeing

It has seemed likely for some time that skilful goal setting boosts wellbeing.  A couple of small recent research studies from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London reinforce this understanding (MacLeod, Coates et al. 2008).  Wellbeing was assessed by an often used conglomerate measure which adds measures of 'positive' emotion and life satisfaction while subtracting a measure of 'negative' emotion (see PANAS & SWLS questionnaires below).  Active participants were given brief goal setting training and their wellbeing scores were compared with a control group not given the training.  Participants who completed the three one hour goal setting classes (or used a related self-help manual) significantly boosted their wellbeing compared with the controls.  These findings reinforce the value of goal setting as discussed in yesterday's blog on Self-Determination Theory. 

MacLeod, A., E. Coates, et al. (2008). "Increasing well-being through teaching goal-setting and planning skills: results of a brief intervention." Journal of Happiness Studies 9(2): 185-196.   [Abstract/Full Text]  
Abstract: Many factors are known to be associated with psychological well-being. However, it is much less clear whether those factors actually cause well-being and, hence, whether there is any practical value in trying to manipulate those factors to increase well-being. The proposed study addresses both the theoretical and practical issues by testing the effectiveness of an empirically-derived, brief psychological intervention to increase well-being in a non-clinical, unselected sample. The intervention focused on developing goal setting and planning (GAP) skills, which are known to be linked to well-being, potentially have widespread effects, and are amenable to intervention. Within a quasi-experimental design, participants received three, 1-h, group sessions (Study 1) or completed the programme individually in their own time (Study 2). Those taking part in the intervention, both individually and in a group, showed significant increases in subjective well-being, compared to their respective control groups not receiving the intervention. The results provide preliminary support for the view that (a) goal setting and planning skills have a causal link to subjective well-being and (b) that such skills can be learned to enhance well-being.

PANAS - see Watson, D., L. A. Clark, et al. (1988). "Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales." J Pers Soc Psychol 54(6): 1063-70.  [PubMed].  See also the scale itself and scoring as two Powerpoint slides.

Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS).  The scale and background information.

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