Setting goals is important as we move through life. It gives us focus and helps us measure our progress. Knowing that we have a destination will keep us motivated and help us battle procrastination. But different people have different goals. The link between motivational units, like life goals, and personality traits has been a long-standing interest of personality scientists. Yet little studies have investigated the longitudinal link between personality traits and life goals beyond young adulthood.
Life goals and personality traits
Olivia E. Atherton from the University of California, Davis, and the team suggest in a study that for the most part, people develop life goals that are consistent with their personality traits. Furthermore, individual goals are associated with how their personality changes over time.
Their study surveyed more than 500 students to examine the mean-level changes in and the rank-order stability of the Big Five personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) and major life goals (social, religious, political, hedonistic, family/relationship, economic, and aesthetic) from age 18 to midlife (40 years old). In short, the survey determined the participant's goals related to having a successful career, being active in politics or religion, being wealthy, or having a family. About 251 of the participants answered the survey after two decades and remained relatively stable over the years with some notable changes.
Atherton told Medical Xpress that the study was a unique opportunity for them to determine how people’s personalities and life goals were associated with each other even after two decades. In many ways, one’s personality shapes the type of life goals that they value. As a result, they pursue those goals and it can lead to personality changes.
The researchers also said that several enormously successful individuals, including Albert Einstein, have mentioned the importance of goals in life. Einstein once said, “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not people or things.” The University of California, Davis researchers believe that the personality that Einstein possesses was like the driving force behind the goals he aimed. He tends to be curious, intellectual, and creative and these likely fueled his scientific goals. The same personality may have also fueled his other aesthetic goals, including his passion to play the violin.
People who become more compassionate, kind, and agreeable likewise tend to put more emphasis on family/relationship or social goals over time. Meanwhile, individuals who become more self-controlled, organized, and responsible tend to value more family and economic goals, the study reads.
Goals become less relevant over time
The authors also found that over time, people put less importance on goals. Perhaps it is because people are achieving the milestones linked with those life goals. Thus, the goals become less important. As middle-aged adults have also identified their strengths and limitations, they may put less importance on some life goals because some of these goals are no longer considered as self-relevant.
According to the Pew Research Center, discovering where people find meaning in life is not an easy task. One way to know this is by allowing them to write about things that provide them a sense of satisfaction and meaning with their lives. In 2017, they surveyed in the US of the areas of life that are associated with higher levels of satisfaction. They answered good health (7.3 average life satisfaction rating), romantic partner (7.2), career (7.1), and career (7.1).
Regardless of income, religion, age, and other demographic factors, people who said that those four parts of their lives as meaningful were more likely to also rate their lives as satisfying compared to those who did not. A total of 4,492 adults participated in the survey. They were asked to scale their lives from zero to 10 in certain areas.
In November 2018, the nonpartisan American think tank conducted a second survey on where Americans find meaning. While the first survey in 2017 was a set of open-ended questions, the second survey is a set of close-ended questions. They asked the participants to rate how much fulfillment and meaning they draw from 15 possible sources identified by the research team.
Across both surveys, the most popular answer is consistent and clear. The majority (69%) of participants mention family when describing what provides them with a sense of meaning, followed by career (34%), money (23%), spirituality and faith (20%), friends (19%), activities, and hobbies (19%), health (16%), home and surroundings (13%), and learning (11%).
In close-ended questions, 20% of participants mention religion as the most meaningful aspect of their lives, while 6% said caring for pets is a source of meaning and fulfillment in their lives. Others said it’s being outdoors (5%), their job or career (4%), spending time with friends (6%), listening to music (3%), and reading (2%). When measuring “meaning” in their survey, the group considered the answers of participants. These answers include “a great deal,” “some,” “not much,” and “none at all.”
The survey also found that Americans with more education and higher household income are most likely to mention stability, good health, and friendships.
Personal goal setting
The Golden Rule for goal setting is setting SMART Goals. It means they should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Whether it be a career, financial, education, family, artistic, attitude, physical, or public service goals, set a plan. Will it take months or years to achieve? If it requires a five-year plan, for instance, set smaller goals that will help you complete the bigger goal. It would also help if you state each goal with a positive statement. “Execute this technique well” is an example of a positive statement rather than saying “Don’t make a stupid mistake.” You may also write down your goals so that it is more crystalize, thus it gives you more force to achieve them.
Having goals for things we want to achieve and working towards reaching them is an important part of being human. Although the path towards these goals may not always be easy or smooth, having goals help makes life good. Apart from giving us a sense of meaning and purpose, it also gets us engaged and interested. Overall, it is good for overall happiness.