Understanding the relationships between wellbeing, goal-setting and depression in children


  • Helen Street, Senior Lecturer (Correspondence); Jonathan Morling, Medical Student; Mohamed Azahar Dzahari, Medical Student; Joel Carson, Medical Student; Evelyn Durkin, Psychologist

    M521, School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, QE II Medical Centre, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands 6907, Australia. Email: hstreet@cyllene.uwa.edu.au

    Kevin Durkin, Professor of Psychology

    Department of Psychology, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Western Australia

    Paula Nathan, Clinical Director

    Centre for Clinical Interventions: psychotherapy, research, training, Perth, Western Australia

Helen Street, Senior Lecturer (Correspondence)


Objectives:  This study investigates children's conceptions of happiness and wellbeing in relation to goal choice. It examines the prevalence and impact of Conditional goal setting (CGS) on levels of wellbeing and depression. Conditional goal setting describes commitment toward an important goal resulting from a conception that happiness is an end-point achieved through the attainment of this goal. Conditional goal setting has been identified as a significant factor in the development and maintenance of depression in adults. This study examines these same concepts among children.

Method:  Combined interpretative and quantitative methodology is used. Thirty-six children aged 10−12 years participated in six focus groups discussing their understandings of happiness, important goals and beliefs concerning CGS. Children each attended one of three primary schools in the Perth metropolitan district. They also completed CGS and depression questionnaires.

Results:  Responses were categorized into a number of common themes. Response content and the number of responses in each theoretical area were identified and discussed. The majority of participants conceptualized happiness as a goal dependant upon something extrinsic to themselves (such as an achievement or event). Statistical analyses suggested a significant relationship between goal setting styles, conceptualizations of happiness and depression. Depressed children were more likely than non-depressed children to be conditional goal setters.

Conclusions:  Findings suggest that some children conceptualize happiness as an outcome that is dependent on their important achievements and acquisitions. This conceptualization is related to depression. Alternatively, non-depressed children tended to conceptualize happiness as a process independent of goal achievement or failure.