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Keywords:

  • personal goal orientations;
  • subjective well-being;
  • adolescents;
  • person-oriented approach;
  • time perspective;
  • basic needs

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Personal goals and subjective well-being
  4. Aims and hypotheses
  5. Method
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

The present study examines the types of orientation that can be identified according to the personal goals of adolescents, and how these orientations differ in their subjective well-being. In the context of the person-oriented approach, 1144 17-year-olds (565 girls, 579 boys) filled in the revised Little's personal project analysis, school burnout, depression, life satisfaction, and self-esteem inventories. Four goal orientations emerged from this data with cluster analysis: (1) property (40%), (2) vocation (24%), (3) social relationships and future education (23%), and (4) self-focused (13%) orientations. Boys were the majority in the property and the vocation orientations, whereas girls dominated in the social relationships and future education- and the self-orientations. Those in the self-orientation group were the most burned out, had most symptoms of depression and the lowest life satisfaction and self-esteem compared with other orientations. Orientations indicate the basic needs for competence (property and vocation orientations), relatedness (social relationships and future education orientation) and autonomy (self-focused orientation) (Deci & Ryan, 2000). The time perspective is addressed on the basis of goal orientations reflecting the past (self-ruminating goals), the present (relationships and current education) or the future (upcoming education and wealth).

Young people are usually at the stage of life when the future is ahead, and the essential goals are set. They encounter two broad kinds of challenge. First, they become a legally competent member of society and face the challenge of earning their own living and second, they must manage their personal relationships (Nurmi, 2004). From the framework of the time perspective, adolescents are living the present at full blast and at the same time are required to plan the future for themselves (Baltes, 1997; Brandtstädter, 1989; Damon, 2004; Nurmi, 1991). Adolescents orient to their future life by making choices, decisions, and devoting themselves to various matters (Nurmi, 1991, 1993; 1994; Salmela-Aro, 2009, 2010). This selection mechanism includes many psychological mechanisms when motives, interests, and personal goals direct the exploration, planning, decision-making, and commitments of adolescents (Nurmi, 2004).

Motivation is one of the key mechanisms through which adolescents direct their development and select actions and environments (Nurmi, 1993, 1997). In self-determination theory, the psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are essential for understanding the content of goal pursuit (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Goal pursuit is effective when people are able to satisfy their basic psychological needs as they pursue and attain their valued outcomes (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Adolescents' motivation can be examined using personal goals and projects (Massey, Gebhardt, & Garnefski, 2008; Salmela-Aro, 2001). They formulate their goals by comparing their own motives with the socio-cultural environment and the possibilities open to their own age (Nurmi, 2004). Many hopes and interests for the future of the adolescents are related to the most central developmental tasks of this life phase (Nurmi, 2004). The main aim of this study is to examine goal orientation based on the content of the adolescents' personal projects. Second, we examine how subjective well-being appears in different orientations.

Adolescent goal content and related pursuits have been extensively studied during the last two decades (for a review, see Massey et al., 2008), but the goal orientations based on content as it naturally occurs is lacking (Salmela-Aro, Aunola, & Nurmi, 2007a). The person-oriented approach (Bergman & El-Khouri, 2001) used in this study is a modern typological approach that determines the combination of meaningful values as unitary (Bergman & El-Khouri, 2001).

The life-span theories of motivation suggest that the demands, challenges, and possibilities that people experience during a particular life period channel the personal goals people form (Little, Salmela-Aro, & Phillips, 2007; Nurmi, 1991; 1992; 1994). In an earlier study, several concepts have been used to describe people's goals: current concern (Klinger, 1975), personal projects (Little, 1983), life task (Cantor, Norem, Langston, Zirkel, Fleeson, & Cook-Flanagan, 1987), personal striving (Emmons, 1986), and possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986). In this study, Little's concept of personal projects (1983) is used to measure personal goals. Personal projects have usually been classified according to their content, and the categories refer to different goals and events of the future, such as education, work, family, children, self, hobbies, health, leisure, wealth, and home (Little, 1983; Nurmi, 1992; Salmela-Aro, 1992; Salmela-Aro, Vuori, & Koivisto, 2007b). Future time perspectives have been linked to goals in socio-emotional selectivity theory, as individuals select goals in accordance with peoples' perceptions of the future as being limited or open-ended (Lang & Carstensen, 2002). When time is perceived as open-ended, the goals that become most highly prioritized are most likely to be those that are preparatory, focused on gathering information, experiencing novelty, and expanding the breadth of knowledge as well as seeking contacts that could be useful in the more distant future, including goals related to the task of finding out about one's role in society and vocational or career interests (Carstensen, 2006; Lang & Carstensen, 2002).

The studies of the goal contents of adolescents have claimed that the goals reflect the Havighurst Developmental Tasks (1948) (Massey et al., 2008; Nurmi, 1991; Salmela-Aro et al., 2007b). Adolescence contains normative demands, challenges, and role expectations. To master the transition and to respond to the expectations well enough, the adolescent must equalize the personal projects with these demands (Salmela-Aro, 2001). When the adolescents are asked about their future wishes, interests and projects, they typically talk about those matters that are connected to their personal lives, such as education, work, future family, leisure activities, travel, and self-development (Nurmi, 1991; Salmela-Aro, 2001).

Sex differences have also been found in the content of adolescents personal projects. Girls have more goals related to the family and to human relations (Greene & Wheatley, 1992), education (Nurmi, 1989), and leisure and self-development (Salmela-Aro et al., 2007b) than boys. The personal projects of boys are more often related to material values (Cross & Markus, 1991; Solantaus, 1987) and to work and property (Salmela-Aro et al., 2007b). Multiple goals or goal systems are activated in action (Pervin, 1992), but a study of simultaneous goals is still lacking (Austin & Vancouver, 1996). People usually have more than one project or goal. This is why the personal projects analysis method advises to express several projects (Little, 1983; Salmela-Aro, 2002). The orientations of these projects are discussed here.

Personal goals and subjective well-being

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Personal goals and subjective well-being
  4. Aims and hypotheses
  5. Method
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

Subjective well-being is people's evaluation of the quality of their lives, which includes both cognitive judgments and affective reactions (Diener, 2001). We approach subjective well-being from the perspective of depressive symptoms and school-related burnout (Salmela-Aro & Näätänen, 2005), as well as life-satisfaction (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985) and self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965). School-related burnout consists of three different dimensions: emotional exhaustion, where the adolescent is feeling emotionally overloaded, resources for managing life have run out, and one feels powerless and tired; there is cynicism and an impassive, loose attitude towards school or work; and a feeling of inadequacy and inability, the person estimating himself, his performance or his knowledge negatively (Salmela-Aro, Kiuru, Leskinen, & Nurmi, 2009; Salmela-Aro & Näätänen, 2005).

The connection between personal goals and subjective well-being has been extensively studied (Brunstein, 1993; Emmons, 1991; Heckhausen, 1999; Little, 1989; Salmela-Aro & Nurmi, 1997). However, a few studies have also concentrated on the content of the goals and subjective well-being. The life-span theories of motivation suggest that personal goals that are parallel with the developmental tasks of the life phase are adequate and thus facilitate the well-being of the individual (Nurmi, 1993; 2001; 2004; Salmela-Aro, 2009). It has also been stated that only the achievement of goals that are congruent with motivational dispositions contributes to enhanced well-being (Brunstein, Schultheiss, & Grassman, 1998). Both cross-sectional (Emmons, 1991) and longitudinal studies (Salmela-Aro & Nurmi, 1997) have shown that the young adults who have goals that are related to personal relationships, family, and education have better subjective well-being and fewer symptoms of depression than other young adults. Goals related to leisure activities are associated with life satisfaction (Little & Chambers; 2004).

By contrast it has been stated in several studies that goals concerning the development of personality and identity, more generally self-related goals, are related to distress, low self-esteem, problems with mental health, and exhaustion (Salmela-Aro, 1992; Salmela-Aro et al., 2007b; Salmela-Aro & Nurmi, 2004; Salmela-Aro, Pennanen, & Nurmi, 2001). The relation is also two-way, because the increase in the goals that concentrate on the self leads to an increase in the depression symptoms, and a greater number of the depression symptoms leads to a greater number of the goals concentrating on the self (Salmela-Aro et al., 2001; Salmela-Aro & Nurmi, 1997;). Parallel results have also been reported in a meta-analysis, with the concentration on self in general being associated with negative feelings and rumination (Mor & Winquist, 2002). Furthermore, in research about adolescent identity formation, ruminative pondering is associated with distress, depression, and elevated anxiety (Kidwell, Dunham, Bacho, Pastorino, & Portes, 1995; Luyckx, Schwartz, Berzonsky, Soenens, Vansteenkiste, Smits, & Goossens, 2008; Luyckx, Soenens, & Goossens, 2006). The time perspective has also been linked with well-being and the content of goals, so that when goals are incongruent with one's future time perspective, pursuing them could result in detrimental outcomes (Lang & Carstensen, 2002). Particularly with regard to young people pursuing emotion-related goals, aiming at emotion regulation may mean that individuals are more likely to experience social strain and dissatisfaction (Lang & Carstensen, 2002).

Aims and hypotheses

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Personal goals and subjective well-being
  4. Aims and hypotheses
  5. Method
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

We examine the following research problems:

  • 1
    What kinds of orientation can be identified in the content of personal projects? We expect that the majority of the personal projects of the adolescents will be related to education, career and social relations (Hypothesis 1) (Salmela-Aro, 2001). The second assumption is that we will identify a group of adolescents who have personal projects concerning self and self-development. (Salmela-Aro et al., 2007b) (Hypothesis 2).
  • 2
    How do the identified orientations differ from each other with regard to school-related burnout, depression symptoms, satisfaction with life, and self-esteem? We assume that those orientations that include self-related goals (Mor & Winquist, 2002) have more school-related burnout and symptoms of depression, as well as lower life satisfaction and self-esteem, whereas those goal orientations that include goals congruent with development tasks produce better subjective well-being (Hypothesis 3).

Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Personal goals and subjective well-being
  4. Aims and hypotheses
  5. Method
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

Participants and procedure

The participants were 1144 upper secondary school students (age: M= 17.4 years, SD= 1.2 years; girls 565, 49%) from vocational and high schools. The vocational school students were from the metropolitan area of Finland and the high school students were from a town in the eastern part of Finland. They completed a self-report questionnaire tapping personal goals and subjective well-being in the classroom during a 45-min school lesson. The participants who were over 25 years old or persons whose questionnaires were filled incorrectly were omitted from the final analyses (N = 12). In the final analysis there were 536 students from vocational education (age: M = 17.83 years, SD = 1.59 years) and 608 students from high school (age: M = 17.05 years, SD = 0.27 years).

Measures

Personal Project Analysis (PPA).

The participants filled in a revised version of Little's 1983 Personal Project Analysis inventory. The adolescents were asked first to describe four of their current personal projects in response to the following instruction: “People have different kinds of important goals, projects, and intentions. These personal goals may include different life areas like school, friends, family, work, studying, dating, health, one's own parents, wealth and use of money, travelling, self or hobbies.” Each project mentioned by the participants was content analyzed independently by two assessors into 18 different classes. The Cronbach's alpha was .92. The classes and examples as well as numbers of goals produced are presented in Table 1.

Table 1.  Personal project classes, examples and the number of projects produced
Personal project classExampleProjects produced
Present education“Finish up this school”722
Vocation / work“Get a nice job”644
Wealth and money“I want to be rich”480
Future education“Apply for a college”347
One's health“Stay healthy”284
Friends“Hold on to friendships”241
Relationship“Move together with my boyfriend”240
Hobbies and sport“Progress in my hobby”233
Self related goals“To learn to be more open and to have more courage”182
Lifestyle”I want to be famous”181
Traveling“Go to South Europe during summer holiday”153
Dating“Fall in love with a wonderful woman”137
Moving“I want to move out of my parents house”74
Childhood family“Keep in contact with my parents and family”63
Military service“Go to army”55
One's children“Take care of my children”37
Appearance“Lose weight”19
Substance abuse“Drink as much alcohol as possible”13

School-related burnout was assessed using the method developed for the purpose of measuring adolescent school burnout (Salmela-Aro et al., 2009; Salmela-Aro & Näätänen, 2005). The adolescents were asked to evaluate their study circumstances by emotional exhaustion (three items, e.g., “I feel that I am drowning in schoolwork”), cynicism (three items, e.g., “I feel that I am losing interest in school”), and feelings of inadequacy (three items, e.g. “I often feel inadequate at school”). The nine items were assessed using a 6-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (I totally disagree) to 6 (I totally agree). The Cronbach's alphas were .72, .85, and .76 respectively.

Depressive symptoms were assessed using a 10-item Depression Scale (DEPS; Salokangas, Stengård, & Poutanen, 1994; e.g., “During the last month, I felt that all joy had disappeared from my life”). A 4-point Likert scale ranged from 0 (Not at all) to 3 (Extremely). The indicator that describes depression was constructed by summing up the points of all the items together. The Cronbach's alpha for the depression scale was .90. The limit of clinically significant depression on this scale is 9 points and when this limit value is exceeded in a medical study, the probability of a depression diagnosis will be 35.7% (Salokangas et al., 1994).

Life satisfaction was measured using the (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, and Griffins (1985) Satisfaction with Life Scale. It is a 5-item scale (e.g., “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself”). A 7-point Likert scale ranged from 1 (totally disagree) to 7 (totally agree). The Cronbach's alpha for the satisfaction with life scale was .86.

Self-esteem was measured using Rosenberg's (1965) Self-esteem Scale, a 5-item scale with statements reflecting general self-acceptance, self-respect, and an overall attitude towards oneself (e.g., “I have a positive concept of myself”). Items were assessed using a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 7 (totally agree). The Cronbach's alpha for the self-esteem scale was .73.

Analysis strategy

The 10 most often mentioned personal projects (Table 1) were chosen for the cluster analysis. The personal project variables with relation to friends, relationships and one's childhood family, dating, childhood family, and one's children were combined into an inclusive relation variable. The smallest content classes (moving, military service, appearance, substance abuse, and travelling) were not included in the analysis because they tend to skew the results too much. The items chosen for the cluster analysis were: present education, education in the future, vocation/work, wealth and money, hobbies and sport, one's health, self-related goals, lifestyle, and social relationships. Clustering of the variables was carried out using nonhierarchical K-means cluster analysis in the SPSS 13.0 program. Case homogeneity was assessed using Euclidean distance. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to examine group differences. The effect size was analyzed using partial eta squared (η2).

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Personal goals and subjective well-being
  4. Aims and hypotheses
  5. Method
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

The first aim of the study was to find out what kinds of orientation can be identified in the content of adolescents' personal projects. The groups that emerged in the three-cluster solution were named after the centre goal variable: (1) a present education and wealth and money orientation; (2) a present education and self-focused orientation; and (3) a present education and relationships orientation. In the four-cluster solution, the group of present education and relationships goal orientation separated into two: (1) a present education and vocation/work orientation; and (2) a social relationships and present and future education orientation. The five-cluster solution did not bring out any extra information. Because the four-group solution proved to describe the material best, this solution was examined further. The stability of the solution was tested by clustering the randomized halves of the data. The same cluster centers appeared with the halves and the solution was affirmed to be stable enough.

Table 2 shows clustered variable means and standard deviations. The cluster centers display those variables that are at the midpoint of the cluster group and represent the personal projects that were more commonly mentioned by each group member. The groups were named after each cluster centre, and as present education was one of the centers in every group, the groups were named after the differentiating centers. In the first group, because adolescents mentioned having goals for wealth and money as well as present education, the group was titled a property orientation. This group included 458 (40%) of the adolescents, of whom 62% were boys. The second group had goals for work and vocation as well as present education, and the group was titled a vocation orientation. This group included 278 (24%) of the adolescents, of whom 60% were boys. The third group had several variables as cluster centers. Their personal projects were in present education and school, future education as well as personal relationships, and the group was titled a social relationships and future education orientation. This group included 261 (23%) of the adolescents, of whom 68% were girls. The fourth group had goals related to self and self development, and the group was titled a self-focused orientation. This group included 145 (13%) of the adolescents, of whom 71% were girls.

Table 2.  Analysis of variance of the clusters and the personal goal variables
Personal goals (range 0–4)ClustersF(3, 1140)pη2
1: Property2: Vocation3: Social relationships and future education4: Self-focused
N = 459 (40%)N = 278 (24%)N = 262 (23%)N = 145 (13%)
  1. Note. Means with separate letters differ significantly at the p < .05 level (with Bonferroni correction). The letters (a, b, c, d) indicate which values per line (variable) differ from each other.

  2. Cells in bold typeface are the final cluster centers.

Present educationM (SD).64a (.56).63a (.54).64a (.56).57a (.54).65.585 n.s. 
Future educationM (SD).25ab (.46).19a (.39).50c (.55).33b (.50)23.02.000.057
Vocation / workM (SD).40b (.50)1.19c (.45).27a (.45).39ab (.49)223.43.000.370
Wealth and moneyM (SD).93b (.70).06a (.25).08a (.28).08a (.27)282.94.000.370
Hobbies and sportM (SD).22a (.44).17a (.45).24a (.46).15a (.40)2.11.097 n.s. 
One's healthM (SD).20a (.45).24a (.45).35b (.49).23ab (.43)6.77.000.018
Self related goalsM (SD).02a (.13).00a (.06).03a (.18)1.13b (.43)1354.01.000.781
LifestyleM (SD).13a (.36).24b (.53).13a (.36).14ab (.37)5.58.001.014
Social relationshipsM (SD).30a (.46).41b (.51)1.43d (.57).62c (.49)306.60.000.447

The second aim of the study was to find out how the orientations identified differed in subjective well-being in terms of school burnout, depressive symptoms, satisfaction with life, and self-esteem. These results are shown in Table 3. With the subjective well-being measures, the self-focused orientation was markedly different from the other orientations. The self-focused orientation had higher values on every dimension of school burnout: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of inadequacy. The future education and social relationships orientation also scored high on emotional exhaustion, but did not differ on the other two burnout dimensions from the property and vocation orientations. The property and vocation orientations had the least school-related burnout. The self-focused orientation scored most on depressive symptoms compared with the other orientations. The average depression level of the self-focused orientation was close to clinically significant depression. Of the self-focused orientation, 43% had a clinically significant number of depressive symptoms. Satisfaction with life was higher in the social relationships and future education orientation than in the self-focused orientation. Self-esteem was higher in the property and the vocation orientations than in the self-focused orientation.

Table 3.  Analyses of variance between the clusters in subjective well-being
Measures (range)Cluster groupsF(3, 976)pη2
1: Property2: Vocation3: Social relationships and future education4: Self-focused
  1. Note. Means with separate letters differ significantly at the p < .05 level (with Bonferroni correction). The letters (a, b, c, d) indicate which values per line (variable) differ from each other.

School-related burnout (1–6)       
 Emotional exhaustionM (SD)2.54a (1.09)2.50a (1.10)2.88b (1.00)3.11b (1.04)13.28.000.040
 CynicismM (SD)2.29a (1.12)2.20a (1.12)2.24a (1.11)2.60b (1.14)3.71.011.011
 Feelings of inadequacyM (SD)2.51a (1.07)2.43a (1.01)2.61ab (1.05)2.92b (1.12)6.09.000.019
Depression (0–30)M (SD)5.14a (5.42)5.13a (5.54)6.25a (5.61)8.53b (5.36)13.34.000.040
Satisfaction with life (1–7)M (SD)4.62ab (1.24)4.77ab (1.20)4.83b (1.24)4.41a (1.32)3.73.011.011
Self-esteem (1–7)M (SD)4.92b (1.06)4.96b (1.03)4.81ab (1.13)4.55a (1.05)4.65.003.014

With subjective well-being measures also, the interaction between sex and goal orientation groups was studied and the interaction did not become statistically significant. The sex differences were also studied in the self-focused orientation. Within this orientation girls were more exhausted, F(1139) = 7.69, p = .006, and felt greater inadequacy in their schoolwork, F(1138) = 4.86, p = .029, than boys. In the self-focused orientation girls and boys did not differ in life-satisfaction, self-esteem, or depression.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Personal goals and subjective well-being
  4. Aims and hypotheses
  5. Method
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

The purpose of this study was to examine the goal orientation of adolescents using the person-oriented approach. Even though a few studies have already examined the personal projects of adolescents using the person-oriented approach (Salmela-Aro et al., 2007b), work on the personal project and goal systems from the orientation perspective has been missing from the empirical studies. The results showed that the typical adolescent development tasks appear in their personal projects (Nurmi, 1991; Salmela-Aro, 2001; Salmela-Aro et al., 2007b). The results of this study support these earlier studies and the first hypothesis (Hypothesis 1).

The time perspective is also apparent in the adolescents' goals as they reflect the past in self-ruminating goals, the present in relationships and current educational goals, and the future in upcoming education and wealth goals. Goals are the states of the future to be pursued. Interestingly, however, the content of the goals reflects the entire timeline. The ruminative goals reflecting the past seem particularly to aim to somehow make corrections into the lived life. This study strengthens the socio-emotional selectivity theory (Lang & Carstensen, 2002) on future time perspective, showing that adolescents' goals are mainly congruent with their presumed future time perspective, being open-ended.

The main objective of this study was to identify orientations from the content of the adolescents' personal projects. The four-group solution proved to describe material best. The groups were named according to their most central goal: property, vocation, social relationships and future education, and self-focused orientations.

The property oriented adolescents had more goals related to wealth, standard of living or money, and equally as many goals related to their present education, and distinctly fewer goals related to future education, their own health, way of life and relationships than adolescents in the other orientations. In the property orientation, 62% were boys.

The vocation oriented adolescents had more goals related to work, profession, and becoming a professional, as well as to success in working life. Future education and property did not feature among these adolescents' personal goals, but goals related to present education and way of life as use of time, success, adapting, and a happy life did. The vocation orientation mainly included boys (60%). Among the orientations, these adolescents were the least exhausted by school work. The goals of these adolescents were concrete and the content of the goals delicately reflected their sense appreciation of one's vocational know-how.

The goals of the social relationships and future education oriented adolescents were related to the relationships: friends, dating, and family, as well as further education in the future. They also had goals about present education and their own health. The majority of this orientation was girls (68%). The social relationships and future education oriented experienced school-related burnout as emotional exhaustion, but did not feel cynicism or inadequacy in their schoolwork. Life satisfaction was high in this orientation. The personal goals in this orientation were concrete and particularly flexible, although a higher ambition was reflected among the goals of this orientation than the vocation oriented. These adolescents seemed to be motivated to educate themselves further at the higher degree level.

The fourth orientation was differentiated from the other three in that the personal projects were not directed outwards but rather inwards and towards the self. The self-focused oriented adolescents had projects related to personal growth, becoming an independent person, and managing life. Their goals were tinted with negativity. The self-focused orientation was smaller in size, including only 13% of the young people. Most self-focused orientation adolescents were girls (71%). In the self-focused orientation, the adolescents had more school-related burnout in all three dimensions excluding emotional exhaustion, of which they had as much as the social relationships and future education oriented. They had more depression symptoms than the other orientations. Almost every second person in this orientation had clinically significant depression. Life satisfaction and self-esteem were also lower than in the other orientations. Within this orientation the boys were as depressed as the girls, but the girls were more exhausted with their school work and had greater feelings of inadequacy.

The developmental tasks of the adolescents were also reflected in their personal projects. An earlier study has shown that young adults (Salmela-Aro, 1997) and pupils at the upper level of comprehensive school (Salmela-Aro et al., 2007b) who have personal projects concerned with relationships and family as well as education, also have higher subjective well-being and fewer depressive symptoms than other young people. This study replicated this result with the upper secondary school students who were approximately 17 years of age.

The fourth orientation diverged completely from the other orientations, with the identification of this orientation from the material supporting the second hypothesis (Hypothesis 2). The projects of these adolescents dealt with personal growth and reach for autonomy and competence. The results showed that their distress was high. This is in line with earlier studies (Salmela-Aro et al., 2001, 2007b; Salmela-Aro & Nurmi, 2004) and supports the third hypothesis (Hypothesis 3) that goals which are related to personality development and identity-seeking are associated with low well-being, low self-esteem, problems of mental health, and burnout. The adolescent open-ended future time perspective is also incongruent with these emotionally meaningful goals. This incongruity is thought to be related to social strain and dissatisfaction (Lang & Carstensen, 2002).

In this study, goal orientations provided further information on relations between the personal projects of adolescents. The orientations show that adolescents have multiple goals that are not mutually exclusive. In light of the self-determination theory, the orientations seem to suggest the basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000). It seems that the different orientations somehow pursue one of these basic needs more emphatically. Competence needs are reflected in the property and vocation orientations. Relatedness needs are demonstrated in the social relationships and future education orientation. Finally, the need and striving for autonomy appears in the self-focused orientation. Deci and Ryan (2000) argue that these psychological needs, when satisfied, yield enhanced self-motivation and mental health and, when thwarted, lead to diminished motivation and well-being. Particularly in the self-focused orientation, it seems that the need for autonomy is stated in the goals, but it is not fulfilled yet. This might be in connection with the low subjective well-being of the orientation.

The data has been collected from two distinct areas of Finland and from high school and vocational school students. The diversity of the data is a strength at the national level, but further research is required on different cultures. A restriction of the study is that the effect sizes are relatively small. However, when a sample size is big, small effects will also become statistically significant (Cohen & Cohen, 2001). In practice, this means that when the small effects within the group accumulate on society the problems become observable and possibly expensive. The orientation groups were very different in size (ranging from the smallest of N = 145 to N = 459). This unequal size might cause some confounding of the results. However, in this study we assumed that the sizes of the orientation groups were large enough to make the comparisons between the groups. A longitudinal study is needed to investigate the development and forming of the goal orientations. A longitudinal study would also enable the possibility of examining the causality of the subjective well-being and personal projects, and to answer the important question as to whether it is the depression and feeling of inadequacy that leads to the setting up of self-focused goals in order to attain better subjective well-being.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Personal goals and subjective well-being
  4. Aims and hypotheses
  5. Method
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References
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