Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 1 December 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 2778
published: 13 December 2019
University of Turin, Italy
Delta State University, UnitedStates
Rui Alexandre Alves,
University of Porto, Portugal
Michaéla C. Schippers
This article was submitted to
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 26 March 2019
Accepted: 25 November 2019
Published: 13 December 2019
Schippers MC and Ziegler N (2019)
Life Crafting as a Way to Find
Purpose and Meaning in Life.
Front. Psychol. 10:2778.
Life Crafting as a Way to Find
Purpose and Meaning in Life
MichaélaC.Schippers* and NiklasZiegler
Department of Technology and Operations Management, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University,
Having a purpose in life is one of the most fundamental human needs. However, for most
people, nding their purpose in life is not obvious. Modern life has a way of distracting
people from their true goals and many people nd it hard to dene their purpose in life.
Especially at younger ages, people are searching for meaning in life, but this has been
found to beunrelated to actually nding meaning. Oftentimes, people experience pressure
to have a “perfect” life and show the world how well they are doing, instead of following
up on their deep-felt values and passions. Consequently, people may need a more
structured way of nding meaning, e.g., via an intervention. In this paper, wediscuss
evidence-based ways of nding purpose, via a process that wecall “life crafting.” This
process ts within positive psychology and the salutogenesis framework – an approach
focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, instead of factors that cause
disease. This process ideally starts with an intervention that entails a combination of
reecting on one’s values, passions and goals, best possible self, goal attainment plans,
and other positive psychology intervention techniques. Important elements of such an
intervention are: (1) discovering values and passion, (2) reecting on current and desired
competencies and habits, (3) reecting on present and future social life, (4) reecting on a
possible future career, (5) writing about the ideal future, (6) writing down specic goal
attainment and “if-then” plans, and (7) making public commitments to the goals set. Prior
research has shown that personal goal setting and goal attainment plans help people gain
a direction or a sense of purpose in life. Research ndings from the eld of positive
psychology, such as salutogenesis, implementation intentions, value congruence, broaden-
and-build, and goal-setting literature, can help in building a comprehensive evidence-based
life-crafting intervention. This intervention can aid individuals to nd a purpose in life, while
at the same time ensuring that they make concrete plans to work toward this purpose.
The idea is that life crafting enables individuals to take control of their life in order to optimize
performance and happiness.
Keywords: life crafting, meaning in life, scalable life-crafting intervention, Ikigai, goal setting, positive psychology,
well-being and happiness, self-concordance
e best day of your life is the one on which youdecide your life is your own. No apologies
or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. e gi is yours – it is an amazing journey
– and youalone are responsible for the quality of it. is is the day your life really begins.
Schippers and Ziegler Life Crafting/Meaning in Life
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 2 December 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 2778
Whether you love him or hate him, Arnold Schwarzenegger
is an example of a person who has been planning his life
and setting goals throughout. Given that hecame from a small
town in Austria, the chances of him becoming the person
heis today were very slim. Although even his parents thought
that his ideas of becoming a great body builder were outrageous
and his fellow cadets made fun of him when he put in extra
hours of training while he was in the military, holding on to
his vision and dreams paid o in the end (see Schwarzenegger
and Hall, 2012). So even though it was not obvious that
he would achieve the goals he had set for himself, he made
a plan and stuck to his plan to achieve his goals.
Now consider this story: Brian is CEO of a large bank,
and seems by all standards to beliving a fullling live. Although
he is overseeing 1,200 employees, earns a good salary, has a
nice house at the beach, and a wife and kids, he feels very
unhappy with his current life. One day hedecides that hedoes
not want to live this life anymore and quits his job. Hebecomes
a consultant (and his wife divorces him) but still struggles to
nd his passion. As he knows that the job he is doing is not
his passion, he starts exploring what he would like to do.
Unfortunately, having done things for so long that have not
brought him satisfaction, only status and money, he seems to
have trouble connecting to his “inner self.” In his search for
why he has ended up this way, he realizes that he has been
living the life his father had in mind for him. is leads him
to think that, if it had not been for his father, he would
probably have studied psychology instead of management.
ese two, seemingly unrelated anecdotes, tell something
very important: no matter how successful a person is in life,
self-endorsed goals will enhance well-being while the pursuit
of heteronomous goals will not (for a review see Ryan and
Deci, 2001). is is an important statement and key to self-
determination theory (SDT, Ryan and Deci, 2000), a macro-
theory of human motivation, stressing the importance of self-
motivated and self-determined goals to guide behavior for
well-being and happiness. Goal attainment from self-concordant
goals, or goals that fulll basic needs and are aligned with
one’s values and passions, has been related to greater subjective
well-being (Sheldon, 2002), higher vitality (Nix et al., 1999),
higher levels of meaningfulness (McGregor and Little, 1998),
and lower symptoms of depression (Sheldon and Kasser, 1998).
Self-concordant goals satisfy basic psychological needs of
autonomy, competence, and relatedness, key attributes of SDT
(Ryan and Deci, 2001), and have been found to be important
across cultures (see Sheldon et al., 2004). With an increasing
number of young people experiencing mental health problems,
increasing health care costs and an aging society, the interest
in cost-eective behavioral interventions that can improve
mental and physical health is burgeoning (e.g., Oettingen, 2012;
Fulmer et al., 2018; Chan et al., 2019; Wilson et al., 2019;
for reviews see Wilson, 2011; Walton, 2014). Especially promising
is the research on the topic of meaning and purpose in life
(Steger, 2012). People with a purpose in life are less likely to
experience conict when making health-related decisions and
are more likely to self-regulate when making these decisions
and consequently experience better (mental) health outcomes
(Kang etal., 2019). Furthermore, having a purpose in life can
aid in overcoming stress, depression, anxiety, and other
psychological problems (see Kim etal., 2014; Freedland, 2019).
Finally, purpose in life has been related to a decrease in
mortality across all ages (Hill and Turiano, 2014). It thus
appears that many benets may begained by enhancing meaning
and purpose in life. However, even if people realize they are
in need of a purpose, the search for meaning does not
automatically lead to its presence, and people searching for
meaning are no more or less likely to plan for and anticipate
their future (Steger etal., 2008b). is somewhat counterintuitive
nding, showing that among undergraduate students the search
for meaning is even inversely related to presence of meaning,
points to the fact that the strategies people use to nd meaning
may not be very eective (Steger et al., 2008b). Early in life,
the search for meaning is not negatively related to well-being,
but the relationship between search for meaning and well-being
becomes increasingly negative in later life stages (Steger et al.,
2009). is means that even if people search for meaning,
they may not nd it, unless they are prompted to do so in
an evidence-based manner, e.g., via a positive psychology
intervention. Especially adolescents and young adults should
be stimulated to search for meaning in an organized manner
in order to experience higher levels of well-being early in life
so that they can be more likely to have an upward cycle of
positive experiences. An intervention to bring about purpose
in life may bea promising way to achieve this. Recent research
suggests that interventions aimed at enhancing purpose in life
can be particularly eective if they are done early on, during
adolescence and/or as part of the curriculum in schools (Morisano
et al., 2010; Bundick, 2011; Schippers et al., 2015).
ese interventions address an important contemporary
problem, as illustrated by the two anecdotes above, namely
that, many people dri aimlessly through life or keep changing
their goals, running around chasing “happiness” (Donaldson
et al., 2015). Others, as in the example of Brian above, live
the life that their parents or signicant others have in mind
for them (Kahl, 1953). Several authors have indeed noted that
the role of parents in students’ study and career choices has
been under-researched (Jodl et al., 2001; Taylor et al., 2004),
but choosing one’s study and career path according to one’s
own preferences is likely to be more satisfying than living
the life that others have in mind for one. Recently, it has
been noted that especially “socially prescribed” perfectionism
where people try to live up to the standards of other and
also seek their approval is related to burn-out, depression and
a lack of experienced meaning (Suh etal., 2017; Garratt-Reed
et al., 2018; Curran and Hill, 2019). In our society, education
is highly valued, but less emphasis is placed on structured
reection about values, goals, and plans for what people want
in life. Oentimes, education fosters maladaptive forms of
perfectionism, instead of adaptive forms (Suh et al., 2017).
Even if parents and educators do ask children what they want
to become when they grow up, this most important question
is not addressed in a consistent way that helps them to make
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an informed choice (Rojewski, 2005). Parents and educators
tend to look at the children’s competences, rather than what
they want to become and what competences they would need
to develop in order to become that person (Nurra and Oyserman,
2018). Consequently, many people only occupy themselves
with the daily events in their lives, while others try to keep
every aspect of their lives under control and live the life that
others have in mind for them. Some have an idea of what
they want but have not thought about it carefully. Others
may have too many goals, or conicting goals, which is also
detrimental to health and well-being (Kelly etal., 2015). Finally,
parents and others with the best of intentions sometimes have
goals in mind for children to pursue (Williams et al., 2000;
Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2008).
A study by Nurra and Oyserman (2018) showed that children
that were guided to experience connection between their current
and adult future self, worked more and attained better school
grades than children guided to experience low connection.
Importantly, this was moderated to the extent that children
saw school as the path to one’s adult future self. It seems
important that people formulate and think about their (ideal)
future self and that the present and future self are connected,
e.g., by means of a goal-setting intervention. Studies among
students also showed the importance of goal congruence. For
instance, Sheldon and Kasser (1998) found that although students
with stronger social and self-regulatory skills made more progress
in their goals, and goal progress predicted subjective well-being
(SWB), while the increase in well-being depended on the level
of goal-congruence. Similarly, Sheldon and Houser-Marko (2001)
found that entering freshman students with self-concordant
motivation had an upward spiral of goal-attainment, increased
adjustment, self-concordance, higher ego development, and
academic performance aer the rst year. is points to the
importance of making sure people reect on and develop self-
concordant goals (Locke and Schippers, 2018). If people have
not formulated their own goals, there is a chance that they
will lose contact with their core values and passions,” (Seto
and Schlegel, 2018) as was the case in the anecdote of Brian.
It may even feel as if they are living someone else’s life. For
several reasons, it is important that people take matters into
their own hands and reect on and formulate their own goals
in important areas of life (Williams etal., 2000). Indeed, people
may have more inuence on their own life than they think.
Studies have already shown the benecial eects of both job
craing—where employees actively reframe their work physically,
cognitively, and socially (e.g., Wrzesniewski and Dutton, 2001;
Demerouti, 2014; Vogt et al., 2016; Wessels et al., 2019)—and
leisure craing (Petrou and Bakker, 2016; Vogel et al., 2016;
Petrou etal., 2017). A recent study by Demerouti etal. (2019)
suggested that the benecial implications of job craing transcend
life boundaries, which the authors state have also consequences
in terms of experiencing meaning in life.
Building on the above, wesuggest that the conscious process
of “life craing” could besimilarly benecial in helping people
to nd fulllment and happiness (see Berg etal., 2010; Schippers,
2017). Importantly, life craing is related to the most important
areas of life, and thus allows for a more holistic approach in
terms of shaping one’s life. We formally dene life craing
as: a process in which people actively reect on their present
and future life, set goals for important areas of life—social,
career, and leisure time—and, if required, make concrete plans
and undertake actions to change these areas in a way that is
more congruent with their values and wishes.
e process of life craing ts with positive psychology and
specically the salutogenesis framework, which states that the
extent to which people view their life as having positive inuence
on their health, explains why people in stressful situations stay
well and may even be able to improve adaptive coping
(Antonovsky, 1996). Salutogenesis focuses on factors that can
support health, well-being, and happiness, as opposed to factors
that cause disease (pathogenesis). e salutogenetic model with
its’ central element “sense of coherence” is concerned with
relationships around health, stress, and coping (Johnson, 2004).
In his approach, Antonovsky views health and illness as a
continuum, rather than a dichotomy (Langeland et al., 2007).
Importantly, the framework assumes that people have resources
available (biological, material, and psychosocial) that enable
them to construct coherent life experiences (Mittelmark et al.,
2017). e idea of salutogenesis is also closely tied to the
literature on human ourishing that states that health dened
as the absence of illness or disease does not do justice to what
it means to be well and thriving (Ry and Singer, 2000).
Broaden-and-build theory can be used to make sense of how
this may work out in practice: if people imagine a better future,
they will be on the lookout for resources, because they have
developed a more positive and optimistic mindset (Fredrickson,
2001; Meevissen et al., 2011). Over time, this broader mindset
helps them to acquire more skills and resources and this may
in turn lead to better health, happiness, and performance
(Garland et al., 2010). When people have a purpose in life
and are more balanced, this may have positive ripple eects
on the people around them (Barsade, 2002; Quinn, 2005; Quinn
and Quinn, 2009). Recent research suggests that health benets
of having stronger purpose in life are attributable to focused
attention to and engagement in healthier behaviors (Kang etal.,
2019). Indeed, stronger purpose in life is associated with greater
likelihood of using preventative health services and better health
outcomes (Kim etal., 2014). Importantly, the process through
which purpose leads to health outcomes seems to bethat people
with a purpose in life are better able to respond positively to
health messages. ey showed reduced conict-related neural
activity during health decision-making relevant to longer-term
lifestyle changes. us, having a purpose in life makes it easier
for people to self-regulate (Kang et al., 2019). ese results
are very promising, as it seems that having a purpose in life
can have both mental and physical health benets, and behavioral
interventions to increase purpose in life have been shown to
be very cost-eective (e.g., Wilson et al., 2019). Importantly,
purpose in life by writing about personal goals has been
associated with improved academic performance (Morisano
et al., 2010; Schippers et al., 2015, 2019; Travers et al., 2015;
Schippers, 2017; Locke and Schippers, 2018).
Even so, thinking about how to attain a purpose in life
via a process of life craing can raise many questions. ese
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include: what is the best way to set personal, self-congruent
goals and start the process of life craing? How does it work?
Does the type of goal matter? Does the act of writing the
goals down make a dierence? Does it increase resourcefulness,
self-ecacy, and self-regulation?
Research suggests that reecting on and writing down
personal goals is especially important in helping people to
nd purpose and live a fullling life (King and Pennebaker,
1996; King, 2001), and that in general writing sessions longer
than 15 min have larger eects (Frattaroli, 2006). Indeed, the
research on writing about life goals has been noted by Edwin
Locke as a very important future development of goal-setting
theory (Locke, 2019). Recent research shows that goals need
not be specic, as long as plans are, and that writing about
life goals and plans in a structured way is especially eective
(Locke and Schippers, 2018; for a review see Morisano etal.,
2010; Morisano, 2013; Schippers et al., 2015; Travers et al.,
2015). As goal-relevant actions may beencouraged by embodied
cognition, and embodied cognition has been related to (dynamic)
self-regulation, this may bethe process through which written
goals lead to action (see Balcetis and Cole, 2009). Specically,
through the link between cognition and behavior, it can beseen
as benecial to write down intended actions as this will lay
the path to act out the intended actions. e processing of
the language facilitates the actions, as it consolidates the imagined
actions (Addis et al., 2007; Balcetis and Cole, 2009; Peters
et al., 2010; Meevissen et al., 2011). It has been suggested
that goal-relevant actions may be encouraged by embodied
cognition, through the process of self-regulation (Balcetis and
Cole, 2009). Writing about actions one wants to take and very
detailed experience in how it would feel to reach those goals,
may make it much more likely for people to subtly change
their behavior and actions into goal-relevant ones (e.g., looking
for opportunities to reach ones goal, thinking more clearly if
one wants to spend time on certain activities or not, etc.).
Also, the writing can make sure that people realize the gap
between actual and desired states regarding goals, and act as
a starting point for self-regulatory actions (see King and
Pennebaker, 1996). According to Karoly (1993, p. 25), “e
processes of self-regulation are initiated when routinized activity
is impeded or when goal-directedness is otherwise made salient
(e.g., the appearance of a challenge, the failure of habitual
action patterns, etc.). Self-regulation may be said to encompass
up to ve interrelated and iterative component phases of (1)
goal selection, (2) goal cognition, (3) directional maintenance,
(4) directional change or reprioritization, and (5) goal
termination.” We believe that the process of writing about
self-concordant goals makes (1) the necessity of goal-directed
action salient, (2) starts a process of embodied cognition and
dynamic self-regulation, and (3) starts an upward spiral of
goal-congruence, goal attainment, and (academic) performance.
Dynamic self-regulation is needed in the context of multiple
goal pursuits where people manage competing demands on
time and resources (Iran-Nejad and Chissom, 1992; Neal etal.,
2017). In short, although goals are an important part of any
intervention involving life craing, the intervention and its
eects are much broader. Such an intervention may be especially
benecial for college students, as it has been shown that students
have lower goal-autonomy than their parents and parents
reported higher levels of positive aect, lower levels of negative
aect, as well as greater life-satisfaction (Sheldon et al., 2006).
In the interventions to date, which have been mainly conducted
with students, individuals write about their envisioned future
life and describe how they think they can achieve this life,
including their plans for how to overcome obstacles and monitor
their goals (i.e., goal attainment plans or GAP; e.g., Schippers
et al., 2015). Both goal setting and goal attainment plans have
been shown to help people gain a direction or a sense of
purpose in life. Research in the area of positive psychology
explains that people with a purpose in life live longer, have
a better immune system, and perform better, even when one
controls for things such as lifestyle, personality, and other
factors relating to longevity (for a review see Schippers, 2017).
At the same time, it has been suggested that relatively small
interventions can have a huge impact on people’s lives (Walton,
2014). Writing about values, passion, and goals is an example
of such an intervention, and we claim that having a purpose
in life is fundamental and has ripple eects to all areas of
life, including health, longevity, self-regulation, engagement,
happiness, and performance (Schippers, 2017).
In order to provide a stronger theoretical foundation for
this claim, wewill describe the development of a comprehensive
evidence-based life-craing intervention that can help people
nd a purpose in life. e intervention shows very specic
actions people can take to fulll that meaning. We start by
assessing existing interventions aimed at setting personal
goals and will explore the theoretical and evidence-based
foundation for those interventions. Aer that, we describe
what a life-craing intervention should ideally look like.
We end with various recommendations for to how to ensure
that many people can prot from this intervention (see also
Schippers et al., 2015).
IKIGAI, MEANING IN LIFE, AND LIFE
e meaning of life used to bean elusive concept for scientists,
but in the last couple of years much progress has been made
in this area. According to Buettner and Skemp (2016), ikigai—a
Japanese term for purpose in life—was one of the reasons
why people in certain areas of the world, known as “longevity
hotspots,” had such long lives (see also Buettner, 2017). As
our medical knowledge of longevity is increasing (e.g., Oeppen
and Vaupel, 2002; Menec, 2003; Kontis et al., 2017), so too
is our understanding of the associated psychological factors.
ese days, we have more knowledge of how people can live
a meaningful life. Research has shown that ikigai, or purpose
in life is related to increases in health and longevity across
cultures, sexes, and age groups (Sone et al., 2008; Boyle etal.,
2009). is relationship has been found even when things
such as lifestyle, positive relationships with others, and general
aect were controlled for in the analyses (Hill and Turiano,
2014). Note that, although a purpose in life sounds rather
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unclear or undenable, people can derive a purpose in life
from many dierent activities. It has been found that these
activities can range from volunteering to giving social support
to the elderly or even taking care of pets, and all of these
have been shown to be related to an increase in happiness,
better health outcomes, and greater longevity (for a review
see McKnight and Kashdan, 2009). Indeed, in a study of 43,391
Japanese adults, it was found that, over a seven-year follow-up
period, mortality was lower among those subjects who indicated
that they had found a sense of ikigai or purpose in life (see
also Sone etal., 2008; Schippers, 2017). Research among Japanese
students has shown that enjoyable and eortful leisure pursuits
can enhance student’s perception of ikigai. Ikigai was dened
by the authors as “the subjective perceptions that one’s daily
life is worth living and that it is full of energy and motivation”
(Kono et al., 2019). ey also found that leisure activity
participation, general satisfaction with leisure activities, and
the positive evaluation of leisure experiences were related to
higher perception of ikigai (Kono, 2018; Kono and Walker,
2019). (Martela and Steger, 2016) suggested that meaning in
life has three components: coherence, purpose, and signicance.
ey state that “meaning in life necessarily involves (1) people
feeling that their lives matter, (2) making sense of their lives,
and (3) determining a broader purpose for their lives” (Martela
and Steger, 2016). Also, Heintzelman et al. (2013) note that
there are numerous positive physical and mental outcomes
associated with self-reported meaning in life, such as health,
occupational adjustment, adaptive coping, lower incidence of
psychological disorders, slower age-related cognitive decline,
and decreased mortality. Both the theory of ikigai and
salutogenesis stress the coherence and purpose part, and other
researchers have also picked up on these important elements
(e.g., Urry et al., 2004; Martela and Steger, 2016). A review
by Martela and Steger (2016) distinguished coherence, purpose,
and signicance as dening elements of meaning in life. Relatedly,
theorizing around ikigai has shown that a sense of coherence
develops around three distinct mechanisms, (1) valued
experiences, (2) authentic relationships, and (3) directionality
Practically, the importance of happiness to cultures and
nations across the world has been indicated clearly by the
value placed on it by the United Nations (UN). In 2012, UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commissioned the rst World
Happiness Report, ranking countries according to people’s level
of happiness. e UN’s 2016 Sustainable Development Goals
Report included the goal of ensuring sustainable social and
economic progress worldwide. In the UN’s 2017 happiness
report, “eudaimonia,” a sense of meaning or purpose in life
similar to ikigai, is mentioned as an important factor. is is
based on research showing the importance of eudaimonic well-
being. Indeed a review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic
well-being concluded that autonomy and the integration of
goals are important predictors of vitality and health (Ryan
and Deci, 2001; Huppert et al., 2004) see also (Ry, 2014).
Self-determination theory, a macro theory of human motivation
and personality, proposes that only self-endorsed goals will
enhance well-being (Ryan and Deci, 2000). is pattern of
ndings is congruent with the examples we started with (i.e.,
the self-endorsed goals of Schwarzenegger and the heteronomous
goals of Brian) and has also been supported in cross-cultural
research, showing that the autonomy of goal pursuit matters
in collectivistic and individualistic cultures, and for males and
females (Hayamizu, 1997; Vallerand et al., 1997; Chirkov and
Ryan, 2001; Ryan and Deci, 2001). As Ryan and Deci (2001,
p. 161) conclude: “It is clear that, as individuals pursue aims
they nd satisfying or pleasurable, they may create conditions
that make more formidable the attainment of well-being by
others. An important issue, therefore, concerns the extent to
which factors that foster individual well-being can bealigned
or made congruent with factors that facilitate wellness at
collective or global levels.”
e above shows that nding a purpose in life can have
far-reaching consequences for individual happiness and
performance but also for the well-being and happiness of people
around them (Ryan and Deci, 2001). However, nding a purpose
in life oen requires a lengthy search, and some people never
manage to nd purpose in life (Schippers, 2017). e
developments in terms of ensuring people nd their true passion
and at the same time help make the world a better place
coincide with exciting developments in the area of social
psychology. Positive psychology, or the scientic study of human
ourishing that aims to optimize human functioning within
communities and organizations, has become very inuential
both within and outside the scientic community (Gable and
Haidt, 2005; Donaldson etal., 2015; Al Taher, 2019). It should
be noted, however, that this area of study has also faced some
criticism, as positive psychology behaviors such as forgiveness
may not befunctional in all contexts and circumstances (McNulty
and Fincham, 2012). Nevertheless, several studies have shown
that human ourishing is related to mental and physical health
(e.g., Park et al., 2016), and reviews and meta-analyses have
shown that positive psychology interventions work in terms
of improving well-being and (academic) performance (Sin and
Lyubomirsky, 2009; Durlak etal., 2011; Mongrain and Anselmo-
Matthews, 2012; Waters, 2012). us, making sure that people
receive positive psychology interventions, especially those relating
to purpose in life, seems a viable and inexpensive way to help
millions of people to have a better and healthier life (Menec,
2003; Seligman et al., 2005). Personal goal setting and life
craing seem the best way forward in this respect.
VALUES, PASSION, AND PERSONAL
Life choices can beseen as crucial turning points in someone’s
existence. Yet, most people nd it dicult to make such
important decisions. In particular, young adults struggle with
the important life decisions they are expected to make as they
move into early adulthood (Sloan, 2018). Recent research has
shown that people with a purpose in life are less likely to
experience regulatory issues during health decision-making and
nd it easier to make positive health-related lifestyle decisions
(Kang etal., 2019), and it may beespecially important to nd
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a purpose in life for young adults (Schippers, 2017). Without
such a purpose in life, a lot of time and energy is oen
“fretted away” on social media and on “busyness,” for instance
(Bruch and Ghoshal, 2002, 2004; for a review see Schippers
and Hogenes, 2011). At the same time, many people complain
of having a lack of time, and it seems that it is more and
more important to make conscious decisions on what to spend
time on (Menzies, 2005). Life craing using a personal goal
setting intervention seems an important prerequisite in making
these decisions. While in the past goal-setting theory has always
stressed the importance of specic measurable goals (Locke
and Latham, 2002), the act of writing about personal goals
seems to be eective by dening very broad goals and linking
these to specic goal-attainment plans. Research on the act
of writing about personal goals started with Pennebaker’s
research on traumatic writing (Pennebaker, 1997; Pennebaker
and Chung, 2011). It was shown that writing about traumatic
events was related to a decrease in depression and an increase
in mental health (Gortner etal., 2006; Pennebaker and Chung,
2011). King (2001) suggested that future-oriented writing about
one’s “best possible self ” has a similar positive eect on an
individual’s well-being, without the short-lived negative eect
on mood that occurred aer writing about traumatic events.
Indeed, it has been shown that imagining one’s best possible
self increases optimism and lowers depression (for a meta-
analysis see Peters et al., 2010; Malou and Schutte, 2017).
Oyserman et al. (2006) found that a brief intervention that
connected the positive “academic possible selves” of low-income
minority high-school students with specic goal-attainment
strategies improved their grades, standardized test scores,
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who
had survived the holocaust, used his experience to formulate
a theory on the meaning of life. He concluded that life can
have meaning even in the most impoverished circumstances
(Frankl, 1985, 2014). is is interesting, since this also means
that good conditions are not an absolute prerequisite for
formulating a goal in life. In contrast, it seems that having a
goal in life can make people more resilient in terms of surviving
harsh conditions. Wong (2014) described the logotherapy
developed by Frankl as consisting of ve testable hypotheses,
including the self-transcendence hypothesis, the ultimate meaning
hypothesis, and the meaning mindset hypothesis. ese predict
among other things that belief in the intrinsic meaning and
value of life, regardless of circumstances contributes to well-
being, and that a “meaning mindset,” as compared to a “success
mindset,” leads to greater eudaimonic happiness and resilience
(Wong, 2014). While this is important in terms of knowing
what works for well-being and happiness, when people do not
have a clear sense of purpose in life or know what they value
in life and why, writing down their thoughts and formulating
a strategy for their life is important. at does not have to
be a lengthy process, but spending a few hours every couple
of years might beenough (and is more than most people do).
People who keep searching for meaning without nding it,
or who have conicting goals, are oen dissatised with themselves
and their relationships (Steger et al., 2009). It is quite natural
that in earlier stages of their life, people are oen still searching
for a sense of purpose or meaning in life. However, as stated
before, later in life the search for meaning is related to lower
levels of well-being (Steger etal., 2009). ere is some evidence
that having a sense of purpose is associated with organized
goal structures and pursuit of goals and provides centrality in
a person’s identity (Emmons, 1999; McKnight and Kashdan,
2009). It is thus important that people start thinking about
their purpose in life as early as possible and repeat this process
at all stages of life when they feel they should readdress their
goals, such as when going to college, starting a new job, etc.
Warding Off Anxiety and Having a Fullling
Life—Two Side of the Same Coin?
Another line of research has focused on the role of purpose
as a protective mechanism against various types of psychological
threat, such as mortality salience, or the awareness of an
individual that death is inevitable, causing existential anxiety
(for a meta-analysis see Burke etal., 2010). ese are anxiety-
provoking experiences and are common for most people. Ways
of coping include having a purpose in life and striving for
and accomplishing goals as well as strengthening close
relationships (Pyszczynski et al., 2004; Hart, 2014). In line
with this, research in the area of terror management has shown
that self-esteem as well as a worldview that renders existence
meaningful, coherent and permanent buers against existential
anxiety resulting from mortality salience (Burke et al., 2010;
Pyszczynski et al., 2015). Indeed, death reection, a cognitive
state in which people put their life in context and contemplate
about meaning and purpose, as well as review how others
will perceive them aer they have passed (Cozzolino et al.,
2004), has been proposed as an important prerequisite for
prosocial motivation sometimes inuencing career decisions
(Grant and Wade-Benzoni, 2009). Reducing anxiety and living
a fullling and meaningful life are two sides of the same coin,
since having a purpose in life gives people the idea that their
life will continue to have meaning, even aer their death (Ryan
and Deci, 2004; McKnight and Kashdan, 2009).
The Science of Wise Interventions
Starting with the work of Kurt Lewin (e.g., Lewin, 1938), and
aer decades of research and testing, we now have a much
better sense of what works and what does not in terms of
psychological interventions. Most of these interventions aim to
change behavior and improve people’s lives. In general, these
work by changing people’s outlook on life: by giving them a
sense of purpose. is is the basis of most interventions that
also deal with coping with stressors and life transitions, for
instance. Goal setting with the aim of formulating a purpose
in life is one of the psychology’s most powerful interventions,
and it has been shown that even a short and seemingly simple
intervention can have profound eects (Wilson, 2011; Walton,
2014). In his review, Walton (2014) describes the “new science
of wise interventions”: precise interventions aimed at altering
specic psychological processes that contribute to major social
problems or prevent people from ourishing. ese “wise”
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interventions are capable of producing signicant benets and
do so over time (Walton, 2014). ese interventions are
“psychologically precise, oen brief, and oen aim to alter self-
reinforcing processes that unfold over time and, thus, to improve
people’s outcomes in diverse circumstances and long into the
future” (Walton, 2014, p. 74). Writing down personal goals in
a guided writing exercise seems to constitute such an intervention.
How and Why Does It Work?
Narrative writing has been shown to help people in transition
phases cope with life stressors (Pennebaker etal., 1990). Students
writing about their thoughts and feelings about entering college
showed better health outcomes and improved their grades more
signicantly than students in a control condition. Also, the
experimental group had less home-sickness and anxiety 2–3
months aer the writing exercise.
Locke (2019) notes that “…writing about goals in an academic
setting for two hours or more would connect with grade goals
by implication even if the students did not mention them.
e writing process would presumably have motivated them
to generalize, to think about what they wanted to achieve in
many aspects of their lives and encouraged commitment to
purposeful action in more domains than were mentioned”
(p.3). On the same page, healso states that “e above issues
could occupy interested researchers for many years.”
Broaden-and-build theory suggests that thinking about an
idealized future will beassociated with positive thoughts about
this future, leading to increased levels of self-regulation, resilience,
self-ecacy, and in turn engagement (e.g., Tugade et al., 2004;
Tugade and Fredrickson, 2004; Ceja and Navarro, 2009; Fay
and Sonnentag, 2012). Self-regulation is dened as “self-generated
thoughts, feelings, and actions that are planned and cyclically
related to the attainment of personal goals” (Boekaerts et al.,
2005, p.14). Many authors contend that goal setting enhances
self-regulation and agree that this is the mechanism by which
goals are related to action (Latham and Locke, 1991; Oettingen
et al., 2000; Hoyle and Sherrill, 2006).
Next to this, the intervention itself may be a form of
embodied writing, an act of embodiment, entwining in words
our senses with the senses of the world (Anderson, 2001),
stimulating what has been written down to act out in real
life. However, theorizing around embodied writing and the
act of writing as a form of embodied cognition is still in an
embryonic stage. Especially research around the eect on writing
on our daily actions is lacking in evidence. ere is plenty
of evidence that these small, written interventions have an
eect and can even play a role in redirecting people (e.g.,
Wilson, 2011) and that these interventions can have a powerful
eects in terms of behavioral change (Yeager and Walton, 2011;
Walton, 2014). At the same time, it should be noted that these
psychological interventions are powerful but context-dependent
tools that should not beseen as quick xes (Yeager and Walton,
2011). However, in the intervention described in the current
paper, people are asked to think about their deepest feelings
and motivations and write them down, and embodied cognition
may very well play a role in the upward spiral resulting from
such an intervention.
An important discussion in the literature is whether having a
self-serving purpose (hedonistic, focused on attainment of pleasure
and avoidance of pain) or one that is oriented toward helping
others (eudaimonic, focused on meaning and self-realization)
is more benecial for happiness (Ryan and Deci, 2001; Keyes
et al., 2002). Hedonistic and eudaimonic well-being seem to
represent two dierent kinds of happiness (Kashdan et al.,
2008). Although recent research has conrmed that both are
related to well-being (Henderson etal., 2013), it is also conceivable
that a purely hedonistic lifestyle may beunrelated to psychological
well-being in the long run (see Huppert etal., 2004; Anić and
Tončić, 2013; Baumeister et al., 2013). According to Schippers
(2017, p. 21), “prior research has shown that altruistic goals
may be particularly helpful in terms of optimizing happiness.
Studies on ‘random acts of kindness’—seless acts to help or
cheer up other people—have shown that these acts strengthen
the well-being at least of the person performing that act (Otake
et al., 2006; Nelson et al., 2016).” Other research has shown
that helping others is better for one’s well-being than giving
oneself treats (Nelson et al., 2016). A study by (Steger et al.,
2008a) suggested that “doing good” may bean important avenue
by which people create meaningful and satisfying lives. Also,
it has been found that pursuing happiness through social
engagement is related to higher well-being (Ford et al., 2015).
TOWARD AN INTEGRATED LIFE-
e elements discussed above provide the context for developing
a potentially eective life-craing intervention. Although most
agree that describing an ideal vision of the future would be a
key element of such an intervention, below we identify other
elements that should be included, whether the intervention is
designed to improve well-being, happiness, performance, or all
of these. According to McKnight and Kashdan (2009), “the
creation of goals consistent with one’s purpose may be critical
to dierentiating between real purpose and illusory purpose”
(p. 249). Recent research also showed that it is better to have
no calling than an unfullled calling (see Berg et al., 2010;
Gazica and Spector, 2015), making it also a boundary condition
that people follow through on this. e importance of following
through was shown in a 15-week study aimed at nding out
whether engaging in trait-typical behaviors predicted trait change
(Hudson etal., 2018). In this study, students provided self-report
ratings of their personality and were required to complete weekly
“challenges”—prewritten behavioral goals (e.g., “Before you go
to bed, reect on a positive social experience you had during
the day and what you liked about it”). ese challenges were
aimed at aligning their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with
their desired traits (in case of the example this was extraversion).
Importantly, results indicated that the mere acceptance of challenges
was unrelated to trait changes. Only actually completing the
challenges and performing these behaviors predicted trait change
(Hudson etal., 2018). is may also hold true for the intervention
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described below and may be an important boundary condition.
Although wehave not found any negative eects of the intervention
so far, theoretically it is possible that students formulate an
“unanswered calling” which may impact happiness, well-being,
and performance negatively. So far, only one study did not nd
the positive eects of a goal-setting intervention on academic
outcomes (Dobronyi et al., 2019). is might indicate that for
some groups (in this case economy students) the (brief) intervention
is not eective in bringing about behavioral change and increasing
academic achievement. Other studies showed a positive eect
among management students (Schippers et al., 2015) and self-
nominated struggling students (Morisano et al., 2010).
Below we provide broad outlines of one such evidence-
based intervention, having rst set out in brief the case for
this particular intervention. Aligning itself to the UN’s
sustainable development goals (SDGs), which relate to economic
growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection
(Staord-Smith etal., 2017), Rotterdam School of Management
(RSM) changed its mission to being a force for positive
change in the world (Rood, 2019). As RSM is educating
future leaders, in 2011, it introduced a goal-setting intervention
so that rst-year students could reect on their personal
goals and values. is is a three-stage intervention. In the
rst part, students write about their values and wishes as
well as their ideal life and the life they wish to avoid, and
in the second, they describe their specic goals and goal
plans. e third part involves a photoshoot with a professional
photographer, where students formulate a statement starting
with “I WILL…,” (e.g., I WILL pursue my goal, I WILL
inspire and facilitate sustainable development, IWILL create
healthier businesses for a healthier world, and IWILL lead
by example and inspire others to reach their goals).1 is
A student, participating in the intervention, described its eect on him as
follows (see also Singeling, 2017).
“I studied, or at least I attempted to study, a lot of dierent things before Icame
here. But usually I stopped halfway through. And then I ended up here and
I liked the courses well enough, but once again it was completely unplanned.
I came here because, well, it was expected of me to nish some kind of
When Igot here, and all the “I WILL” stu [life craing/goal setting] happened,
I thought it was a complete and utter joke. I thought: who needs this kind of
stu? Between the second and the third [trimester], so towards the end of the
second really, I started to realize that: you know those silly goals I put down?
I’m actually close to completing some of those. at got me inspired to apply
for the position of mentor for the BA business skills course. And in the third
year, for my minor, I took a teaching class. A few of my students who started
o basically slacking through everything, they are taking their assignments more
seriously. Instead of doing everything the evening beforehand, they are dedicating
a week beforehand. It’s tiny steps, but they are tiny steps that would not have
happened without the goal setting.
Quite simply, I’m proud of the things that Ihave been doing, such as teaching,
and I’m proud that it came through goal setting. It’s why in the end I have
changed my I WILL statement: “I will help the next generation to bebetter.”
From this extract, it can be seen that the intervention seemed to inspire the
student to be clearer about his goals, to dedicate time to them, and also to
use them to help other students. Furthermore, it serves to illustrate the concept
of an upward spiral (Sheldon and Houser-Marko, 2001; Sekerka et al., 2012),
where trough tiny steps (starting to study for an exam earlier) goals are attained.
statement and the photo are then put on social media and
displayed throughout the school.
e evidence-based goal-setting intervention has had a
positive eect on study success, as has been shown by higher
academic achievement and decreased dropout rates (Locke
et al., 2014; Locke and Schippers, 2018). is was particularly
true for ethnic minority and male students, who had
underperformed in previous years (Schippers et al., 2015; for
an elaborate description of the intervention see the supplementary
material). In the meantime, plans have been made to make
sure that the intervention is an integral part of the curriculum,
so that students will develop skills for self-management and
management of others and will consider what impact they
can have on the world.
Elements of the Life-Crafting Intervention
Although developed for students, this intervention could also
be useful for people who wish to discover a meaning in life
and write down their goals. In the rst part of this intervention,
people discover what is important to them in all areas of life
and write about what they feel passionate about. While this
part is aimed at making sure they discover their values and
passions, the second part is designed to enable them to put
those values and passions into a number of goals and to ensure
they formulate plans and back-up plans for achieving those
goals (Schippers et al., 2015). In terms of the intervention in
this paper, the practical questions that address these issues
are shown in section 3 of Tab l e 1 .
Discovering Values and Passion
Discovering one’s passion has two sides: Doing what you“like”
is oen said to be important, but it seems that discovering
what yound “important” is more helpful in igniting passion,
as this is more values-based and will contribute to self-
concordance (Sheldon and Houser-Marko, 2001; Ry and Singer,
2008). Recent research (e.g., Jachimowicz et al., 2017) has
shown that it is important that people pursue a career that
is in line with what they nd to be “important,” rather than
engaging in activities that they “like”; it found that those who
engaged in activities that they liked (feelings-oriented mindset)
exhibited less passion than those who engaged in activities
that they thought were important (values-oriented mindset).
us, while it is important that people discover what they
feel passionate about, ideally this passion should also bealigned
with values that they hold dear, such as collaboration, equality,
and honesty (Sheldon, 2002).
ere is, however, also a dierence between harmonious and
obsessive passion (for a meta-analysis, see Vallerand et al., 2003;
Curran et al., 2015). People with an obsessive work passion
experience more conict between work and other areas of life,
and work is more related to their self-worth (Vallerand et al.,
2003). Harmonious passion was shown to be related to positive
outcomes such as ow and enhanced performance, whereas
obsessive passion was related more to negative outcomes, such
as excessive rumination and decreased vitality (Curran et al.,
2015). Discovering a (harmonious) passion is not always easy.
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In a life-craing intervention, questions on this area could
be similar to those listed in section 1 of Ta b l e 1 , involving
also life style choices. In particular, choosing a lifestyle that
involves physical activity seems to be a powerful way not only
to increase self-regulation and self-control (for a review see
Baumeister et al., 2006; Oaten and Cheng, 2006), but also to
prevent mental illness, foster positive emotions, buer individuals
against the stresses of life, and help people thrive when they
have experienced adversity (Faulkner et al., 2015, p. 207).
Gap Between Current Versus Future State:
Current and Desired Competencies and Habits
In order to achieve a match between values and passion, it
is important to become aware of one’s current habits and
competencies as a rst step in changing/adapting (cf., Schippers
et al., 2014). Being aware of the habits you would like to
change is important in promoting positive behavioral change
(Holland et al., 2006; Graybiel and Smith, 2014). Since most
of our daily behavior is habitual, and this is usually functional
in that it allows us to perform many tasks with minimum
cognitive eort, but this same mechanism also makes habits
hard to break (Jager, 2003). Being aware of our habits and
reecting on them can bea rst step in breaking them (Schippers
and Hogenes, 2011; Schippers et al., 2014); implementation
intentions (i.e., if-then plans: “If situation Y is encountered,
then I will initiate goal-directed behavior X!”) have also been
shown to help in breaking old habits and forming new ones
(Holland et al., 2006). Many people have habits they would
like to change (relating, for example, to eating behaviors, physical
health, or substance use). However, it has been shown that
the eect of good intentions such as New Year’s resolutions
is very minimal (Marlatt and Kaplan, 1972; Pope et al., 2014)
and that it is the extent to which people have self-concordant
goals, coupled with implementation intentions, that leads to
successful changes in behavior (Mischel, 1996; Koestner et al.,
2002). Self-concordant goals are personal goals that are pursued
out of intrinsic interest and are also congruent with people’s
identity. Research has shown that if people pursue goals because
they align with their own values and interests, rather than
because others urge them to pursue them, they typically exhibit
greater well-being (Sheldon and Houser-Marko, 2001). is
was shown to be true across many cultures (Sheldon et al.,
2004). In a life-craing intervention, questions on this area
could be similar to those listed in section 2 of Ta b l e 1 .
Present and Future Social Life
Research shows that people with a strong social network live
longer and are healthier and happier (Demir et al., 2015;
Haslam et al., 2016). is network does not necessarily have
to be very big, and it seems that, as one grows older, the
quality of the relationships in this network becomes more
important than the quantity (Carmichael et al., 2015). Recent
research places more emphasis on the quality of relationships,
specically showing that quality in terms of the social and
emotional dimensions of relationships is related to mental
well-being (Hyland et al., 2019). e quality of the network
has also been shown to behelpful during a transition to college
(Pittman and Richmond, 2008). Although at rst sight it may
seem odd to think about what kind of acquaintances and
friends one would like to have, it may pay o to think about
this carefully. Certain kinds of relationships, so called high-
maintenance relationships, require a lot of time and energy
(Schippers and Hogenes, 2011; Fedigan, 2017) and oen are
characterized by negative interactions that can even inuence
self-regulation (Finkel et al., 2006). It seems important that
in general people seek out interaction with others who are
supportive and from which they receive energy rather than
those that cost energy. In a life-craing intervention, questions
on this area could be similar to those listed in section 3 of
Ta b l e 1 . Practical questions in the intervention in this respect
could be: think about your current friends and acquaintances.
What kind of relationships energize you? What kind of
relationships require energy? Why is that? What kind of friends
and acquaintances do you need? What kind of friends and
acquaintances would you like to have in the future? What
does your ideal family life and broader social life look like?
Future Life: Career
Work is an important part of life. For many it is important
to have a job that suits them, and a job which they feel
TABLE1 | Elements and description of a life-crafting intervention.
Elements Tasks involved
1. Values and passion Writing about:
(1) What they like to do, (2) what kind of
relationships they would like to have,
both in their private life and their work
life, (3) what kind of career they would
like to have, and (4) lifestyle choices
2. Current and desired competencies
(1) Qualities they admire in others, (2)
competencies they have or would like
to acquire, and (3) their own habits they
like or dislike
3. Present and future social life (1) Relationship that energize and de-
energize them, (2) kinds of friends and
acquaintances that are good for them,
(3) kinds of friends and acquaintances
they would like to have in the future,
and (4) what their ideal family life and
broader social life would look like
4. Possible future career (path) (1) What is important in a job, (2) what is
it they like to do, (3) what kind of
colleagues do they want, and (4) whom
do they want to meet through their work?
5. Ideal versus less ideal future Best possible self and future when
there are no (self-imposed) constraints.
Contrast this with “future if no changes
6. Goal attainment and “if-then” plans (1) Formulating, strategizing, and
prioritizing goals, (2) identifying and
describing ways to overcome
obstacles, and (3) monitoring progress
7. Public commitment to goal Photo with statement, which
communicates their goals to the world;
communicating goals to friends, co-
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passionate about and from which they can get energy (see
Werner et al., 2016; Downes et al., 2017). However, research
on mental illness prevails the literature in occupational health
psychology, despite a call for a shi toward more research
into positive psychology as antipode for work-related health
problems such as job burnout. Especially in times where
employees are required to be proactive and responsible for
their own professional development, and to commit to high
quality performance standards, it is important to think about
activities that energize people and make them feel engaged
with their work (Bakker et al., 2008; Schippers and Hogenes,
2011). Relatedly, research on job craing shows that people
can actively enhance the personal meaning of their work and
make it more enjoyable by changing cognitive, task, or relational
aspects to shape interactions and relationships with others at
work (Wrzesniewski and Dutton, 2001). Consequently, it is
not always the job itself but the meaning you give to it that
is important (Demerouti et al., 2015). It is also important to
think about when and where you do each particular task, in
order to manage your daily energy (Wessels et al., 2019).
It should be noted, however, that it is also important to
see work in relation to other areas of life. Christensen (2010)
noted that many of his contemporaries ended up working
70-h working weeks and also were oen divorced and estranged
from their children over time. ey could not imagine that
this end result was a deliberate choice, so it seems important
to choose the kind of person you want to become not only
in your career but also in other areas of life (Christensen,
2010). is also means making strategic decisions about how
to allocate your time and energy, instead of letting daily hassles
make these decisions for you (Christensen, 2017). In a life-
craing intervention, participants could beasked to think about
what they would ideally like to do in their job, and what
kinds of people they might be working with, either directly
or indirectly. ey could be asked to reect on their education
and their career, and to consider what they feel to beimportant
in a job and what their ideal colleagues would be like. e
questions would thus be similar in nature to those shown in
section 4 of Ta b l e 1 .
Of course, some people choose a job that they do not
necessarily like a lot but then make sure their leisure time is
lled with meaningful activities (Berg et al., 2010), and leisure
craing has been shown to make up to a certain extent for
having few opportunities for job craing. So weighing up the
balance between work life and leisure activities and making
conscious decisions in this respect seems very important.
Key Element: Ideal Future Versus Future If
You Do Not Take Action
As people are able to think about and fantasize a future
(Oettingen et al., 2018), it is key that the future they envisage
is one that is attractive to them. Likewise it is vital they
formulate plans of how to achieve their desired future
(implementation intentions) and contrast this in their minds
with an undesired future (Oettingen and Gollwitzer, 2010;
Oettingen et al., 2013). In a university context, and more
generally in order to stay engaged, it is important that people
choose goals that are self-concordant. It has been shown that
if people formulate such goals implicitly by visualizing their
best possible self, this can bevery powerful and has a stronger
eect on well-being than exercises such as gratitude letters
(Sheldon and Lyubomirsky, 2006). Other research has shown
that writing about the best possible self in three domains—
personal, relational, and professional—leads to increased
optimism (Meevissen et al., 2011). A meta-analysis showed
that best possible self was a particularly powerful intervention
in terms of enhancing optimism (Malou and Schutte, 2017).
If this optimism is also turned into concrete plans for the
future, there is an increased chance that this positive envisioned
future will become a reality (cf., Schippers et al., 2015).
Based on the theorizing above, it should be stressed that
in the intervention students formulate goals that they nd
important, not ones that others (parents, peers, or friends)
nd important or that are pursued solely for reasons of status.
In the instructions in the intervention, the students are advised
to choose goals that they think are important and want to
pursue and not to choose goals that others (parents, peers,
and friends) think are important. Otherwise, they will live
someone else’s life. In order to make sure that they do not
choose goals that will be detrimental to themselves or others,
they are also advised to not describe an ideal life that includes
harming themselves or others.
Additionally, it is also important that people imagine the future
they are likely to face if they do not do anything. is represents
a goal-framing eect, or the nding that people are more likely
to take action when they are confronted with the possible
consequences of not doing so (Tversky and Kahneman, 1981).
It might beuseful to ask participants to visualize both a desirable
and an undesirable future and to get them to contrast the two
(see Oettingen, 2012; Brodersen and Oettingen, 2017). is would
bea form of “metacognitive self-regulatory strategy of goal pursuit”
(Duckworth et al., 2013, p. 745; cf. Schippers et al., 2013; see
also Schippers etal., 2015). Other research has shown that positive
“deliberate mental time travel” (or MTT) was related to a signicant
increase in happiness but not when the MTT was negative or
neutral. However, neutral MTT was related to a reduction in
stress (Quoidbach et al., 2009). In the intervention (see also
Ta b l e 1 , section 5), participants are asked what their future would
look like if they did not change anything. What would their
life look like 5–10 years down the road?
Goal Attainment Plans
Aer nishing the elements as described above, it is important
for intervention participants to formulate concrete goals and
plans. In the meta-analysis undertaken by Koestner et al. (2002),
it was concluded that it is important for personal goal setting
to becombined with if-then plans. Self-concordance—the feeling
that people pursue goals because they t with their own values
and interests—and goal attainment plans are important for goal
progress (Locke and Schippers, 2018). Since the rewards that
come from achieving a signicant life goal are oen attained in
the future, it is important to formulate concrete goals and also
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to identify the small steps toward them (see Trope and Liberman,
2003). While the rst part of the student intervention is aimed
at discovering their passions and ideas about their ideal life, the
second part is much more concrete and follows the steps set
out in research on goal setting, SMART goals, and if-then plans
(Oettingen etal., 2013, 2018). e idea is that by making concrete
plans and identifying obstacles (if-then plans), people are better
able to visualize their desired future and will be less tempted
to engage in activities that distract them from their goal
(Mischel, 1996; Mischel and Ayduk, 2004).
In this part of the intervention, ideally any obstacles to the
plans will also beidentied. In addition to the research on mental
contrasting, which generally indicates that one should visualize
both the goal and the obstacles to it (e.g., Sevincer et al., 2017),
it is important that one should also visualize a way of overcoming
those obstacles. is may be a vital element, as research has
shown that mental contrasting works best for people who are
very condent about succeeding (Sevincer et al., 2017). e
elements are outlined in Tab l e 1 , section 6. e idea is that,
based on what participants write when describing their ideal
future, they then identify a number of goals (usually about six
to eight), which could be personal, career, and/or social goals
(e.g., Morisano et al., 2010; Schippers et al., 2015; Locke and
Schippers, 2018). As detailed implementation plans have been
shown to aid progress toward goals (Gollwitzer, 1996), it is vital
for participants to set down a detailed strategy for how they
will achieve their goals. is part of the intervention asks
participants about their motivations for their goals and gets them
to consider the personal and social impact of those goals. ey
should also be asked to identify potential obstacles and how to
overcome them and monitor progress toward the goals they
have set. Participants should be instructed to be specic and
concrete—for instance, to write down things that they will do
weekly or daily to further their goals (Morisano et al., 2010;
Schippers et al., 2015). It may also beuseful to get participants
to make a concrete plan of action for the upcoming week and
to make them specify for each day the hours they will spend
working on the goal they have in mind.
In this part of the intervention, participants can either write
down a number of goals and make them public (read them
out to others) or have a photo taken to accompany a public
(“I WILL…”) statement, as was the case in the RSM intervention
(see the examples mentioned earlier). Prior research has found
that public commitment can enhance goal attainment (Hollenbeck
et al., 1989). is part seems to be related to enhanced
commitment to goals as a result of self-presentation (Schienker
et al., 1994). Shaun Tomson, a former surng champion and
inspirational speaker, invites audiences to come up with goals
and 12 lines, all starting with: “I will…” ese lines are spoken
aloud in a group as a form of public commitment (Tomson
and Moser, 2013). is makes it more likely that people will
be more self-regulating toward goal-attainment and will put
more eort into reaching their goals, especially if they are
highly committed to reaching this goal (McCaul et al., 1987).
Formulating clear goals has been shown to contribute to student
well-being and academic success (Morisano etal., 2010; Schippers
et al., 2015, 2019; Locke and Schippers, 2018). However, this
has been oen neglected in education and work settings resulting
in a lack of evidence based tools. e eects of goal setting
on the well-being of students have hardly been tested. Recently,
calls have been made for positive psychology interventions to
be made part of the educational curriculum in order to teach
students life skills and to combat the rising number of mental
health problems such as depression (e.g., Clonan et al., 2004;
Seligman et al., 2009; Schippers, 2017).
Informed by the theoretical frameworks of salutogenesis,
embodied cognition, dynamic self-regulation, and goal-setting
theory, in this paper, we outlined a life-craing intervention
in which participants complete a series of online writing exercises
using expressive writing to shape their ideal future. Important
elements of such an intervention that were covered are: (1)
discovering values and passion, (2) reecting on current and
desired competencies and habits, (3) reecting on present and
future social life and (4) future career, (5) writing about the
ideal future, (6) goal attainment plans, and nally (7) public
commitment to goals.
e idea is to use the fantasized ideal future to deduce goals
and formulate a strategy to reach these goals. Finally, participants
commit to their intentions by having a photo taken to accompany
their goal statement, which is then made public. We described
the key elements of this intervention and outlined the theoretical
rationale for each of these elements. As previous research has
shown that developing life skills, such as being able to set goals
and make plans to achieve them (i.e., goal setting), increases
the resilience, well-being, and study success of students (Schippers
etal., 2015, 2019; Locke and Schippers, 2018), it may beimportant
to make this intervention available to a wider population.
Future Research and Developments
As research shows that students in higher education are increasingly
experiencing psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety,
and burn-out (Gilchrist, 2003; Snyder et al., 2016), an add-on
to the goal-setting program as described above is recommended.
Rapid developments in the eld of articial intelligence (AI),
especially areas such as emotion recognition, natural language
processing, and machine learning have great potential to aid
students experiencing study-related mental health problems (Kavakli
etal., 2012; Oh et al., 2017). For example, a goal-setting exercise
could be enhanced by incorporating a digital coach in the form
of a goal-setting chatbot. With this type of intervention, students
are given immediate, personalized feedback aer their writing
assignments. Aer two longer writing assignments, which are
part of the curriculum, the chatbot can help students to by
asking questions on specic topics (Fulmer et al., 2018). For
instance, through personalized questions and feedback the chatbot
could stimulate students to regularly reect on their progress
toward reaching a certain goal (“Did Iinvest enough time into
my goals? What could I do to improve this? Which smaller
Schippers and Ziegler Life Crafting/Meaning in Life
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 12 December 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 2778
sub-goals could help me to achieve my objective? What obstacles
do I face? What ways do Isee to overcome them?”). Depending
on the answers the chatbot could also provide the students with
dierent strategies. In addition, the chatbot can remind students
of their goals and objectives during the year.
e expectation is that this addition to the intervention
will allow students to reect better on their own goals, so
that a positive eect on student well-being can be expected
and more serious problems can be prevented. What is also
innovative is that the chatbot can ask additional questions
about the students’ well-being. is gives the chatbot an
important role in identifying possible problems. For students
who have no problems or whose problems are minor, setting
goals and receiving online feedback and coaching will
be sucient. In cases of more severe problems, the chatbot
can oer more intensive coaching, or can refer them to the
university’s psychological support or other professional services
if necessary. In summary, the chatbot could provide a better
connection between goal setting and the needs of the individual
student and could help to integrate the life-craing intervention
into early stages of students’ academic career and can also
deliver mental health care for students. Moreover, it could
help integrate the life-craing intervention with interactional
forms of mental health care provided by the chatbot, thereby
possibly increasing its eectiveness. In addition, goal diaries
might form a way to provide insights into whether students
are able to achieve important goals. Such diaries could also
be used to assess their level of happiness and well-being and
might beeasily integrated into the interaction with the chatbot.
Next to examining how promising the intervention is in
terms of its eects on students, future research could look at
the eects of the life-craing intervention in organizations. Prior
research has shown that the eects from positive psychology
interventions in organizations are promising (Meyers etal., 2012).
e relationship between dierent areas of life and decision
making with regard to how to spend one’s time seems to bekey
(Menzies, 2005; Schippers and Hogenes, 2011). Researchers could
also examine what role life craing might play at the team level.
Despite the obvious upside of experiencing meaning in life
and having life goals as described in this paper, many people
have diculty choosing between the seemingly endless number
of possibilities. e good news is that it is in principle never
too late to nd a purpose in life, although recent research
suggests that it may be most benecial to nd a direction in
life earlier rather than later (see Steger et al., 2009; Bundick,
2011; Hill and Turiano, 2014). It seems that interventions of
the kind we have described above may be particularly helpful
when one is entering into a new phase of life, such as when
starting one’s study or just before entering the job market (see
Kashdan and Steger, 2007).
e problem so far has been that most interventions are not
easily taken to scale (for an exception see Schippers etal., 2015).
Given the relatively low amount of costs and administrative work
that the implementation of the outlined life craing intervention
entails, especially when compared to the potential benets,
we recommend its inclusion in student’s curriculums. Getting
many (young) people to take part in an online life craing
intervention may be an important step in achieving not only
higher academic performance, but also better well-being, happiness,
health, and greater longevity (see Schippers et al., 2015). Using
technology to assist with life craing via a goal-setting intervention
seems to bea particularly promising avenue as this is an approach
that can be easily scaled up. Ideally then, these scalable and
aordable interventions should not be regarded as an extra-
curricular activity; it would be advisable to make them a formal
part of the curriculum for all students. In a work context,
employees could also benet as this type of activity might
be something that companies could easily oer. In short, life-
craing is about (1) nding out what you stand for (i.e., values
and passions), (2) nding out how to make it happen (i.e., goal-
attainment plans), and (3) telling someone about your plans
(i.e., public commitment). Concluding, it seems that life craing
is about taking control of one’s life and nding purpose. Based
on recent ndings, it would be well-advised for many of us to
carve out time to do an evidence-based life-craing intervention.
MS has written the dra of the manuscript. NZ provided
important intellectual input at all stages and helped to develop,
review, and revise the manuscript.
e authors would like to thank the members of the Erasmus
Centre for Study and Career Success (https://www.erim.eur.nl/
erasmus-centre-for-study-and-career-success/) and Christina Wessels
for their useful comments on an earlier version of this paper.
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Conict of Interest: e authors declare that the research was conducted in
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as a potential conict of interest.
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