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Life Crafting as a Way to Find Purpose and Meaning in Life

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Abstract

Having a purpose in life is one of the most fundamental human needs. However, for most people, finding their purpose in life is not obvious. Modern life has a way of distracting people from their true goals and many people find it hard to define their purpose in life. Especially at younger ages, people are searching for meaning in life, but this has been found to be unrelated to actually finding 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 finding meaning, e.g., via an intervention. In this paper, we discuss evidence-based ways of finding purpose, via a process that we call “life crafting.” This process fits 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 reflecting 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) reflecting on current and desired competencies and habits, (3) reflecting on present and future social life, (4) reflecting on a possible future career, (5) writing about the ideal future, (6) writing down specific 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 findings from the field 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 find 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.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 1 December 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 2778
REVIEW
published: 13 December 2019
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02778
Edited by:
Claudio Longobardi,
University of Turin, Italy
Reviewed by:
Franco Zengaro,
Delta State University, UnitedStates
Rui Alexandre Alves,
University of Porto, Portugal
*Correspondence:
Michaéla C. Schippers
mschippers@rsm.nl
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Educational Psychology,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 26 March 2019
Accepted: 25 November 2019
Published: 13 December 2019
Citation:
Schippers MC and Ziegler N (2019)
Life Crafting as a Way to Find
Purpose and Meaning in Life.
Front. Psychol. 10:2778.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02778
Life Crafting as a Way to Find
Purpose and Meaning in Life
MichaélaC.Schippers* and NiklasZiegler
Department of Technology and Operations Management, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University,
Rotterdam, Netherlands
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 dene their purpose in life.
Especially at younger ages, people are searching for meaning in life, but this has been
found to beunrelated 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, wediscuss
evidence-based ways of nding purpose, via a process that wecall “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
reecting 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) reecting on current and desired
competencies and habits, (3) reecting on present and future social life, (4) reecting on a
possible future career, (5) writing about the ideal future, (6) writing down specic 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 youdecide 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 youalone are responsible for the quality of it. is is the day your life really begins.
—Bob Moawad
Schippers and Ziegler Life Crafting/Meaning in Life
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 2 December 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 2778
INTRODUCTION
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 hecame from a small
town in Austria, the chances of him becoming the person
heis 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 beliving a fullling 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 hedecides that hedoes
not want to live this life anymore and quits his job. Hebecomes
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 fulll 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-eective 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 conict when making health-related decisions and
are more likely to self-regulate when making these decisions
and consequently experience better (mental) health outcomes
(Kang etal., 2019). Furthermore, having a purpose in life can
aid in overcoming stress, depression, anxiety, and other
psychological problems (see Kim etal., 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 benets may begained 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 etal., 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 eective (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 bea promising way to achieve this. Recent research
suggests that interventions aimed at enhancing purpose in life
can be particularly eective 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 signicant 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 ones 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 etal., 2017; Garratt-Reed
et al., 2018; Curran and Hill, 2019). In our society, education
is highly valued, but less emphasis is placed on structured
reection about values, goals, and plans for what people want
in life. Oentimes, 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
Schippers and Ziegler Life Crafting/Meaning in Life
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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 conicting goals, which is also
detrimental to health and well-being (Kelly etal., 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 ones 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 aer the rst year. is points to the
importance of making sure people reect 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 reect on and formulate their own goals
in important areas of life (Williams etal., 2000). Indeed, people
may have more inuence on their own life than they think.
Studies have already shown the benecial eects of both job
craing—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 craing (Petrou and Bakker, 2016; Vogel et al., 2016;
Petrou etal., 2017). A recent study by Demerouti etal. (2019)
suggested that the benecial implications of job craing transcend
life boundaries, which the authors state have also consequences
in terms of experiencing meaning in life.
Building on the above, wesuggest that the conscious process
of “life craing” could besimilarly benecial in helping people
to nd fulllment and happiness (see Berg etal., 2010; Schippers,
2017). Importantly, life craing 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 dene life craing
as: a process in which people actively reect 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 craing ts with positive psychology and
specically the salutogenesis framework, which states that the
extent to which people view their life as having positive inuence
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 dened
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 eects
on the people around them (Barsade, 2002; Quinn, 2005; Quinn
and Quinn, 2009). Recent research suggests that health benets
of having stronger purpose in life are attributable to focused
attention to and engagement in healthier behaviors (Kang etal.,
2019). Indeed, stronger purpose in life is associated with greater
likelihood of using preventative health services and better health
outcomes (Kim etal., 2014). Importantly, the process through
which purpose leads to health outcomes seems to bethat people
with a purpose in life are better able to respond positively to
health messages. ey showed reduced conict-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 benets, and behavioral
interventions to increase purpose in life have been shown to
be very cost-eective (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 craing can raise many questions. ese
Schippers and Ziegler Life Crafting/Meaning in Life
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include: what is the best way to set personal, self-congruent
goals and start the process of life craing? How does it work?
Does the type of goal matter? Does the act of writing the
goals down make a dierence? Does it increase resourcefulness,
self-ecacy, and self-regulation?
Research suggests that reecting on and writing down
personal goals is especially important in helping people to
nd purpose and live a fullling life (King and Pennebaker,
1996; King, 2001), and that in general writing sessions longer
than 15 min have larger eects (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 specic, as long as plans are, and that writing about
life goals and plans in a structured way is especially eective
(Locke and Schippers, 2018; for a review see Morisano etal.,
2010; Morisano, 2013; Schippers et al., 2015; Travers et al.,
2015). As goal-relevant actions may beencouraged by embodied
cognition, and embodied cognition has been related to (dynamic)
self-regulation, this may bethe process through which written
goals lead to action (see Balcetis and Cole, 2009). Specically,
through the link between cognition and behavior, it can beseen
as benecial 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 etal.,
2017). In short, although goals are an important part of any
intervention involving life craing, the intervention and its
eects are much broader. Such an intervention may be especially
benecial for college students, as it has been shown that students
have lower goal-autonomy than their parents and parents
reported higher levels of positive aect, lower levels of negative
aect, 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 eects 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, wewill describe the development of a comprehensive
evidence-based life-craing intervention that can help people
nd a purpose in life. e intervention shows very specic
actions people can take to fulll 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. Aer that, we describe
what a life-craing intervention should ideally look like.
We end with various recommendations for to how to ensure
that many people can prot from this intervention (see also
Schippers et al., 2015).
IKIGAI, MEANING IN LIFE, AND LIFE
CRAFTING
e meaning of life used to bean 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 etal.,
2009). is relationship has been found even when things
such as lifestyle, positive relationships with others, and general
aect were controlled for in the analyses (Hill and Turiano,
2014). Note that, although a purpose in life sounds rather
Schippers and Ziegler Life Crafting/Meaning in Life
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 5 December 2019 | Volume 10 | Article 2778
unclear or undenable, people can derive a purpose in life
from many dierent 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 etal., 2008; Schippers, 2017). Research among Japanese
students has shown that enjoyable and eortful leisure pursuits
can enhance student’s perception of ikigai. Ikigai was dened
by the authors as “the subjective perceptions that ones 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 signicance.
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 signicance as dening 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
(Kono, 2018).
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 bealigned
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 oen 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 scientic study of human
ourishing that aims to optimize human functioning within
communities and organizations, has become very inuential
both within and outside the scientic community (Gable and
Haidt, 2005; Donaldson etal., 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 befunctional 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 etal., 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
craing seem the best way forward in this respect.
VALUES, PASSION, AND PERSONAL
GOAL SETTING
Life choices can beseen as crucial turning points in someone’s
existence. Yet, most people nd it dicult 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 etal., 2019), and it may beespecially 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 oen
“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 craing 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 specic measurable goals (Locke
and Latham, 2002), the act of writing about personal goals
seems to be eective by dening very broad goals and linking
these to specic 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 etal., 2006; Pennebaker and Chung,
2011). King (2001) suggested that future-oriented writing about
one’s “best possible self ” has a similar positive eect on an
individual’s well-being, without the short-lived negative eect
on mood that occurred aer 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 specic goal-attainment
strategies improved their grades, standardized test scores,
and moods.
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 beenough (and is more than most people do).
People who keep searching for meaning without nding it,
or who have conicting goals, are oen dissatised with themselves
and their relationships (Steger et al., 2009). It is quite natural
that in earlier stages of their life, people are oen 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 etal., 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 Fullling
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 etal., 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 buers against existential
anxiety resulting from mortality salience (Burke et al., 2010;
Pyszczynski et al., 2015). Indeed, death reection, 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 aer they have passed (Cozzolino et al.,
2004), has been proposed as an important prerequisite for
prosocial motivation sometimes inuencing career decisions
(Grant and Wade-Benzoni, 2009). Reducing anxiety and living
a fullling 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 aer 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
aer 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 eects (Wilson, 2011; Walton,
2014). In his review, Walton (2014) describes the “new science
of wise interventions”: precise interventions aimed at altering
specic psychological processes that contribute to major social
problems or prevent people from ourishing. ese “wise”
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interventions are capable of producing signicant benets and
do so over time (Walton, 2014). ese interventions are
“psychologically precise, oen brief, and oen 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 etal., 1990). Students
writing about their thoughts and feelings about entering college
showed better health outcomes and improved their grades more
signicantly than students in a control condition. Also, the
experimental group had less home-sickness and anxiety 2–3
months aer 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, healso states that “e above issues
could occupy interested researchers for many years.
Broaden-and-build theory suggests that thinking about an
idealized future will beassociated with positive thoughts about
this future, leading to increased levels of self-regulation, resilience,
self-ecacy, 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 dened 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 eect on writing
on our daily actions is lacking in evidence. ere is plenty
of evidence that these small, written interventions have an
eect and can even play a role in redirecting people (e.g.,
Wilson, 2011) and that these interventions can have a powerful
eects 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 beseen 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.
GOAL DOMAIN
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 benecial for happiness (Ryan and Deci, 2001; Keyes
et al., 2002). Hedonistic and eudaimonic well-being seem to
represent two dierent kinds of happiness (Kashdan et al.,
2008). Although recent research has conrmed that both are
related to well-being (Henderson etal., 2013), it is also conceivable
that a purely hedonistic lifestyle may beunrelated to psychological
well-being in the long run (see Huppert etal., 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’—seless 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 bean 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-
CRAFTING INTERVENTION
e elements discussed above provide the context for developing
a potentially eective life-craing 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 dierentiating between real purpose and illusory purpose”
(p. 249). Recent research also showed that it is better to have
no calling than an unfullled 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 etal., 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, reect 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 etal., 2018). is may also hold true for the intervention
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described below and may be an important boundary condition.
Although wehave not found any negative eects 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 eects 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 eective in bringing about behavioral change and increasing
academic achievement. Other studies showed a positive eect
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
(Staord-Smith etal., 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 reect 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 specic 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, IWILL create
healthier businesses for a healthier world, and IWILL lead
by example and inspire others to reach their goals).1 is
1
see https://www.rsm.nl/iwilleveryone/.
A student, participating in the intervention, described its eect on him as
follows (see also Singeling, 2017).
“I studied, or at least I attempted to study, a lot of dierent things before Icame
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
university course.
When Igot here, and all the “I WILL” stu [life craing/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 Ihave 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 eect 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 oen said to be important, but it seems that discovering
what yound “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 bealigned
with values that they hold dear, such as collaboration, equality,
and honesty (Sheldon, 2002).
ere is, however, also a dierence 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 conict 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-craing 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, buer 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 eort, but this same mechanism also makes habits
hard to break (Jager, 2003). Being aware of our habits and
reecting on them can bea 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 eect 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-craing 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,
specically 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 behelpful 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 oen are
characterized by negative interactions that can even inuence
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-craing 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
TABLE1 | 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
and habits
(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
are made”
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
toward goals
7. Public commitment to goal Photo with statement, which
communicates their goals to the world;
communicating goals to friends, co-
workers
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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 craing 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 oen 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-
craing intervention, participants could beasked 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 reect on their education
and their career, and to consider what they feel to beimportant
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
craing has been shown to make up to a certain extent for
having few opportunities for job craing. 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 bevery powerful and has a stronger
eect 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 eect, 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 beuseful 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
bea form of “metacognitive self-regulatory strategy of goal pursuit”
(Duckworth et al., 2013, p. 745; cf. Schippers et al., 2013; see
also Schippers etal., 2015). Other research has shown that positive
deliberate mental time travel” (or MTT) was related to a signicant
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
Aer 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 becombined 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 signicant life goal are oen 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 etal., 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 beidentied. 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 condent 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 specic 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 beuseful 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.
Public Commitment
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 surng 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 eort into reaching their goals, especially if they are
highly committed to reaching this goal (McCaul et al., 1987).
DISCUSSION
Formulating clear goals has been shown to contribute to student
well-being and academic success (Morisano etal., 2010; Schippers
et al., 2015, 2019; Locke and Schippers, 2018). However, this
has been oen neglected in education and work settings resulting
in a lack of evidence based tools. e eects 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-craing 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) reecting on current and
desired competencies and habits, (3) reecting 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
etal., 2015, 2019; Locke and Schippers, 2018), it may beimportant
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 articial 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
etal., 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 aer their writing
assignments. Aer two longer writing assignments, which are
part of the curriculum, the chatbot can help students to by
asking questions on specic topics (Fulmer et al., 2018). For
instance, through personalized questions and feedback the chatbot
could stimulate students to regularly reect on their progress
toward reaching a certain goal (“Did Iinvest enough time into
my goals? What could I do to improve this? Which smaller
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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 Isee to overcome them?”). Depending
on the answers the chatbot could also provide the students with
dierent 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 reect better on their own goals, so
that a positive eect 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 sucient. In cases of more severe problems, the chatbot
can oer 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-craing intervention
into early stages of students’ academic career and can also
deliver mental health care for students. Moreover, it could
help integrate the life-craing intervention with interactional
forms of mental health care provided by the chatbot, thereby
possibly increasing its eectiveness. 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 beeasily integrated into the interaction with the chatbot.
Next to examining how promising the intervention is in
terms of its eects on students, future research could look at
the eects of the life-craing intervention in organizations. Prior
research has shown that the eects from positive psychology
interventions in organizations are promising (Meyers etal., 2012).
e relationship between dierent areas of life and decision
making with regard to how to spend one’s time seems to bekey
(Menzies, 2005; Schippers and Hogenes, 2011). Researchers could
also examine what role life craing might play at the team level.
CONCLUSION
Despite the obvious upside of experiencing meaning in life
and having life goals as described in this paper, many people
have diculty 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 benecial 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 etal., 2015).
Given the relatively low amount of costs and administrative work
that the implementation of the outlined life craing intervention
entails, especially when compared to the potential benets,
we recommend its inclusion in student’s curriculums. Getting
many (young) people to take part in an online life craing
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 craing via a goal-setting intervention
seems to bea particularly promising avenue as this is an approach
that can be easily scaled up. Ideally then, these scalable and
aordable 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 benet as this type of activity might
be something that companies could easily oer. In short, life-
craing 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 craing
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-craing intervention.
AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
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.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
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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Conict of Interest: e authors declare that the research was conducted in
the absence of any commercial or nancial relationships that could beconstrued
as a potential conict of interest.
Copyright © 2019 Schippers and Ziegler. is is an open-access article distributed
under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). e use,
distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original
author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication
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distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
... For example, college staff, administrators, and/or faculty can develop an on-campus intervention program that assists students in developing a sense of purpose. To visualize and actualize their goals, students can be given time to write a life purpose statement -a brief paragraph about how their personality, interests, skills, and identified strengths could inform their college major and career choices (Schippers & Ziegler, 2019;Shin & Steger, 2014). ...
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... Several scholars pursue to integrate these different aspects into the concepts themselves: Kuh et al. (2005), for example, proposed using the term student success to stand for a combination of academic achievement engagement, satisfaction and the acquisition of skills, etc. Schreiner (2010) similarly introduced the concept of academic thriving to stand for a combination of performance, community, and wellbeing. When possible, package interventions could target combinations of outcomes by addressing the underlying problems or motivation (e.g., Morisano et al., 2010;Schippers and Ziegler, 2019). In some cases, the potential tradeoffs or side effects might be less known. ...
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