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The link between life goals and subsequent well-being appeared to be largely independent of the participants’ ages.

What flavor of goals we like to set for ourselves has a further impact on quality of life. For example, people whose goals mainly revolved around social relations or health were more satisfied with their social life or health state, respectively.

Our wants, needs, and aspirations also morph over time, so the team also looked into how age impacts the choice of goals. It mainly comes down to the tasks we have to overcome at the particular stage of life we find ourselves in, they report. Younger participants, for example, rated personal growth, social status, social relationships, and professional advancement as important. Older participants rated social engagement and health as being more important. This change in priorities wasn’t sudden — we don’t drop personal growth in favor of health the second we turn 40, for example. It happened gradually. The younger a participant was, the more likely he was to rate those four higher on their priority list; the older the participant, the higher they rated social engagement and health.

“Many of our results confirmed theoretical assumptions from developmental psychology,” says lead author and PhD student Janina Bühler from the University of Basel’s Faculty of Psychology. One such assumption is that goals are heavily influenced by age.

“If we examine, however, whether these goals contribute to well-being, age appears less relevant.”

So, all in all, it’s important to find which goals work for you — they’re expressions of our characters, and, as such, take on unique nuances for each of us. But always try to keep them attainable, or break down lofty goals into a series of easily-manageable chunks. Even if you don’t reach them, you’ll probably be happier later on.

The paper “A Closer Look at Life Goals Across Adulthood: Applying a Developmental Perspective to Content, Dynamics, and Outcomes of Goal Importance and Goal Attainability” has been published in the European Journal of Personality.