What does it mean to be successful, and what life goals should we be setting in order to get there? Is spending time with family most important? What about your career? We asked people to rank their life goals in order of importance on Ranker, and using a layout algorithm (force atlas in Gephi), we were able to determine goal categories and organized these goals into a layout which placed goals most closely related nearer to each other.
The connecting lines in the graph represent significant correlations or relationships between different life goals, with thicker lines indicating stronger relationships. The colors in the graph differentiate between unique groups that emerged from a cluster analysis. Click on the below graph to expand it.
The classification algorithm produced 5 main life goal clusters:
(1) Religion/Spirituality (e.g., Christian values, achieving Religion & Spirituality),
(2) Achievement and Material Goods (e.g., being a leader, avoiding failure, having money/wealth),
(3) Interpersonal Involvement/Moral Values (e.g., sharing life, doing the right thing, being inspiring),
(4) Personal Growth (e.g., achieving wisdom & serenity, pursuing ideals and passions, peace of mind), and
(5) Emotional/Physical Well-Being (e.g., being healthy, enjoying life, being happy).
These clusters are well matched to those identified by Robert Emmon’s (1999) psychological research on goal pursuit and well-being. Emmon’s found that life goals form 4 primary categories: work and achievement, relationships and intimacy, religion and spirituality, and generativity (leaving legacy/contributing to society).
However, not all goals are created equal. While success related goals may be able to help us get ahead in life, they also have downsides. People who focus on zero-sum goals such as work and achievement tend to report less happiness and life satisfaction compared to people who pursue goals. Our data also show a large divide between Well-being and Work/Achievement goals with relatively no overlap between these two groups.
Other interesting relationships in our graph:
- Goals related to moral values (e.g., doing the right thing) were clustered with (and therefore more closely related to) interpersonal goals than they were to religious goals.
- Sexuality was related to goals from opposite ends of the space in unique ways. Well-being goals were related to sexual intimacy whereas Achievement goals were related to promiscuity.
- While most goal clusters were primarily made up of goals for pursuing positive outcomes, the Achievement/Material Goods goal cluster also included the most goals related to avoiding negative consequences (e.g., avoiding failure, avoiding effort, never going to jail).
- Our Personal Growth goal cluster is unique from many of the traditional goal taxonomies in the psychological literature, and our data did not find the typical goal cluster related to Generativity. This may show a shift in goal striving from community growth to personal growth.
– Kate Johnson
Citation: Emmons, R. A. (1999). The psychology of ultimate concerns: Motivation and spirituality in personality. New York: Guilford Press.