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Increasing well-being through teaching goal-setting and planning skills: results of a brief intervention


Many factors are known to be associated with psychological well-being. However, it is much less clear whether those factors actually cause well-being and, hence, whether there is any practical value in trying to manipulate those factors to increase well-being. The proposed study addresses both the theoretical and practical issues by testing the effectiveness of an empirically-derived, brief psychological intervention to increase well-being in a non-clinical, unselected sample. The intervention focused on developing goal setting and planning (GAP) skills, which are known to be linked to well-being, potentially have widespread effects, and are amenable to intervention. Within a quasi-experimental design, participants received three, 1-h, group sessions (Study 1) or completed the programme individually in their own time (Study 2). Those taking part in the intervention, both individually and in a group, showed significant increases in subjective well-being, compared to their respective control groups not receiving the intervention. The results provide preliminary support for the view that (a) goal setting and planning skills have a causal link to subjective well-being and (b) that such skills can be learned to enhance well-being.

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  1. 1.

    Due to an administrative error, four participants did not complete the SWLS measure or the additional variables.

  2. 2.

    The lack of a significant group × time interaction on PA suggests that the significant change in PA in GAP participants is not reliably different from the change in the controls; however, it is reported here along with all the other comparisons for completeness.


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew K. MacLeod.

Additional information

This research was supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain to Andrew MacLeod (RES-000-22-0357).

Appendix: Outline of GAP sessions

Appendix: Outline of GAP sessions

Session 1:

  • Introductions/Welcome/Explanation of the sessions and manual

  • Explanation of key concepts (well-being, goals).

  • Selecting and refining goals

  • Envisaging goals

  • Planning to achieve goals—what constitutes good plans and developing plans of action

  • Summary and homework

Session 2 (1 week later)

  • Review of plan implementation

  • Putting goals in perspective

  • Obstacles to goal progress—identifying obstacles and solutions

  • Pros and cons of implementing plan steps

  • Summary and homework

Session 3 (2 weeks later)

  • Review of plan implementation

  • Overview of material covered

  • Maintaining progress

    • pros and cons of using GAP approach

    • dealing with black and white thinking

    • focusing on the path rather than the goal

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MacLeod, A.K., Coates, E. & Hetherton, J. Increasing well-being through teaching goal-setting and planning skills: results of a brief intervention. J Happiness Stud 9, 185–196 (2008).

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  • Well-being
  • Intervention
  • Goal-setting
  • Planning