Motivation Predicts Well-Being in College Graduates Pursuing Employment

Motivation is one of the core concepts of individual agency and has been shown to have a direct impact on psychological well-being. For students who are leaving college and entering the workforce, well-being is of paramount importance as they make this life-changing transition. “Previous studies on the transition into work have yielded important insights demonstrating that young adults’ agency has important consequences for their well-being, mental health, and career success,” said Claudia M. Haase of the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of a recent study. “In the present study, we focus on university graduates, who, despite an advantaged position in the labor market, face increasing challenges in terms of finding a permanent, career-ladder job commensurate with their education.”

Specifically, Haase and her colleagues focused on subjective and psychological well-being in relation to goal pursuit. “Subjective well-being refers to how individuals think and feel about their life and includes aspects such as global life satisfaction, satisfaction with specific life domains, positive affect, and (inverse) negative affect. Psychological well-being refers to aspects such as autonomy, positive relations with others, and purpose in life,” said Haase.

Haase interviewed 498 German college graduates and found that goal engagement was directly related to positive well-being and the students who disengaged from their goals had decreases in their overall well-being. “However, this dynamic was not without exception,” said Haase. “Goal engagement at graduation was associated with a decrease in autonomy and, for individuals with unfavorable employment opportunities, an increase in depressive symptoms. Goal disengagement at graduation was associated with an increase in satisfaction with work.” Haase believes the findings of this study shed light on why many college graduates who have limited career opportunities engage in less than desirable goal pursuit behaviors as they make the transition from college to career. She added, “In sum, how young adults deal with their occupational goals is closely linked to changes in their well-being.”


Haase, C. M., Heckhausen, J., & Silbereisen, R. K. (2011, December 19). The Interplay of Occupational Motivation and Well-Being During the Transition From University to Work. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026641

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jacob


    January 2nd, 2012 at 6:43 AM

    If u insist on only thinking bout the bad and never focusing on the good in life, well, u can just imagine how life is gonna end up 4 u.

  • harleigh


    January 2nd, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    don’t see very many motivated college kids these days
    most of them act like the dream job is going to be handed to them on a silver platter and that they deserve that
    haven’t they read the papers lately
    the economy does not look so bright or those recent grads
    they might have to take it on the chin for a bit

  • Massey


    January 2nd, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    Couldn’t agree more, harleigh. Kids these days want everything ready-made and present in an instant. That’s what the instant-ness of everything has done to them.

    But I sincerely believe it is the parents’ job to inculcate these things in their children when they are young and build upon it. They need to know the value of things. The meal on the table didn’t just appear there out of nowhere. Your parent worked hard for it. If kids understand this then there will be more hardworking people in our workforce.

  • G.Edmunds


    January 3rd, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    so is having lower expectations good?don’t quite agree.but it’s safe to say that there is nowhere 1 can get without a goal,it’s what is the driver to work towards something,for everyone.

  • N@di@


    January 3rd, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    I’m passing out of college next year and although a college degree does boost your prospects to a large extent I don’t know if I’ll get a good job.

    Now where do I get this ‘motivation’ from?? From observing the gloomy job market or from observing the slowing economy everywhere??

  • Alexandra


    January 3rd, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    @N@di@: I would have to say that that motivation to succeed has to come from within and from having a desire to really use your talents to your fullest ability. We can’t always listen to the negative- you have to have some positive voice inside telling you that you can transcend this bad economy, and that you are good enough to get hired despite all of the bad news. Good grief if we all sat around and let the news dictate our lives, I think all of us would have crawled in a hole by now. Surely someone at some point in time laughed off Bill Gates , but I sure would not turn down that bank account. Be everything that you know that you can be, and prove the naysayers wrong.

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