Authoring a Generative Legacy

January 31, 2022
Cavan Bonner

Generativity, or the concern for the well-being of future generations, has traditionally been theorized as a predominant concern for midlife adults. However, recent evidence suggests that people of all ages act on their generative concerns. Generativity is expressed in many forms: parenting, mentoring, community service, ecological conservation, and political activism are just a few examples. The common thread is that generative acts allow us to leave a positive legacy that benefits society in a lasting way.

Psychologists have theorized that the motivation for generativity comes from a desire to be useful to others while we live, as well as a desire to be positively remembered after we die. Research has also documented that generative individuals are less depressed and are more satisfied with life. Perhaps this relationship with well-being exists because generative individuals are able to effectively address these existential concerns.

An individual’s expression of generativity is deeply personal, but highly generative people tend to talk about similar themes when they reflect on their lives:

Louis Tay
  • Gratitude for the mentorship and support that one has received
  • Sensitivity to the suffering of others
  • Concern for the well-being of community and society, beyond family
  • The personal importance and/or continuity of moral, religious, or political beliefs

How do these topics resonate with the generative projects that you are currently engaged in or hoping to start? And how do they connect with the ways that you might want to be remembered by your family, friends, and community? Considering these themes can help clarify why you are motivated to create a better world for future generations to inherit.

Cavan Bonner and Louis Tay

Key References

  • McAdams, D. P., & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(6), 1003–1015.
  • McAdams, D. P., & Guo, J. (2015). Narrating the generative life. Psychological Science, 26(4), 475-483.

Cavan Bonner received his B.A. in Psychology from Kalamazoo College in 2021, and currently works as a research manager at the Well-Being and Measurement Lab with Dr. Louis Tay. Cavan is broadly interested in how personality — including traits, well-being, and attitudes — develops over the lifespan.

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science. Be sure to check back each week for another wellness tip of the week! 

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