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The Redemptive SelfStories Americans Live By$

Dan P. McAdams

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195176933

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195176933.001.0001

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The Redemptive Self

Dan P. McAdams

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Beginning with an account of how rescue workers responded to the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, this Prologue sets forth the book's central thesis: The most caring and productive midlife adults in American society tend to construe their lives as stories of personal redemption. The redemptive self is a common narrative prototype found both in individual life stories and in such cultural sources as American legends and myths, Hollywood movies, and prime-time television. Whether viewed as a psychological construction or a cultural text, the story tends to follow this standard script: A gifted protagonist equipped with moral clarity and conviction journeys forth into a dangerous world, overcoming adversity, struggling to reconcile competing needs for power/freedom and love/community, and eventually leaving a positive legacy of the self for future generations.

Keywords:   redemption, generativity, American identity, narrative study of lives, 9/11

Beginning September 11, 2001, William Langewiesche spent 9 months at the site of the World Trade Center disaster. He observed and interviewed fire-fighters, construction workers, engineers, police officers, and paid volunteers who cleared the debris and dug through the rubble in search of survivors. “Within hours of the collapse [of the towers], as rescuers rushed in and resources were marshaled,” Langewiesche later wrote, “the disaster was smothered in an exuberant and distinctively American embrace.” The workers were convinced that something good would arise from the carnage. “Despite the apocalyptic nature of the scene,” Langewiesche suggested, “the response was unhesitant and almost childishly optimistic: it was simply understood that you would find survivors, and then that you would find the dead, and that this would help their families to get on with their lives, and that your resources were unlimited, and that you would work night and day to clean up the mess, and that this would allow the world's greatest city to rebuild quickly, and maybe even to make itself into something better than before.”1

Put differently, it was simply understood that there would be redemption.

An “exuberant” and “distinctively American” response, “unhesitant,” almost childish. The workers were convinced that the death and the destruction of September 11 would give way to new life, new growth, new power, and a new reality that, in some fundamental sense, would prove better than what came before. Their faith reflected the hopes of many American citizens—men and women who had never known a foreign attack on American soil (p.4) but who felt deep in their bones that bad things, even things this bad, ultimately lead to good outcomes, that suffering is ultimately redeemed.

Maybe there is something childish (and presumptuous) about this response, this expectation that we will be delivered from our pain and suffering no matter what, that we will overcome in the long run, that we will rise from the depths of the present, that things will get better and that we will eventually grow and find fulfillment in the world. But I am not talking here about the naïveté of children. I am talking instead about mature men and women who, like many of the workers at the World Trade Center site, are committed to making a positive difference in the world. I am talking about productive and caring, socially responsible, hardworking adults who try to pay their bills and their taxes, try to provide for their families, and try to make something good out of their lives, even as they fail and get distracted along the way. I am talking about the kinds of people who support the institutions that are necessary to create and sustain what the sociologist Robert Bellah calls a “good society.”2 Let us imagine that these are the people whom the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind when they identified the ultimate authors of their document as “we the people.” For the framers, we the people aimed to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”3

From a psychological standpoint, who are “we the people”? What are we like? In considering this question, I turn first to the eminent psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson, who, during much of the second half of the 20th century, wrote provocatively about mental health, maturity, and the human life span. Erikson depicted we the people as those members of a society who have worked through the psychological dilemmas of childhood, adolescence, and the very early years of adulthood and who have committed themselves to patterns of love and work aimed at leaving a positive legacy for the future. The Constitution suggests that we the people should strive to assure justice, peace, security, and freedom not just for us today—but also for our posterity, our children and our children's children. The good society must work to promote the well-being of future generations. Erikson claimed that responsible and mature men and women—especially in their middle-adult years—should do the same. Erikson even had a word for this. He called it generativity.

Generativity is the adult's concern for and commitment to promoting the welfare and development of future generations.4 The most obvious and natural expression of generativity is the care that parents provide for their children. But generativity can be expressed in many other ways, too, including (p.5) teaching, mentoring, leadership, and even citizenship. Generative adults seek to give something back to society. They work to make their world a better place, not just for themselves but for future generations, as well. They try to take the long view. Whether they consciously think about it this way or not, generative adults work for the good of posterity. A good society depends on the generative efforts of adults. For this reason (among others), Erikson believed that generativity was more than simply a psychological standard for adult mental health. He also saw it as the prime virtue of adulthood.5

Different people have different virtues. Some people are more honest than others. Some may be more courageous, faithful, or self-disciplined.6 And so it is with generativity, as Erikson well knew. Most adults are moderately generative on the average, focusing most of their generative inclinations on their families. A few adults show virtually no generativity in their lives. And some, on the other end of the spectrum, are extraordinarily generative in many different ways. Think of them as generativity superstars.

For many years now, I have been studying the superstars. Who are the especially generative people in our society? What are their lives like? In the summer of 2000, I was presenting some of this research at a scientific conference in the Netherlands when I received a comment from a woman in the audience that eventually gave birth to this book. The main point of my talk was that highly generative adults tend to tell a certain kind of story about their lives, a story that emphasizes the themes of suffering, redemption, and personal destiny. The comment I received went something like this: “Professor McAdams, this is very interesting, but these life stories you describe, they seem so, well, American.” Initially, I heard this as a criticism of the work. After all, I had been assuming that my findings applied to very generative adults in general, regardless of their backgrounds. To say the life stories I described all sounded very “American” was to suggest that my research findings were too limited, that they were not “generalizable,” as we social scientists often say.

After thinking longer about the woman's comment, however, I came to realize two things. First, she was probably right, at least in part. My results about Americans might not generalize completely to other societies. Second, I think I like the fact that she may have been right. Her comment suggests an important insight: The life stories of highly generative American adults may reveal as much about American society and culture as they do about the generative adults themselves. It is as if these well-meaning American people who dedicate their lives to promoting the well-being of the next generation are walking embodiments of some of the most cherished (and contested) ideas in our American heritage. Their lives personify and proclaim the stories that (p.6)

 						            A LIFE STORY MADE IN AMERICA

figure p.1 “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” In aiming to address the needs and aspirations of “our posterity,” the framers of the U.S. Constitution invoked a psychological idea underscored almost 200 years later by the psychologist Erik H. Erikson. Erikson defined generativity as the adult's concern for and commitment to promoting the well-being and development of future generations. Generativity is the central psychological issue and arguably the most important virtue of the middle adult years. Reprinted with the permission of the National Archives and Records Administration.

(p.7) we all—we Americans—might like to tell about our own lives, stories that we indeed do often tell, though perhaps with less conviction, consistency, and gusto. The stories they live and tell are our stories, too—made in America.

What is the story that highly generative American adults tell? Everybody has a unique life story to tell. But if you listen to many life stories, as I and my students have over the past 20 years, you begin to recognize some common patterns.7 The pattern that I will focus on in this book is the one that tends to distinguish the life stories told by highly generative American adults from those told by less generative American adults.8 Research findings suggest that highly generative American adults are statistically more likely than their less generative counterparts to make sense of their own lives through an idealized story script that emphasizes, among other themes, the power of human redemption. In the most general sense, redemption is a deliverance from suffering to a better world. Religious conceptions of redemption imagine it as a divine intervention or sacred process, and the better world may mean heaven, a state of grace, or some other transcendent status. The general idea of redemption can be found in all of the world's major religions and many cultural traditions.

It is important to realize, however, that redemption carries many secular meanings that have nothing to do with religion. Everyday talk is filled with redemptive metaphors. People often speak of “putting the past behind” them in order to move away from something negative to a positive future. Adages such as “every dark cloud has a silver lining,” “it's always darkest before dawn,” and “no pain, no gain” suggest that suffering in life can often lead to growth or fulfillment. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” we are told. Try to transform the negative into some kind of positive. We all know expressions like these, and we can all probably find a few instances in our own lives when this general idea seemed to take hold. Furthermore, we are encouraged to think about our lives in redemptive terms. As just one example, many high school counselors in the United States today strongly urge their college-bound seniors to write personal essays that document the ways they have overcome adversity. College admissions officers appear to value these redemptive accounts quite highly, sometimes even assigning extra points to an applicant's file for especially compelling stories of resilience, recovery, defying the odds, and the like.

When they take stock of their own lives, highly generative American adults tend to narrate them around the theme of redemption. They are more likely than the rest of us to see redemptive patterns in their lives. Almost everybody can find some kind of redemption in his or her life story. But (p.8) highly generative American adults tend to see more of it and to attribute more significance or meaning to the redemptive scenes and situations they do recall. They also expect more redemptive scenes for the future. In the prototypical life story told by the highly generative American adult, the protagonist encounters many setbacks and experiences a great deal of pain in life, but over time these negative scenes lead to especially positive outcomes, outcomes that might not have occurred had the suffering never happened in the first place. Thus, redemption helps to move the life story forward.

Let me say more about this story.

How does the story begin? In the beginning is a blessing, a special advantage, a sense of personal destiny. Highly generative adults are much more likely than less generative adults to emphasize in their autobiographies ways in which they felt lucky or advantaged early on in life. The advantage they think they enjoyed is typically not economic or material. Perhaps, instead, Mom liked them the best. Perhaps they had a special skill. Perhaps they had a teacher or an uncle who sought them out for special treatment. Whatever, they believe they were fortunate in some way. At the same time, the story suggests, certain other characters were not fortunate. Highly generative adults are much more likely than less generative adults to recall scenes in early life in which they witnessed the suffering or disadvantage of other people. “I remember the retarded kid on our street, how the boys used to pick on him,” one highly generative adult recalls. “Our church bus was rerouted so it wouldn't pick up the Black kids,” recalls another, as he remembers how it dawned on him as a young White boy that not all people in American society are treated equally.

The implicit message in the beginning of the story is clear: I am blessed; others suffer. This stark contrast sets up a moral challenge: Because I (the main character in the story) am advantaged in some way, I have the opportunity, or responsibility, to help improve the lives of those who may not be so blessed. I may even feel that I am called to do this, that it is my special fate or personal destiny to be of service to others. “I have some basic gifts,” says one highly generative adult, “and I think the purpose of life is to take the gifts you're given and leave the world better for them.” Asked what life's most important value is, another says, “Finding your own personal gift and utilizing it the best you can for your personal welfare and for the welfare of everybody else.”

How does the plot develop? Early on (typically in adolescence), the protagonist in this story takes in (or develops) a system of beliefs, often rooted in a religious tradition, which serves to guide him or her for the rest of the story. Although the protagonist will go through many changes as the plot unfolds over the life course, the core of this belief system is not likely to change much (p.9) at all. It is a steadfast foundation for the person's identity. What will change, though, are motivations—the wants and needs and strivings of the story's main character. During certain chapters of my life story, I may want to change the world in a powerful and positive way. At other times, I may want to be loved and cherished by others. Sometimes I want to stand out as different; after all, I am special, blessed. At other times, I want to be accepted as an equal in a community of caring people. I want to be strong, but I want to be loved. I want to be free, but I want to belong. The tension between individual self-expression and human belongingness is arguably a universal feature of social life.9 But the tension is especially pronounced in the life stories of highly generative American adults. On the one hand, they have clear and compelling belief systems that have convinced them that they know what is right, what is true in life. On the other hand, they do not always know what they want, or they may want things that seem mutually incompatible—like power and love, perhaps, or freedom and community.

Guided by a clear personal belief system and striving to attain goals that express both power and love, the main character in this story encounters expected and unexpected obstacles and challenges as the plot unfolds. The protagonist will encounter friends and enemies, heroes and villains. There will be scenes of joy, excitement, sadness, fear, shame, and almost any other emotion that may be imagined. But a recurrent pattern will hold: Negative emotional scenes will often lead directly to positive outcomes. Suffering will consistently be redeemed. Redemptive sequences will help to move the plot forward and ultimately help give the story its progressive form. As one generative adult puts it, “When dealing with anything negative, I was taught to swing the door and make something positive out of it.” Another highly generative adult sees his life mission as “confounding ignorance with good works.” Many scenes in his life story begin with an expression of ignorance, but this gives way (is redeemed) by a positive action that proves to enlighten others. Despite many setbacks, things get better over time in these kinds of life stories. There is growth and improvement.

How does the story end? The stories people tell about their own lives are works in progress. Still, people can imagine what the future will hold and how, ultimately, things may or may not work out in the end. Highly generative adults see continued progress and growth in the story, even if they anticipate daunting obstacles ahead and even if they are pessimistic about the overall future of the world. They see their contributions to others as having enduring impact, even if only in small ways. Through their children, but often also through many other projects and endeavors in their lives, they see themselves as leaving a legacy for the future. The imagery of growth and (p.10) progress is very common in these stories. The protagonist gives birth to many things and people, cares for them and provides for their well-being, and eventually lets them go so that they can move forward in life with the generative blessings they have received. One highly generative adult put it this way: “When I die, I guess the chemicals in my body, well, they'll go to fertilize some plants, you know, some ears of corn, and the good deeds I do will live through my children and through the people I love.”

In sum, then, here is the general script of the life story I have described: I learn in childhood that I have a special gift. At the same time, I see (and am moved by) suffering and injustice in my world. As a result, I come to believe that my personal destiny is to have some positive impact on others. In adolescence I internalize a belief system that sustains my commitment to improving the world. I will never abandon these core beliefs. Over the course of my adult life, I struggle to reconcile my strong needs for power and independence with my equally strong needs for love and community. Bad things happen to me, but good outcomes often follow. My suffering is usually redeemed, as I continue to progress, to learn, to improve. Looking to the future, I expect the things I have generated will continue to grow and flourish, even in a dangerous world.

Do you see your life this way? Is this the kind of story you might tell if asked to tell the story of your life? Some people will say that their life fits the pattern pretty closely; others will claim that there is no resemblance at all. Most likely, though, there are parts of this story that seem like yours and others that do not. Highly generative American adults tend, on average, to construct life stories that resemble, sometimes quite closely, the pattern I have described. Like many of us, but perhaps a little more strongly than most of us, they tell life stories that affirm the power of human redemption. What does this life story mean? Why does this kind of redemptive story appear so often in the lives of very generative American adults? What is so great about this story? And what is wrong with it?

My central goal in this book is to explore the psychological and cultural meaning of redemptive stories in American lives. The great American novelist Robert Penn Warren has written that to be an American is not a matter of blood or birth; it is a matter of an idea.10 That idea is large and “contains multitudes,” as Walt Whitman wrote, but at the heart of it are stories that Americans have traditionally told about themselves and about their nation.11 Highly generative American adults tell life stories that unconsciously rework deep and vexing issues in our cultural heritage. These same stories, furthermore, address thorny new problems we face as Americans living at the dawn of the 21st century. As I move back and forth in this book between (p.11) psychology and American culture, I will affirm and defend six key points. Taken together, these six points make up my book's essential argument:

  1. 1. Generativity is the central psychological and moral challenge adults face, especially in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.

  2. 2. Generative adults tend to see their lives as redemptive stories that emphasize related themes such as early advantage, the suffering of others, moral clarity, the conflict between power and love, and leaving a legacy of growth.

  3. 3. Redemptive life stories promote psychological health and maturity, and they provide narrative guidelines for living a responsible and caring life.

  4. 4. Redemptive life stories reflect and rework such quintessentially American ideas as manifest destiny, the chosen people, and the (p.12) ambivalence Americans have traditionally felt about our most cherished of all values—freedom. Expressions of these themes can be found not only in the life stories of highly generative American adults, but also in a wide range of American cultural texts, from Puritan conversion stories and the Gettysburg Address to contemporary self-help books and People magazine. And, indeed, you do not have to be a generativity superstar to see your life in redemptive terms. Many Americans see their lives this way, to some extent. The story, like our lives, is made in America.

  5. 5. Redemptive life stories in America are profoundly shaped by two American peculiarities: (a) that this is one of the most religious industrialized societies in the world and (b) that this society has been torn asunder, from its inception, by the issue of race. Some of the most redemptive texts in the American tradition may be found in the African American heritage and in the life stories of highly generative Black adults.

  6. 6. For all their psychological and moral strength, redemptive life stories sometimes fail, and they may reveal dangerous shortcomings and blind spots in Americans' understandings of themselves and the world. After all, is it not presumptuous to expect deliverance from all suffering? Is it not an affront to those who have suffered the greatest calamities and heartaches to expect, even to suggest, that things will turn out nice and happy in the end? In this sense, there may indeed be something “almost childish” about the redemptive self—something a bit too naïve and Pollyanna for a world where tragedy often seems more common and compelling than redemption. And is it not arrogant to imagine one's life as the full manifestation of an inner destiny? You can sometimes detect an entitled, “true believer” quality in the life stories of many highly generative American adults—an assuredness regarding the goodness and the power of the individual self that may seem off-putting and can sometimes prove destructive. We will see, then, that redemptive narratives sometimes condone and reinforce social isolation and a kind of psychological American exceptionalism. Redemptive narratives may support, intentionally or unconsciously, a naïve optimism about the world, excessive moral fervor, and self-righteous aggression, even war, in the service of self-centered ends. The rhetoric of redemption makes it easy for us Americans to see ourselves as superior to the rest of the world and to identify our enemies as the “axis of evil.” (p.13) While redemptive life narratives affirm hope and human progress, therefore, we must also face up to the dark side of American redemption.

Twenty years ago, the sociologist Robert Bellah and his colleagues published an influential book, Habits of the Heart, that examined the ways Americans have traditionally talked about their strivings for personal fulfillment and interpersonal community.12 In the 18th and 19th centuries, figures like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln personified uniquely American character types, the authors argued, who inspired Americans to live good lives. These types no longer work for us, however. Habits of the Heart showed that Americans today have a difficult time finding an appropriate language to express desires for living together in harmony, helping each other, and committing themselves to meaningful, long-term life projects beyond the self. It is not so much that we are selfish people as that we are incapable of expressing the desires we do have to go beyond self-interest. Bellah and his colleagues challenged their readers to imagine new character types that might inspire future generations of Americans to live caring and productive lives.

From a psychological standpoint, the authors of Habits of the Heart may have been asking for too much. Research in personality and developmental psychology suggests that most people are too complex to fit into the kind of neat character types that Bellah ascribed to American heroes like Jefferson and Lincoln. Human lives are messy and filled with contradictions. Each person shows a wide range of different traits; different traits get expressed in different situations; people change in important ways over time.13 Nonetheless, Bellah and his colleagues were definitely onto something important in focusing so much attention on how Americans talk about their lives. When people talk about their lives, they tell stories. It is through stories that we often learn the greatest lessons for our lives—lessons about success and failure, good and evil, what makes a life worth living, and what makes a society good. It is through stories, furthermore, that we define who we are. Stories provide us with our identities.14

Highly generative American adults may not fit neatly into any single character type, but they do seem to have a type of story to tell about life. The redemptive stories that highly generative American adults tell recapture some of the ideas espoused in moral character types from long ago, but they also speak in the very contemporary language of 21st-century America. Redemptive stories provide images, scenes, plots, and themes that we might wish to borrow and rework into our own lives. I will never be just like my most (p.14) admired hero from history or the movies, or my most beloved high school coach. But I may borrow pieces of their stories and work them into my own.

This book blends ideas from psychology, sociology, and American history and culture to explore the meanings and manifestations of redemption in American lives. While many popular books (and a good deal of research) look first at what is wrong with people (think: addictions, disorders, mental illness), I take the opposite tack in this book. I begin with the positive psychology of generativity and redemption, even though my analysis will eventually lead to a critique.15 This book is grounded in social-scientific research, especially research published in the domains of personality, developmental, cognitive, and social psychology, and in sociology. I am a research scientist, not a clinician. Rather than offer armchair speculation or the kind of hysterical hand-wringing that many observers of American society love to present, I rely more on statistical studies, empirical data, and well-documented scientific findings. Having cast my lot with psychological science, I nonetheless acknowledge that most of the research I do does not involve sterile laboratories, brain scans, running rats in mazes, or most of the other accoutrements you may associate with the label research psychologist. Although some of the best research in psychology today connects to the brain sciences, what I study moves more in the direction of human personality and the self, culture, and humanities.16

My research is part of an emerging movement in the social sciences called the narrative study of lives. The central idea in this movement is that human lives are cultural texts that can be interpreted as stories.17 People create stories to make sense of their lives. These evolving stories—or narrative identities—provide our lives with some semblance of meaning, unity, and purpose. Along with our dispositional traits and our motives and goals, internalized life stories make up important aspects of our personality. Our stories are implicated in determining what we do and how we make sense of what we do. As a narrative psychologist, I systematically analyze the texts of people's life stories to obtain a better understanding of both the people who tell the stories and the culture within which those stories (and those people) are born. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” writes the American essayist Joan Didion.18 By examining life stories, we may learn more about how Americans live, and how we might live better.


(1.) Langewiesche (2002), p. 47.

(2.) I borrow the term “the good society” from a book of the same name written by Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, and Tipton (1991). The authors of this thoughtful volume consider the problems Americans have in sustaining commitment to and finding meaning in societal institutions. They also introduce to the arena of political science the psychological concept of generativity. Generativity is a central idea in The Redemptive Self.

(3.) As psychological documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution emphasize very different human aspirations. The Declaration sets people free from oppressive authority to pursue their own happiness and individuality. By contrast, the Constitution challenges free people to bond together into a good society in which the welfare of future generations is assured (generativity).

(4.) Erikson introduced the term generativity in his classic 1950 book, Childhood and Society. Other key sources for the concept include Kotre (1984); McAdams and de St. Aubin (1998); and de St. Aubin, McAdams, and Kim (2004).

(5.) For Erikson, generativity was the centerpiece of the seventh of eight stages in his life span theory of psychosocial development. Each stage is defined by a polarity between a positive and a negative outcome. For Stage 1, for example, the polarity is trust versus mistrust. For Stage 7, it is generativity versus stagnation. Each stage, furthermore, is associated with a specific virtue. For Stage 7, the virtue is “care.” By adding virtues to each stage, Erikson argued that psychosocial developmental concerns often have a strong moral or ethical meaning, as well. See, especially, Erikson (1964). Browning (2004) provides a very thorough examination of generativity as an ethical concept. Wakefield (1998) traces philosophical thinking regarding generativity back to Plato's Symposium.

(6.) I take these virtues from Bennett (1993).

(7.) See, for example, McAdams (1985, 1993).

(8.) The main studies documenting differences in life stories between highly generative and less generative adults are described in chapters 2, 3, and 8 of this book. Published first in scientific journal articles and in chapters of professional books, the studies were reported originally in the following sources: Himsel, Hart, Diamond, and McAdams (1997); Mansfield and McAdams (1996); McAdams and Bowman (2001); McAdams, Diamond, de St. Aubin, and Mansfield (1997); and McAdams, Reynolds, Lewis, Patten, and Bowman (2001). Related findings, also described in later chapters of this book, have been obtained in life-narrative research by Colby and Damon (1992) and M. Andrews (1991).

(9.) Many classic theories of personality pit a striving for self-expression and a striving for loving community against each other as the two fundamental motivations in life. The most general expression of this is probably Bakan's (1966) distinction between agency and communion as the two basic modalities of all living forms. For Bakan, agency refers to self-expansion, self-defense, and all strivings that put the self first and foremost; communion refers to merging the self with others in various ways, as in erotic love, friendship, family life, and community. Similar distinctions include Freud's (1920/1955) aggressive instincts (Thanatos) versus sexual instincts (Eros), Adler's (1927) strivings for superiority and social interest, Angyal's (1941) basic needs for autonomy and surrender, Rank's (1936/1978) fear of life (which motivates us to separate from others) and fear of death (which motivates us to seek union), and Hogan's (1982) evolutionary tasks of getting ahead and getting along. In my own life story model of identity, I have argued that the two basic thematic lines in life narratives concern agency/power and communion/intimacy (McAdams, 1985).

(10.) In Kammen (1991).

(11.) In “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman celebrated an exuberant and sprawling American identity. Among my favorite lines are these: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.).” In Murphy (1977), P. 737.

(12.) Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, and Tipton (1985).

(13.) For almost 100 years, empirically minded personality psychologists have tried to delineate clear types of human personality, but with only modest success. Loevinger (1976) sets forth a developmental typology, suggesting that people can be characterized broadly in terms of their overall stage of ego development. But even Loevinger admits that there is much more to personality than a person's ego stage. Block (1971) and York and John (1992) have developed useful typologies that bring together groups of variables into more or less coherent patterns. But these typologies are much more complex and their boundaries are much looser than traditional notions of character types typically suggest. Most current scientific thinking has it that personality is a complex mixture of different personality traits and other variables, set in a complex social context. We will consider personality traits and their relations to life stories, as well as the relationship between personality and culture, in chapter 10.

(14.) The idea that identity is an internalized and evolving narrative of the self is the central idea of my life story model of identity (McAdams, 1985, 1993, 1996b, 2001c) (p.301) and appears in a number of other theoretical approaches (e.g., Gregg, 1991; Hermans, Kempen, and van Loon, 1992; Singer, 1995).

(15.) In the late 1990s, empirical psychology witnessed the emergence of a movement toward positive psychology. An important leader in this movement is Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association. Positive psychology seeks to establish a scientific understanding of positive and prosocial aspects of human functioning, including human happiness and well-being, psychological resilience, human virtues such as honesty and gratitude, prosocial aspects of religious faith, and moral development (see Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). For the most part, the concept of generativity seems to fit well the positive psychology emphasis.

(16.) Most empirical psychologists have traditionally been more comfortable linking up with the biological sciences than with their sister disciplines in the social sciences, and most have proven positively phobic about the humanities. The past decade and a half has witnessed many fruitful efforts to integrate psychology—especially cognitive psychology—with the brain sciences and with biology. Among the best trade books written in this vein in recent years are Antonio Damasio's (1994) Descartes' Error, Joseph LeDoux's (1996) The Emotional Brain, Steven Pinker's (1997) How the Mind Works, and Daniel Schacter's (1996) Searching for Memory. By contrast, empirically minded psychologists lately have had relatively little to offer the educated public regarding the relation between psychology, on the one hand, and society and culture, on the other—beyond, that is, a few reductionistic attempts to derive culture from genes and traits. If you go back a few decades, however, you can find smart and provocative books written by psychologists for educated lay audiences, as well as professionals, aiming to explore the relation between self and culture. Written by a rigorous empiricist, David McClelland's (1961) The Achieving Society is one good example. Other examples come more out of the psychoanalytic tradition, such as Norman Brown's (1959) Life Against Death, Erik Erikson's (1963) Childhood and Society, Philip Rieff's (1966) The Triumph of the Therapeutic, and Ernest Becker's (1973) The Denial of Death. Psychologically informed sociologists have also written important and widely read trade books in this vein, including most notably David Riesman's (1949/1961) The Lonely Crowd, Christopher Lasch's (1979) Culture of Narcissism, and Robert Bellah et al.'s (1985) Habits of the Heart.

(17.) The narrative study of lives is an interdisciplinary movement in the social sciences, one aimed at exploring and interpreting the narrative or story-like dimensions of people's lives and social-cultural contexts. Ruthellen Josselson and Amia Lieblich edited a groundbreaking book series in the mid-1990s aimed at showcasing the best scholarly work being done on narrative studies of lives, bringing together psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, literary scholars, education researchers, and researchers in other disciplines. See, especially, Josselson and Lieblich (1993). More recently, the American Psychological Association launched a book series entitled The Narrative Study of Lives (e.g., Josselson, Lieblich, & McAdams, 2003; Lieblich, McAdams, & Josselson, 2004; McAdams, Josselson, & Lieblich, 2001). Other noteworthy research contributions to the narrative study of lives include Crossley (2000), (p.302) Franz and Stewart (1994), Josselson (1996), Maruna (2001), Nasby and Read (1997), and Rosenwald and Ochberg (1992). The conceptual and philosophical frameworks that underlie narrative studies of lives are discussed in many sources in psychology and sociology. Among the most influential or comprehensive are Barresi and Juckes (1997), Bruner (1986), Cohler (1982), Denzin (1989), Freeman (1993), McAdams (1999), Polkinghorne (1988), Sarbin (1986), and Shotter and Gergen (1989). A related movement in the helping professions is narrative therapy, an important source for which is White and Epston (1990).

(18.) From Didion (1979), p. 11.