I must have missed a day during my Psychology rotation. If I could have planned it, I would have missed the part about Freud and psychoanalysis. Give me a social or a cognitive psychologist any day and I will be much happier. These types of psychologists study the development of personality and cognition, or the thinking process throughout the lifetime. One of the great social psychologists, Erick Erickson, viewed our lifespan as occurring in stages, eight to be precise. They are depicted in the graphic taken from the pages of simplepsychology.org. ( See reference below.)
I am writing tonight to introduce a new concept: generativity. It is the eighth stage in Erickson’s concept, and this seems to indicate it pertains only to people who are middle aged. I think it pertains to all adults, young or old, and maybe even certain adolescents. In a prior post I highlighted the evidence behind the importance of creativity to health. In this post I would like to highlight the importance of generativity to health and wellness.
Generativity is a term created by Professor Erickson to denote "a concern for establishing and guiding the next-generation." It has to do with creating something beneficial for those who come after you. It has to do with making the world a better place. In both Japanese and western culture it has to do with making your mark. Steve Jobs famously use the phrase "put a dent in the world".
I have a hard time seeing that this kind of altruism is restricted to middle-aged people. The literature says that this personality trait does not have to be there initially to manifest itself later in life. But what if we were to hold it up as a desirable value? What if we were to make it trendy? Would more people embrace it and do so sooner in life? In Jewish thinking there is a phrase which I think relates to this. It is “Tikkun Olam”. This means to repair the world. It is something we are taught from early on. It is one of the highest Jewish values.
In the field of psychology, there is actually a scale to measure generativity in a person. It is called the Loyola Generativity Scale or LGS. It is a point system in which the subject answers the following six questions:
- I tried to pass along knowledge I gained through my experiences.
- I have made and created things that have had an impact on other people.
- I have important skills that I try to teach others.
- If I were unable to have children of my own, I would adopt children.
- I have have a responsibility to improve the neighborhood in which I live.
- I feel that my contributions will exist after I die.
You get a zero if the statement does not apply to you, a 1 if it sometimes applies, 2 if the statement often applies, and 3 if the statement always applies. The higher the score, the more generative you are. And not surprisingly, the happier you are. There is real research that indicates that a high score on the Loyola Generativity Scale is positively associated with life satisfaction.
Generativity is a new term for me. However it is an old and very useful concept. I am writing today to do my part to put it a little more on the map, and to encourage a conversation.