Narrative identity and eudaimonic well-being

Abstract

Narrative identity refers to the internal, dynamic life story that an individual constructs to make sense of his or her life. We argue that narrative identity is closely tied to the subjective interpretation of oneself as happy. We present a view of eudaimonic well-being that extends beyond the sense of having pleasure and meaning in one’s life (measured as self-report well-being) to include higher degrees of psychosocial integration in that meaning (measured as ego development). This combination of qualities is characteristic of the good life, or eudaimonia, in a tradition dating to Aristotle. We then describe research showing how several patterns of narrative identity correspond to this extended notion of eudaimonic well-being. First, people at high levels of eudaimonic well-being tend to emphasize personal growth in their life stories, with different kinds of personal growth corresponding to different facets of eudaimonic well-being. Second, these people also tend to frame difficult life experiences as transformative experiences wherein they suffered deep pain but gained new insights about the self. Third, charting the move from suffering to an enhanced status or state, their stories often follow a culturally-shaped script of redemption, which in American society is often conceived as upward social mobility, liberation, recovery, atonement, or the full actualization of the inner self.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The authors wish to thank Bobby Alvarez, Jennifer Douveille, Cassandra Hirdes, and Lindsay Richerson.

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Correspondence to Jack J. Bauer.

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Bauer, J.J., McAdams, D.P. & Pals, J.L. Narrative identity and eudaimonic well-being. J Happiness Stud 9, 81–104 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-006-9021-6

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Keywords

  • life stories
  • the good life
  • happiness
  • meaningfulness
  • ego development
  • growth stories
  • self-transformation
  • the redemptive self