Definition of “Generativity” and Why It Is Good For You

By on December 2, 2013
woman teaching child

By Beth Havey –

Like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” did you ever ask the universe or your spouse: “Why do we have to have all these kids?”

There are so many wonderful answers—love, desire for family, wanting to share your experience of life. As we age, we realize more and more that our children are our legacy. We will be remembered only through them. They satisfy our desire for generativity: generating good things and people.

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Giving birth is the ultimate act of generativity. But how we parent and follow through, to our own children or to the children of the world, is what truly matters—our commitment to nurturing and growing the next generation. As we age, we can continue to experience the rewards of generativity in two ways:

  • First by creating something wonderful: a business, a song, a painting, the resolution of a problem, a scientific theory, a recipe, a novel, a hybrid rose.
  • Second by creating the very future itself through teaching, nursing, volunteering, voting, or forming and helping community centers, churches, schools and health centers.

In each of these projects resides a part of us—the true good in us. Bottom line: what we generate moves into the future and provides for those coming after us. Then we can say: I am what survives me.

Psychologists agree: those who generate and create are gifted with feelings of well-being and low levels of depression. They confirm what many of us know to be true: if you are feeling sad or lonely, the best cure is reaching out to help someone else. 

Though there might be some ego or maybe even a need for control in our acts of creation, when we generate for future generations we cover over those needs with love.  Dan P. McAdams in his article about generativity, quotes an African Proverb to underline the positive aspects of our desire to leave something behind: The world was not left to us by our parents.  It was lent to us by our children.

The very act of raising or helping a child indicates a “belief in the species.” Though we read every day of the horrific things that can happen on our planet, we continue to forge ahead, believing in our own generative powers and the goodness that can still exist on our earth for the generations to come.

In McAdams’ article he includes a Self-Test.  The items below are from the Loyola Generativity Scale (LGS).

Read the following six items and mark:

O if the statement never applies to you;

1 if the statement sometimes applies to you;

2 if the statement often applies to you;

3 if the statement always applies to you;


Then add up your score.  Men, women in their 30s, 40s and 50s usually score 11.  Younger adults and adults in their 60s and older usually score slightly lower.

___ I try to pass along knowledge I have gained through my experience.

____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 a responsibility to improve the neighborhood in which I live.

____I feel that my contribution will exist after I die.


Thanks to Dan P. McAdams for the inspiration from his article Generativity: The New Definition of Success (From Spirituality and Health, Issue Fall 2001)



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Definition of “Generativity” and Why It Is Good For You