Are you Achieving Generativity?


On hearing the word generativity in the context of middle life, many may imagine productivity exemplified primarily by career accomplishments, accumulated wealth, or possessions. To 20th century psychoanalyst and developmental theorist Erik Erikson, however, generativity represents the making of contributions of lasting value. Caring for others is the key virtue to achieving this goal. Erikson spent a good part of his life studying different developmental stages of the individual; postulating 8 stages. In the 7th stage, which centers on generativity, Erikson describes how adults must find a way to satisfy and support the next generation.

Generativity versus stagnation, the name Erikson gave to this stage, usually occurs from the forties to the mid-sixties. The main question faced is: “Will I produce something of real value?” Contributing to society and helping to guide future generations are important developmental tasks during middle age.

Maintaining healthy life patterns, developing a sense of unity with one’s partner, creating a comfortable home, adjusting to physical changes, using leisure time creatively, expressing love, and achieving civic and social responsibility are some of the central tasks of middle adulthood. Failure to achieve these tasks will promote feelings of stagnation, usually due to a lack of meaningful productivity. Self-absorbed individuals and people with few connections to others generally offer little to their families or communities. Not being able to find meaning in one’s life can also produce a sense of stagnation.

Developing meaningful relationships within the workplace, family, and community can not only help the individual achieve a sense of generativity but can also have a significantly positive impact on emotional health and well-being. It is clear that a strong support system can enhance wellness, even during challenges and difficult times.

Reflecting on the ways you offer caring to others and experience meaningful relationships, connections, and contributions to the community may reveal greater levels of generativity than you had consciously imagined. Alternatively, such reflection can help inspire new ways to offer your time, caring, and contributions to others in a way that will enhance your sense of generativity. Middle life offers a time of unique focus on this question and the opportunity to consider all the meaningful ways- whether large or small-that we make a difference for others; thereby fulfilling our own developmental needs.

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