Life review comes naturally…
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. – Pablo Picasso
Terry Martin has been looking at the topic of ‘life review’:
William Damon is one of the world’s leading scholars of human development and has done pioneering research on the development of purpose in life.
In 2008 he published the influential book The Path to Purpose: How young people find their calling in life (First Free Press, 2008), and in 2021 he published his most recent book A Round of Golf with My Father: The new psychology of exploring your past to make peace with your present (Templeton Press, 2021). He discusses this latest book in a podcast, ‘Conversations with Mark Bauerlein’, which can be accessed through the First Things website: firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2022/03/past-present-peace
Although his 2008 book is primarily addressed to young people, in his own experience of life review, as recounted in his latest book, Damon is also addressing older people.
He discovered, at age 60, that the father he had never known – since he had walked out on his mother before Damon was born – had lived a very worthy and purposeful life. Damon, with much difficulty, found it in him to forgive his father for this one major transgression of his life and to connect with half-sisters of whom he had hitherto been unaware.
Sharif et al. (2018) explain the concept of life review thus:
‘The concept of life review was first introduced by Butler in his 1963 article. Butler proposed that life review is a natural process which we all resort to when we are approaching the end of our lives. He defined life review as a natural event in which an individual recalls his/her past experiences, evaluates them, and analyses them in order to achieve a more profound self-concept. In 1974, by presenting a framework for this developmental task, Butler made the life review more purposeful and suggested it as a form of therapy.’
By gaining an understanding of the meaning of what had happened to him by undertaking an in-depth life review, Damon discovered a new sense of purpose to his life. Although a formal life review is more the provenance of qualified psychologists, those of us working with older people can draw upon the insights of a life review to inform our conversations.
Robert N. Butler, ‘The Life Review: An interpretation of reminiscence in the aged’, Psychiatry 26:1 (1963), pp. 65–76.
William Damon, The Path to Purpose: How young people find their calling in life (First Free Press, 2008).
William Damon, A Round of Golf with My Father: The new psychology of exploring your past to make peace with your present (Templeton Press, 2021).
Terry Eagleton,The Meaning of Life: A very short introduction (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Farkhondeh Sharif et al., ‘Effectiveness of life review therapy on quality of life in the late life at day care centers of Shiraz, Iran: A randomized controlled trial’, International Journal of Community Based Nursing and Midwifery 6.2 (2018), pp. 136–145.
Paul Wong, ‘Differentiating between meaning and purpose, and why it matters’, 2017, drpaulwong.com/differentiating-between-meaning-and-purpose-and-why-it-matters
Terry Martin, March 2022.
Terry is a trustee of the Southampton charity Caraway.