Writing Wisdom, Reviewing Identity: Positive Outcomes of Participating in a Memoir Course for Older Adults


  • Marissa A. Bivona
  • Patricia E. Kahlbaugh
  • Christopher J. Budnick


Wisdom, Identity, Subjective Well-Being, Life Review, Narrative


Constructing a personal narrative and consolidating identity is an ongoing process that becomes pressing in the face of mortality. The current pilot study examined the process of life review in a sample of older people, specifically examining the effects of participation in a memoir course on wisdom, identity, and well-being. We hypothesized that wisdom, identity fidelity and coherence, and subjective well-being would increase for those in the memoir group compared to a control. Eighteen elderly individuals from two senior retirement communities were randomly assigned to participate in weekly classes, for four weeks, either to work on a memoir or discuss films (control group). After engaging in the process of organizing their life story and writing about important memories, the nine individuals in the memoir group scored significantly higher on self-report measures of wise reminiscence, identity fidelity, and subjective well-being compared to those in the control group. Furthermore, exploratory analyses found that wise reminiscence statistically mediated relationships between the memoir condition and the outcome measures of identity fidelity, identity coherence, and subjective well-being. These findings point to the benefits of memoir writing for positive aging as well as potential mechanisms underlying its effectiveness.