On the first page of his book Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, the New York Times best-selling author Bruce Feiler writes, “Changes are on the way and we should be ready.” The topic of change has been on our minds since March 2020, when we launched the WBI/JCC Positive Psychology Hour to support our communities during the pandemic through the science of applied positive psychology. WBI alum and friends have generously shared their wisdom and experience in more than 250 free webinars. (You can find recordings from the series on our blog.) Two and a half years later, the series continues to support us as we wrestle, individually and collectively, with the consequences of the pandemic as well as our own personal and professional challenges.
After a break in August, we resume our Positive Psychology Hour programming on September 13, with an exploration of Feiler’s work on navigating change. His research and ideas have many overlaps with the basic tenets of positive psychology that we have covered in our series—including adaptive coping, possible selves theory, self-determination theory, narrative practices, meaning, social capital, altruism, forgiveness, belonging, purpose, hope, courage, habits, mindset, and prospection.
Feiler’s journey was catalyzed by facing a set of intense challenges during a short period of time. While dealing with his father’s Parkinson’s diagnosis and suicide attempts, Feiler was diagnosed with a unique type of bone cancer. Soon after, he came close to bankruptcy. An accomplished writer, he recognized the need for storytelling, and began to ask his father a series of questions that became ever more complex. This intervention, which was to become Feiler’s “narrative solution,” changed his father’s life and facilitated profound changes in the author’s life as well.
As a result of his experience, he set out to conduct a three-year research project, the Life Story Project. Feiler’s hypothesis was that if people could be assisted in telling the stories of the major life changes in their lives, they would be able to deal with them better. He conducted 225 interviews with people of different ages and histories across the United States who had experienced unpredicted transitions in their lives and were trying to understand what they were going through. This research led to his concept of “nonlinear lives,” which he describes as “a complex swirl of celebrations, setbacks, triumphs, and rebirths across the full span of our years.”
Feiler’s hope in writing his book was to provide a toolkit for successfully moving through any change, whether we are facing significant hardships or navigating small transitions. He developed the New Model for Life Transitions and identified three major phases of transition: the long goodbye, the messy middle, and the new beginning, as well as seven tools for coping with change.
The last tool in Feiler’s model might be of particular interest to many of us at this time, as it relates to updating our personal narrative. He writes that the stories we tell ourselves help us to both understand who we are and prepare for the future, and that the greatest gift of story is as an act of integration, supporting us to create new narratives that incorporate what we have been through and who we are now. As he writes, “Our life story is part of a transition that ties together all the other parts: ‘I used to be that. Then I went through a life change. Now I am this.’”
In addition to crafting that new narrative, Feiler emphasizes that it is essential to tell others your story. “Inventing new tales is so crucial; however, getting the opportunity to share them is more crucial,” he writes. That’s part of what the Positive Psychology Hour is all about. We look forward to seeing you online this month, or in person soon for another WBI/JCC collaboration, the Wholebeing Weekend, October 22–23 in Manhattan.
Join Phoebe and Nancy to explore Bruce Feiler’s work on navigating transitions and creating new narratives in the next WBI/JCC webinar, “Life Is in the Transitions: Telling the New Story,” Tuesday, September 13, at 12:00 pm ET. Register now.
Phoebe Atkinson is a core faculty member of WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification program. She is a licensed clinical social worker, certified coach, and board-certified trainer, educator, and practitioner in psychodrama, sociometry, and group psychotherapy. She serves on the faculty for WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, and is also a graduate of the program.
Along with Jennifer Hanawald, Phoebe teaches the online Positive Psychology: Skill-Building Intensive course and leads the Positive Psychology Coaching Mentorship.
Find out about Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology
Learn more about WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification.
Nancy Kirsner, PhD, TEP, OTR, has been in private practice, teaching, and consulting for 45 years. A graduate of WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, she loves translating positive psychology principles and research into applied practice, utilizing experiential learning. Nancy is co-author, with Phoebe Atkinson, of a chapter of the book Action Explorations: Using Psychodramatic Methods in Non-Therapeutic Settings. She is past president of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama (ASGPP), and has been the editor of the ASGPP’s Psychodrama Network News since 2018.