Navigating Change and Crafting New Narratives: A Look at Bruce Feiler’s Work on Transitions

On the first page of his novel Life is about the Transitions: Mastering Change in Any Age the New York Times best-selling author Bruce Feiler writes, “Changes are onThe 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 alumni and their friends have generously shared the wisdom and experience of more than 250 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 was close to declaring bankruptcy. He was an accomplished writer and realized the need for storytelling. He began asking his father a series complex questions. 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. The New Model for Life Transitions was created by Feiler. It identified three major phases of transition: long goodbye, messy middle, and new beginning. There are also seven tools for dealing 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 underwent a major life change. Now I am this.’” 

Feiler emphasizes the importance of crafting a new narrative. It is vital to share your story with others. “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,” Wednesday, September 13, at 12:00 pm ET. Register now

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