Play, Flow, and Tailoring Identity in Middle Adulthood

  • Kevin RathundeEmail author
  • Russell Isabella


Identity provides a sense of meaning and direction in life by helping to clarify our role in the world and connection to others (Erikson EH: Identity: youth and crisis. Norton, New York, 1968). However, identity is not a static achievement; it evolves over time. As life circumstances change, so must the ensemble of goals, values, and beliefs that form the self and identity around which our lives revolve. There are numerous circumstances in midlife that can initiate identity change, including traumatic events (McAdams DP: The stories we live by: personal myth and the making of the self. Morrow, New York, 1993), debilitating illness (Ellis C: Qual Health Res 9(5):669–683, 1999), and challenges encountered at home or at work. In the absence of events that force change, however, identity growth depends on the willingness of the person to voluntarily step outside their comfort zone to engage in challenges sufficient to require a reorganization of priorities and goals. It is this self-initiated aspect of identity change that we focus on in this chapter, especially in relation to the use of intrinsically motivated leisure pursuits that are based on the human capacity for lifelong play (Graham KL, Burghhardt GM: Quart Rev Biol 85(4):393–418, 2010; Montagu A: Growing young. Bergin & Garvey, Boston, 1989). After articulating a framework for thinking about play, flow experience, and identity development, the chapter focuses on three men in middle adulthood who, despite having favorable life circumstances, elected to engage challenging leisure-play pursuits that helped tailor their identities and promote successful aging.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Family and Consumer StudiesUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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