Documenting your life experiences, values, and opinions to share with others
by John Evans, MAT, MA, EdD
"Legacy writing is a way of documenting your life experiences, values, and opinions to share with others. It can be a cherished gift to family and loved ones, and healing for the writers themselves." -Andrew Weil, MD
What will your legacy be? Do the significant people in your life know what you have valued most, what you thought was your purpose, or what you learned about life as you lived it? Do they know how you navigated life's challenges, celebrated life's gifts, or how you simply enjoyed beauty every day? Do they know you have found benefits from challenges as well as from life's beauty? Do they know how you used your moments of reflection to make life-course corrections? Legacy writing answers these questions and more for others and for ourselves.
When we make explicit our values, purpose, and beliefs about our life, we answer questions that others may wish to ask but can't find the words. Our answers are rooted in our life stories of the past or life stories of significance in the present-and in passing on our wisdom, love, and blessings for the future. In contemporary legacy writing, as with ancient writing, we write for generations now and generations to come. It isn't only presidents and public figures who wish to leave a legacy-many other people want to know how their life has made a difference, that they have influenced someone or something. Legacy writing fulfills our desire for someone to know us at a profoundly deep and personal level.
Legacy Writing Prompts
Following are four legacy writing choices. For the purpose of your six-week program, choose at least one option and write for at least twenty minutes. Later, you may decide to dedicate a longer period of time and write about more topics. Some have made such writing a project on its own. Many people report a shift in perspective when they think about how their response reflects their values and purpose.
Choice # 1: Legacy Blessing
Write a blessing for someone that promotes his or her happiness, well-being, and prosperity. Write for twenty minutes. In your writing, affirm the receiver's gifts and talents. Consider the milestones he or she will encounter in life and offer your wisdom and support. Give permission for the receiver to love others and to enjoy life when you are no longer with him or her. Let the receiver know how he or she has blessed you and what he or she means to you.
Choice #2: Legacy of Gratitude and Joy
Write a statement of gratitude and joy about a person, specific event, or life experience. Write for twenty minutes. Describe your most joyous, wonderful, exquisite experience. Recall how you felt, what you thought, what you said, what others said to you, who was with you, and where you were. How do you feel about it now?
Choice #3: Legacy Narrative
Write a short story about yourself on one of the topics below. Write for twenty minutes. Repeat as often as desired.
- Your rites of passage
- What an important experience taught you
- How something changed your life
- Your dreams attained
- Your frustrated dreams
- Your fondest memories
- Things you looked forward to in the past and things you look forward to now
- How you handle the difference between expectations, challenges, and frustrations
- What makes you get up in the morning
- What keeps you up at night
- How you unwind or how you don't
- What makes you resilient
- What five words you wish people would use when they describe you
Choice #4: Legacy of Life Course Correction
Write a short story about navigating a challenging life experience when you were able to successfully make a life-course correction. Recall in detail how you felt, what you thought, what you may have said about it when you recalled it for someone who wasn't there, or recall what others said to you about it then and what they say about it now. Describe how it feels to think about it now as you write and what you believe it says about your capacity for successfully navigating a challenging life experience, your strengths, and your capacities for resilience. Write for twenty minutes.
See more about Legacy Writing in Expressive Writing: Words that Heal by James Pennebaker and John Evans (2014)
We thank John Evans for generously sharing this column, an earlier version of which was published on his blog for Psychology Today. As a writing clinician and integrative health coach, John Evans works with groups, individuals, and health care professionals, teaching them how to use writing for better physical, emotional, and spiritual health. He has authored five books and has taught journaling and writing for self-development for over thirty years. With James Pennebaker, Evans co-authored Expressive Writing: Words that Heal (2014). His book Wellness & Writing Connections: Writing for Better Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health (2010) is a collection of essays from the Wellness & Writing Connections Conference Series (2007 - 2010). At Duke Integrative Medicine, Evans has taught Caring for Caregivers, Legacy Writing, Transform Your Health: Write to Heal, Leading Patients in Writing for Health, and Writing as a Tool for Integrative Health Coaches.