Who gets to live the good life? Master Narratives, identity, and well-being within a marginalizing society

Moin Syed, Kate C. McLean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The question of what constitutes “the good life” is incomplete without also addressing the question of who gets to live the good life. Implicit in many discussions of the good life, particularly in American and Western European contexts, is that it is equally available to all members of society, and attainable via malleable dispositions (e.g., changing attitudes, self-relevant beliefs). In this way, the good life is experienced through a highly agentic process of self-discovery and environmental mastery. What is generally lacking in this work is a serious reckoning of how structural factors constrain access to unbounded agency, particularly for those individuals who are marginalized in society due to race, gender, sexuality, and other factors. Moreover, “the good life” fundamentally indexes individuals’ well-being, and thus any claims to the good life will depend on how well-being is defined. Throughout psychology well-being is most commonly defined in terms of positive subjective states (e.g., hedonia, eudaimonia) that again remove any consideration of external criteria or demands. In this paper, we put the preceding together by outlining how a master narrative perspective—which examines the culturally shared stories that guide thoughts, beliefs, values, and behaviors—brings attention to the structural constraints on well-being among individuals in marginalized positions in society. We also propose an alternative conceptualization of the good life, which includes the importance of interpersonal connection between those who share the experience of marginalization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104285
JournalJournal of Research in Personality
StatePublished - Oct 2022

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  • Culture
  • Good life
  • Master narratives
  • Narrative identity
  • Well-being


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