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How Our Stories Keep Us Sane

Stories can bring us peace

Stories can bring us peace

Never in my life have I used the words "everything sucks" so frequently. And that includes my teen years, so that's really saying something.

Why? Because, as it turns out, life as an adult is hard. Real hard.

And by "adult" I do not mean "in my 30s", because I have a slew of friends my age still globetrotting and late-night partying like it's 1999 (unless Facebook lies, which it couldn't possibly.) What I mean by being an "adult" is the insane juggle of responsibility that comes when you "grow up" and put aside the delicious desires of independence to invest in more mature goals: developing a career, maintaining a home, raising a family.

And as recent studies have shown us, parenthood actually decreases our happiness levels, perhaps even more significantly than the loss of a partner.

This, of course, is not something we talk about. How could we? Babies are a blessing, after all, and having any sentiments that resemble regret or resentment is just plain selfish.

But if you are a parent - struggling with a lack of sleep and time and space and freedom and identity - you can likely sympathize. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone. But I will tell you this. Never in my life have I appreciated the value of stories so much: the stories we tell ourselves to stay sane.

Happiness is a choice and, often times, an effort. We make a decision to feel a certain way at some point and either intention or momentum carries us along. Both of these are fuelled by story. At some point in time I decided that in order to be happy, I need a certain amount of personal freedom which, to me, means time by myself to pursue pleasures that aren't motivated by the desires of others. I need to be able to go to a coffee shop every once in a while to people watch, suck back a latte and gorge on a cinnamon bun without the background "hum" of a whining toddler. At least, this is what I have told myself. 

So, plot line: pursuit of happiness by overcoming challenges of commitments and responsibilities in order to seek out quiet, solitary moments of joy. Protagonist: me. Antagonist: every aspect of my current life.

At the moment, this story seems to be a tragedy, and it's really getting me down.

But wait! Perhaps there is another angle? Perhaps the story doesn't have to end the way it seems to be going. What if I were to tell myself a different story? Or add a twist, maybe? What if I rewrote the conditions? What if the protagonist found a different way to overcome her obstacles and ultimately find that jewel of happiness?

And so begins 2017, a year of rewriting the plot line.

That's what New Year's resolutions are for: telling ourselves a different story. This year we will be different, want different things, act differently in order to achieve these things, and change the trajectory of our life. That's how we clear out the cobwebs and start anew.

So where do we begin telling ourselves a new story?

1. Define the protagonist: Who is this leading character, really, and who do they want to be?

2. Identify the story goal: What, truly, is this hero looking to achieve? And what's standing in their way?

3. Evaluate the setting: Is this place the ideal context for the story goal to be reached?

4. Prepave the plot line: If you know how you want the story to play out, think of what might need to happen to that main character in order to get there? Be specific. Map it out. Be intentional.

Happiness is not an accident, and neither is our life. I know I am responsible for the state of my life as of late. Sure, I'm tired. Sure, the odds are stacked up against me. But at the end of the day, I am responsible for my attitude and my experience of this life. Parenthood is a blessing. And even if I can't have those moments all to myself these days, we can still enjoy that cream cheese frosting together.

Using Stories for the Power of Suggestion

Using Stories for the Power of Suggestion

New Year, New You, New Resume