What Story Are You Telling Yourself?

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I was listening to a podcast the other morning (As friends of mine know, I start sentences like that a lot.). This particular one was about not, “interviewing your child for pain.” Basically, it was saying if you only ask a loved one questions about what went wrong on Tuesday, or call up your friend to see what terrible thing her ex has done now, you’re putting all of your attention on the bad stuff in life (and that’s not good!).

It struck a chord with me.

I can think of hundreds of times when I’ve been at bitchfests with friends where everyone is trashing a certain thing or event or celebrity. Isn’t that what a lot of work happy hours are all about? Complaining as a unit really brings a group together.

And I’ve noticed that when I’m telling stories about dates gone horribly awry, they garner much more attention than when I am describing the really sweet moment when a date was hopping around imitating my favorite Instagram bunny.

It made me think.

If we’re spending so much more time talking about the bad stuff, does it really impact the way we feel? Michael Thompson and Catherine O’Neill Grace say Yes. “We live the story we tell ourselves – and others – about the life we’re leading.”

If that’s the case, don’t we want it to be a happy story? Shouldn’t we be spending more time noticing and talking about the little moments of brightness and joy we encounter in our days?

Then I read an article in the September issue of Marie Claire about a clinical trial to treat PTSD that is using MDMA (the chemical behind ecstasy and ‘Molly’) as a therapy drug. The piece described how it was having success because it let people access old, traumatic memories and reimagine them, interact with them, and put them back away with a different spin. It allowed them to heal and change a moment that already happened to them by changing the way they remembered it.

Studies show that we are hard wired to remember negative events – insults – for longer, and more intensely than our bodies respond to good events. Researchers say it’s due to the chemicals our bodies produce. Cortisol, the stress hormone, sticks around for longer and has a more dramatic impact than oxytocin, our feel-good hormone, that metabolizes more quickly.

If we’re constantly interviewing our friends and family about their heart ache, their bad days, soon they could begin to believe that’s all there is. Be empathetic, and by all means, be there for people who need you, but in day to day life, if we’re defined by what we focus in on, and our memories are changed by examining them in a different light, don’t you want to make sure you’re telling yourself a happy story?

Image by Mark Wathieu

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