The pursuit of happiness is one that spans across cultures, religions and societies. It's a cultural obsession that has weaved its way into many facets of our lives and is inevitably linked to meaning and purpose. Unsurprisingly, happiness has also been the source of a plethora of studies.
Findings vary, showing that people find happiness from relationships, jobs, location, age and exercise, just to name a few. However, recent research may have found an even easier way to live a happy life: storytelling – and specifically the story of your life.
Your personal story and personality
The way you tell your personal narrative, even if it’s just to yourself, is important. As, this narrative provides the foundation of your personal identity, whether you are paying conscious attention to this narrative, or not.
Research from Kate McLean and her team explored the idea that, although our personal narratives are constantly evolving, they still contain various stable elements that signal to inherent traits. The results were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, with McLean describing that ‘the stories we tell about ourselves reveal ourselves, construct ourselves and sustain ourselves through time.’ In other words, your personal story, in conjunction with your goals, values and traits, reveals aspects of your personality and help make up your picture of you.
Similar research echoes the significance of a person’s life story as part of their personality and personal identity. Whilst also highlighting that the way we tell our personal narratives can also affect our mental health and wellbeing. For example, if you look for the lesson or even positives that come from hardship, it’s much more likely that you will enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing in your life. This signals that many of us derive meaning not only from the stories we tell ourselves – but also how we perceive our life story.
Perception is key
The ability to put a positive spin on your life story can make your life feel more meaningful, and support your overall mental wellbeing. This is something positive psychologist Shawn Achor, observed when he was a student counsellor at Harvard University. Talking about these revelations in his popular TEDx talk, Achor said, ‘these students no matter how happy they were with their original success of getting into the school, two weeks later their brains were focused, not on the privileged of being there, nor on their philosophy or their physics. Their brain was focused on the competition, the workload, the hassles, the stresses, the complaints.’ Noticing this, he concluded that happiness comes down to ‘changing the lens’ of how you are perceiving your world.
So how can you change the lens and create a more positive life story?
Some techniques that Achor found in his research are:
- Listing 3 things you’re grateful for every day
- Keeping a daily gratitude journal
- Offering random acts of kindness
These techniques aim to retrain the brain into looking for the good in every day, as opposed to defaulting to the negative. They empower you to change your self-authoring style to focus on the positive aspects of your life and help you interpret your story in a more constructive light. By modifying your story and inserting the multitude of blessings and wonderful things you experience each day, you move forward on that pursuit of happiness.
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