Ways to Tell a Life Story
Happiness has, in part, to do with how we tell the stories of our lives. The ultimate happy ending is how we die, whether we die well or not. The rest of the story, is how we live.
Life is suffering. Buddhist thought tells you so. Once you get that right, you make it your purpose to remedy that suffering for yourself, your loved ones, and the world.
The stories you read and you watch depict some kind of suffering. We focus on what’s wrong, and it sells — it is a known fact among fiction writers and journalists that good news doesn’t sell, but bad news, and stories of pain, suffering, tense plots, unmet expectations, frustrations and losses make good articles, books and movies. Tragedies, stories of war, of injustice, and of every kind of suffering receive the highest ratings.
How does listening and watching these stories impact your psyche?
You already had, and maybe still have, your share of suffering. And you have also been having your share of joys, fulfillment, and triumph. But what makes a happy ending story of your life? Clearly, a good death — death is the end of this life’s journey. Everything in between your birth and your death are mere episodes, and they end where you choose to end each one of them, and that peak of the most intense suffering, or at the culminating joy.
Happy ending stories, from fairy tales to Hollywood movies, are so uplifting because each story takes a wrong turn through some kind of suffering (threat, loss or conflict) but it ends on a high note life episode — the wedding, the game winning, the end of the war, the return home, the slaying of the monster, finding the lost love or finding a new and more suited loving partner. When the movie stops on a high note, we are left uplifted; when the movie ends on a low note, we are left depressed. Watch enough depressing movies and you’ll unconsciously mimic the pattern, and tell your own life stories as little episodes of horror. Watch enough happy endings and you will find it easier to end each of your life episode’s story on a high note, thus adding to your own sense of strength, good fortune, well-being, and overall happiness.
Perennial Wisdom traditions have always incorporated story telling as part of their healing protocols — stories of heroism and danger, of Darkness and Light, of good fighting the bad, which always end with a message of triumph, where the good prevails and the Light conquers the Darkness sending the listener’s mind to look for the high note in their own life’s episodes, past, present and future. The illness can cease at least in part because we tell it to do so. The despair can turn into hope through reframing your story even when in the midst of a difficult time. Stories have saved my soul in the darkest of times: Joseph Campbell’s Hero journey have helped me reframe my identity from viewing myself as a Victim of an external Perpetrator to seeing myself as the archetypal Hero, and the adversity or adversary as a Dragon to slay. No Hero complains about having a Dragon to slay; Heroes get wounded, but neither helpless, nor bitter and resentful. And when they’re done with the Dragon, and with healing those wounds, they return to their village with a story to tell — a story of triumph, of course.
Next time you binge on Netflix shows, notice how watching those back-to-back episodes leave you feeling. What is the quality of your dreams after watching at night? What does your narrative sound like in both your inner dialogue, and in the outer dialogue of your conversations with others? Do you feel inspired to act towards your purpose, or disheartened, discouraged and stuck?
Which parts of your past are highlighted as you articulate what happened: the lows or the highs? And while you are telling your story, how do you breathe? What do you do with your muscles? How do sit or stand?
If as you are reading these words you are going through hard times, I encourage you to nourish your soul with some stories of triumph, of sunshine after the rain, of reaching the end of the tunnel. And maybe one day you’ll tell the story of what you’ve been going through and inspire and uplift others.