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May 2, 2015 12:01 AM EDT
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

The story you tell yourself about your life.

When your vision of your life story is inadequate, depression can result.

Psychotherapists actually help “rewrite” that story and this process is as, if not more, effective than medication.

Via The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human:

What other effects do stories have on your life?

Stories bring meaning

Stories can help you add meaning to your life. Reflect on the different ways your life could have gone, and the possible “life stories” that could have resulted. Believing that the way things did work out was “meant to be” and appreciating the benefits of that journey can both add a deeper feeling of meaning to your life.

This same reasoning is why some people believe in fate. Feeling that things were “meant to be” and that there is meaning in tragedy allows people to cope

Watching tragic movies and plays is enjoyable because it makes us feel gratitude that our lives, by comparison, are not that bad.

Stories give meaning to groups too

Any group must have a story as well. This is what creates team morale. Groups that take a second to think about a world without them, to think of the good they bring not existing, develop a greater commitment and passion for their cause.

Stories clarify our future goals

Want to quickly find out what is really important to you? Imagine your funeral. What stories do you want others to tell about your life? Now go make those stories true.

A bad story can be dangerous

As in the first example where a problematic vision of your life can trigger depression, the wrong stories can have a negative effect on your life.

Stories warp our vision of the world. Fundamentally, our brains may not be able to tell the difference between the real and the story.

This can be good — it can increase empathy and make us kinder to others. Or it can be bad:

We become like the fictional characters we watch. We must be careful what stories we take in and believe.

Stories can help us change ourselves

Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, has talked about how personally story-editing our lives can lead us to not only feel better, but also reinvent ourselves:

You must have a story

So you must have a story that you tell yourself about your life and it must be a good one. To assemble one or fix the one you have:

  • Explore story-editing if your vision of life doesn’t seem to fit.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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