Life is the stories you are telling yourself

Your life, as you experience it, is how you describe your past and envision your future. About the future… well, all stories are possible, it just depends on your expectations, your imagination, your fears and worries, your ability to dream, your optimism or pessimism.

The past seems to be a given, but it really isn’t. Sure, there happened all kinds of “real” things in the past. Still, already when they happened everyone experienced them differently and gave them a different meaning, according to their point of view, needs and beliefs, etc. – all these filters that each of us has. And then memory is a tricky business, too, picking out of events those elements which seem the most important, most relevant to support a belief or help in fulfilling a need or simply so dramatically moving that all else disappears besides this one element.

Thus, in fact we are writing our own story and we just believe in it. Some twist reality badly, to make the story fit some inner need, truth or belief. Others don’t twist much, but still, by the choice of remembered elements and by ignoring some other elements, or by the disproportionate weight we give something because of earlier experiences, expectations etc., we all distort the story of our lives as it would have been told by an indifferent robot. And in fact, the robot would not be necessarily more right than we are. In fact, you can’t tell the whole story of a life in a way that anybody can follow it, because it would take a whole lifetime to just listen to it, if all minutes are told. It would be boring, too. We summarize, and a robot would do the same. Our leading line for the plot has much to do with our convictions about life in general and about our own miserable, heroic, interesting or dull, etc. parts of life. It would also be determined by our talent of telling a story. A good story-teller knows that it’s important to have some drama, ups and downs, expectations which are built in the listener and then sometimes get disappointed, causing pain, and at other times, hopefully also towards the end, get fulfilled and give hope and a happy, relieved feeling.

What I was actually aiming at was the fact that we can make ourselves happier by changing the way we tell ourselves about our lives. And actually all ways of telling are OK and may have some truth in them. Perhaps I can tell about my life in a way that will make you cry, but I can also tell about it in a way that will make you think: oh, she had such an interesting life, she experienced so much, learned so much, has so much… and both stories will be true, based on the same facts of life, with just more stress on this or that. Only my attitude will be different, the meaning I give to events will make all the difference in the world.

I did that throughout my life, telling about how miserable and worthless my life has been (while depressed and negative) and telling about how exciting, meaningful and interesting it has been (while hopeful and feeling good about myself). The only question is if I can do it by choice, just decide to tell a happy story and believe in it, even when I am down… Well, I actually managed that too, many times, but not so forcefully. I started with all the bad attitude and then, at some point got fed up with this tone and started saying to myself: yes, but… and thinking about the positive elements or ways of seeing these events or characteristics.

Life is the stories you are telling yourself

Gili Orr

Haarlem, Netherlands

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