Hi friends, welcome to August! I recently watched an interesting Ted Talk about the relentless human pursuit of (and obsession with) happiness. Writer Emily Esfahani argues that since happiness is fleeting, we should focus our efforts on an ultimately more fulfilling quest: meaning. According to her research, the four pillars of a meaningful life are belonging, purpose, transcendence (connection to something bigger than us), and storytelling.
The first three made sense to me right away, but the last one left me with a bit of a question mark. How exactly does storytelling play into creating meaning in our lives? Storytelling in this context refers to the running narrative we have in our minds about our experiences. She has found that the way in which we perceive and tell the story of our lives (to ourselves and others) has a big impact on our sense of fulfillment.
Ok, yes, I can definitely relate to that!
When I was living in DC and dating Dave long-distance, one of my biggest hangups with moving to Houston was that such a step would make me “that girl” who drops her own life to follow a dude across the country. This narrative did not align with the “independent, career-oriented, city-loving woman” story I had so carefully constructed for myself, and I had a really hard time telling people why I was heading to Texas. The funny thing is, neither version was completely accurate.
For starters, I moved to Houston to build a relationship with the man who is now my husband and “dada” to Lucas, not just the first dude who showed interest! I could have labeled this decision as brave, spirited, or romantic and wouldn’t have been any less right than when I labeled it as stereotypical and gender-role-y. The way in which I viewed it was completely up to me, and I almost missed out on the life I have now out of attachment to a story that wasn’t true either. As I’ve gotten to know myself and my heart through the years, I can honestly say I am not, in fact, a city girl, and though I have big dreams, I am certainly not a career gal in the traditional sense (I see a chicken coop and some goats in my future, not a corner office!)
There are so many situations, decisions, experiences, and chapters in our lives that can either serve as inspiration and strength or burden us with shame and regret…and we get to choose which version we take with us. This is not about being delusional and making stuff up, it’s about choosing to view every step of our journey in an empowering way. If it’s your story, you might as well stick to the version that serves you best!
For example, I could say that I left a big paycheck and the opportunity to one day live #thatexecutivelife for a job teaching people how to bend and stretch …OR…. that I followed my dreams and created an inspiring space to serve the community through the practice of yoga.
I could say I wasted 10 years in an unfulfilling career path because I was afraid to take a chance…. OR…..that I strategically waited to lay a strong foundation for entrepreneurial success by learning about sales, marketing, and accounting during my time at ExxonMobil.
And almost daily, I catch myself saying “I have to do this or that” when I could be saying ” I get to do this or that.”
Did you catch the difference in that last example? I just switched one little word and the energy of the statement changed from resistance and dread (ugh) to gratitude (yay!).
Every experience is part of a greater story, and the words we use to tell and remember those experiences can play a huge role in the meaning we assign to our lives. This month, I encourage you to pay close attention to the constant narrative in your head. Notice if that internal voice is supportive or demeaning, notice if you give stories a positive or negative spin when you share them with friends, and notice how you react (physically, mentally, and emotionally) to the language you use. If we can learn to leverage our past in a positive way, we have a much higher chance of finding fulfillment in our present and meaning in our future.