The Happiness Connection  

Change story, change life

Humans are designed to relate to stories. It’s one of the quickest ways to illustrate a point or capture someone’s attention.

Before it was common to read and write, cultures passed on their history, knowledge, and wisdom through storytelling.

I frequently refer to myself as an edutainer — a person who both educates and entertains. This is a perfect description for a storyteller.

One type of traditional story is the fairytale. These began as a way to teach people how they should behave and what would happen if they didn’t. The original accounts weren’t written for children, and were gruesome.

In the Brothers Grimm version of Snow White, the fate of the wicked queen went like this. “They put a pair of iron shoes into burning coals. They were brought forth with tongs and placed before her. She was forced to step into the red-hot shoes and dance until she fell down dead.”

While being entertained, listeners were learning that horrible things happened to bad people. It encouraged them to think twice before straying from the straight and narrow.

It wasn’t until these stories became child-focused that this level of horror was removed.

It’s common to think of stories as harmless entertainment and, in many cases, they are. However, storytelling can be a psychological way of trapping yourself into limiting beliefs.

I’ve often heard people say that everybody has at least one book in them. It might be truer to say you have many volumes of short stories in you. You may never publish them, but you are their author none the less.

Humans create stories to justify and defend their actions and beliefs. Let me share an example.

When I was on my honeymoon many decades ago, my then husband refused to put on a life jacket and float above the Great Barrier Reef or near the shore in Hawaii. He told me he had almost drowned as a kid, so he had a fear of deep water.

I accepted his explanation without too much thought.

Months later, during a visit with his parents, the conversation turned to the experience Nick had mentioned. I asked for their perspective on the event. His mom and dad looked at me with amazement and then told me it had never happened.

Apparently, his older brother had fallen into deep water when he was young, but he had been quickly rescued with no lasting trauma. Nick wasn’t even born when this happened.

Somehow, he had taken the story and recreated it more dramatically with himself in the central role. He was positive it was true. It took some convincing by his parents for him to accept that it hadn’t happened.

He used this fictitious tale to justify his mistrust of water. It stopped him from experiencing what was possible. Instead, he limited himself.

When he realized that he had been using this story as an excuse, he slowly began to change his attitude about deep water. He started jumping into the middle of Okanagan Lake when we were boating with friends. He wore a life jacket to begin with, but eventually, that was released, just like the story he had been telling himself.

This is an extreme case, but it clearly illustrates a behaviour we all have. We make excuses for how we feel or what we believe is right, by creating stories to back us up.

I repeatedly told myself that I wasn’t co-ordinated, and therefore I couldn’t play any sport well enough to join in and not look foolish.

When I announced this to my father-in-law, he challenged me on it. He offered to teach me to play tennis well enough to join in on club nights without embarrassment.

I went along with his scheme just to humour him, but he was right. I did learn to play tennis. I was never going to be a star, but I was good enough to have a lot of fun.

When I realized the story, I’d been repeating to myself was false, I stopped telling it.

I know that if I wanted to invest enough time and energy in a sport, I could get good enough to enjoy playing it. I haven’t felt that urge, but then life isn’t over yet.

Rather than living in your stories, try to recognize them for what they are and then let them go.

Instead of believing you must keep your house spotlessly clean because that’s what good people do, keep it clean because you want to, or don’t keep it clean.

My mother is almost 90 and she still tells herself that she has to iron my dad’s shirts. If she doesn’t, people will judge her.

I can’t imagine many people noticing wrinkles on other people’s clothing or caring if they do. Don’t freshly ironed shirts get wrinkled within minutes of being worn?

For years, I believed the only way I could accomplish all the things I needed to do was by making a list and crossing things off. That wasn’t true.

I’ve proven that because I rarely make lists any more. When I do, it’s because I’ve chosen to. I don’t have to justify it to anyone, including myself.

Take some time to look for the stories you’ve created to explain the way you are. When you start rationalizing your beliefs or justifying why things should be done a certain way, there is likely a story at the root of it.

Begin by examining the tale you are telling to see if it is stopping you from living your most expansive life. If it is, try letting it go. Lean into possibility rather than limitation.

When you feel safe within yourself, you won’t need those stories any more. You’ll feel strong enough to accept yourself, just the way you are.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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