When I am feeling depressed, I feel like nothing in my life matters. I can tell myself a very good story about why this is so. It involves physics and the cosmos and epochs. It’s got loads of citations. Trust me, it’s super convincing.
But the thing is, people are very good at telling stories. As a people, I am part of a tribe of storytellers. We can spin yarns about anything; and we get very attached to our stories
There are a lot of reasons that contribute to our attachment to our stories. These include the familiarity heuristic, loss aversion, and cognitive dissonance. We become attached to stories that we know, we don’t want to give them up, and, besides, we don’t want to deal with the discomfort of changing our minds anyway. On top of that, negativity bias means that negative information (including when it’s in stories that we make up ourselves) sticks around more in our brains than a competing positive story.
Still, it’s worth fighting all of this when it comes to stories about whether we matter. Again and again, psychologists find that a sense of meaning and purpose contributes greatly to resilience and mental health.
This isn’t news. Seventy three years ago, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote that “those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.’” (And he was paraphrasing Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche who was born 175 years ago!).
So I fight to rewrite my story. I use my storytelling legacy for good, and I tell myself that what I do matters. And now I’ll tell you that what you do matters. After all, the best stories don’t have to be factual to be true. Anyway, sometimes it can be enough that they are useful.