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Unexpected Benefits of Remembrance

There are many benefits to recording your life story. Some are easy to understand as Isabella Bick quoted in this recent New York Times article:

“Ms. Bick, who has three children and three grandchildren, considers her stories a gift to future generations — and to past ones. “I am keeping my parents and grandparents alive,” she said. “And, as an egotist, I am keeping myself alive. I am remembered.”

But some of the benefits of recording your life story are unexpected.

“Research by many gerontologists — including James E. Birren, who created the discipline of guided autobiography — has found that reminiscing can improve the confidence of older adults. By recalling how they overcame past struggles, they are better able to confront new challenges, doctors say, and they may be able to forgive themselves for their mistakes.”

This one I can absolutely see. Even during the interview process, clients are buoyed by sharing their stories. One client recently related how he survived a bout with cancer. Relating how hard it was and how he leaned on God for strength is something he owns and can lean on daily. That ability to look back on conquering struggles builds confidence.

But here's one that surprised me - researchers at Emory University found that children who know stories about relatives who came before them, show higher levels of emotional well-being than those who don't.

"Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world," the researchers said in the paper.

Whatever your motivation, I think a key point is not to delay recording your story or that of a loved one. Many of us are going to get around to it “someday.” But someday has a way of sneaking up on us or even passing us by.

Why not reap the unexpected benefits of a life story today? Write your memories down, record them yourself, or engage the help of a personal historian… just do it! Your past doesn’t change but you might be surprised what you, and your loved ones, can gain from reviewing your story.