The holidays are upon the Lehigh Valley, and there will be a lot of gatherings with a lot of talk and a lot of opinions. Those of us who are on the senior side can make the days meaningful by sharing our life stories for the benefit of everyone, including ourselves.
Bringing our own or a loved one’s life stories, memories, and past to the forefront yields many significant, valuable benefits, both from a health standpoint and for family connectivity purposes. This becomes especially true as our population ages and lives longer, and seniors subsequently comprise a greater percentage of our total number.
It is not egotistical or self-seeking to talk about ourselves in the context of helping others know their roots, grow closer, and see your example.
Although nine out of ten of us would deny having a very compelling life story, the truth is that when our past pours forth from our lips, the tales often become engaging and even riveting. From my vantage point as a biographer and personal historian, I have yet to meet any adult without an interesting life story to share.
From strictly a health standpoint, recalling our past and committing it to paper for oneself or for public or private publication serves as a catalyst for stimulating our mind muscle. Mental health professionals increasingly use storytelling as a tool to preserve and even improve their patients’ cognitive brain functions.
Recent studies have shown that—especially for seniors—digging deep to share memories has the following health benefits, among others.
Writing or speaking about the past flexes our brain’s cognitive muscles and may slow the progression of memory diminishment and cognitive decline.
Our speech, language, and writing skills generated within the brain are activated and engaged, motivating us to “reach” for vocabulary and specific terms to express ourselves adequately.
Recalling stories—orally or in writing—is an excellent therapeutic practice because it provides the opportunity to better understand emotional, stressful, or painful situations that have occurred.
Bringing forth highlights and experiences from our past on a daily basis provides both structure and routine—a type of daily exercise for our brain and cognitive abilities.
The sad truth is that we all have unknown expiration dates, and not sharing our family histories and life stories can easily mean this information becomes forever lost.
Passing our stories forward helps our children and grandchildren better understand where they came from and what their place is within family history. Research conducted by psychologists at Emory University found that children who possess a basic knowledge of their family history appear to enjoy better emotional health.
Talk show host, actress, and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey has acknowledged the importance of capturing and saving our life stories, saying, “I urge you to pursue preserving your personal history to allow your children and grandchildren to know who you were as a child and what your hopes and dreams were.”
Who is better equipped to influence future generations for good than someone who loves them and has lived through situations similar to those their kids and grandkids may face?