While memories fade, stories can last forever. We all enjoy the telling of our family stories – important events, traditions, adventures (and misadventures!), how our parents met, impressive achievements and times of challenge and adversity. Even an old recipe handed down the generations can keep us connected to the past, instilling traditions and values from our ancestors.
Our family stories are powerful and even if we’ve heard the stories many times before, it seems to stir something within our souls.
Why is this? We take a look at why our family stories are so beneficial to us in so many different ways.
When we learn about where our family came from, we connect to our shared history. We discover what our cultural roots are. This shapes our identity and helps us to understand who we are. This is an exceptionally important process for children because when they learn about their family history it helps them form their own identity and values.
Telling family stories connects generations – we realise the similarities we have with our ancestors – but also how we differ. How often do we hear “What was Grandad like, Mum?” to be told, “There is so much of him in you.”
At LifeBook, we know from the thousands of authors we have worked with that the desire to leave their legacy and learnings to future generations of family, is the number one reason for writing their memoirs.
Our personal experiences and memories are very powerful. When we hear stories about our parents, our grandparents and even further back, we’re pulled towards our family. By sharing these experiences and memories, strong emotions are triggered, and we feel closer to our family and bonds become tighter.
“My, as yet, unborn grandchildren will know everything about their granddad.” Nigel Gray, LifeBook Author
Family stories of adventure, courage and achievement make us feel proud and give us strength. They also inspire us to match, or even surpass, the accomplishments of our ancestors. While positively remembered stories provoke warm emotions, stories, where families have been faced with terrible crises or tragedy, can also be beneficial.
Handled correctly, these can show how the family coped and survived during such times. They can be wonderful life lessons, fostering strength and resilience. They can also be incredibly valuable for children, giving them encouragement throughout their lives, in good times and when they go through tough times too.
Telling family stories turns experiences into memories. Memories stay in our minds and we share them with our children, creating truly meaningful keepsakes that last a lifetime. We spend our lives searching for experiences, as deep down we know they are more important in life than “things”. Memories last way longer than possessions. While we all want to make sure our family is provided for when we’re gone, ultimately it is their memories of us that are the most important legacy to leave behind.
Experts have known about the importance of telling family stories since the early 1960s. In a seminal 1963 paper, Dr Robert Butler noted that a process of “Life Review”, where older people reminisced about their lives, was a vital cog in giving meaning to life and dealing with unresolved conflicts. The benefits to those around older people, particularly children, have been illuminated by many subsequent studies.
A hugely influential 2006 study asked children 20 “Do you know?” questions about their family history. They discovered that the more children were aware of their history, the higher their self-esteem, and the stronger their sense of control over their lives.
Their levels of anxiety and depression were also lower than children with poor knowledge of their family history. The “Do You Know?” scale is now seen as the key method to measure the emotional health of children.
“The LifeBook experience has been a wonderful thing for both myself and for my father. I love the story about how he met my mother – it’s priceless.” Linden Lawson, Memoir Gifter
Not only does storytelling have a positive psychological impact, but 2021 research has also found it has a physiological impact too. They discovered that storytelling not only lowered cortisol levels (a hormone that is released in response to stress) but increased levels of oxytocin. This hormone raises feelings of love and empathy and is closely linked to human bonding.
Ultimately, storytelling plays a fundamental role in our ability to bond and find our place in the world around us, no matter what age we are. Telling our own family stories makes us, and the people around us, resilient, well-grounded, and most importantly, happy.
By interacting with our families in this way, we fill our inherent need to connect with others and achieve a sense of belonging, becoming part of something bigger than ourselves. We all need to do more of it!
Sadly, these wonderful stories are all too often lost to our family when we pass away, and all those benefits of telling our stories disappear too. A fantastic way for older people to preserve their stories and memories is to write them down so they can be remembered, relived, and then passed down to their children and grandchildren.
But, while many of us have thought of turning our memories into words, actually taking the first steps can be daunting. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a professional writer, as the world’s leading bespoke memoir and autobiography service, we are here to help.
Our team of experts will take all the pressure away, working with you to create a stunning, handmade book, that will document your story and give your family a gift they will love and cherish for generations to come.