Over the past couple of weeks I have been talking about building resiliency in the second half of life. I noted that relationships or “community” are key to one’s emotional and physical health, and, while women tend to score better in the area of building a good network of friends, this is something that is essential for all people.
The second practice I would invite you to consider is your legacy to those who follow you. Most resilient people I have known have engaged in some form of storytelling, whether they actually wrote their memoirs down or not. Some have enjoyed scrapbooking or putting together special photo albums. Others have created beautiful quilts which tell the story of their lives. Still others have found the creation of a personal autobiography to be especially beneficial in their later years. It has helped them to reflect on where they have been and enabled them to make sense of those times in their lives when they experienced pain, or disappointment, or grief.
Here’s something else you should know. Studies also show that reviewing your life story can improve your physical resilience and emotional well-being too. Reviewing your life story can lower your blood pressure and strengthen your immune system. Plus, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence in the published scientific literature that affirms that “life review” is of tremendous help to people experiencing grief. According to University of Texas professor James Pennebaker, not only does it lower levels of depression, but it is also found to increase problem-solving skills and self-esteem while assisting in the grief process. Like community, sharing your story or legacy is one of those life-giving nutrients that Estes talks about, which enables you to grow your resiliency.
Incidentally, for those of you who have grandchildren or great-nieces and nephews, studies carried out at Emory University have shown that sharing your life story actually has a beneficial impact on your family. And contrary to what you might think, stories about family members who have struggled in life and who have overcome difficulties are often more helpful than are ‘happily ever after’ tales. Robyn Fivush, the Emory psychologist who headed up the study says, “Families who tell family stories have kids who are doing better.”
However, you choose to tell your life story, the key is “just do it!”