Tag Archives: psychology

Story Spreading: Why Stories Matter

Why Stories Matter

Stories matter. They matter a lot.  Ask a two-year-old, a historian, a grandpa, an artist, a marketer, or anyone at all to vouch for the value of the story and you will get it.

Why? Amongst other reasons, stories are, without question, a building block that is fundamental to our human experience and perceptions. We all use and respond to “story” naturally, it helps us retain information, and stories are tools for navigating life.

1. Stories are natural.

Humans share information in the form of stories and it is as natural as breathing, sleeping and language itself. It is part of being a self-aware & social being. People tell stories to spread messages, experiences, values, and so much more.

2. Stories are sticky.

We humans like stories. Whether shared through spoken word, images, written word or a social media Facebook post, a well told story has a clear message and a lot of interesting details bundled together that would be difficult to retell or recall otherwise. We take stories that resonate with us, and recall them for years to come. We pass along memorable stories. We think about them, memorize them, sing about them, and they stick with us.

3. Stories are relevant to our lived experience.

No one post can express the full value and usefulness of stories and storytelling. The general agreement in human development is that children around 3-5 years will understand and interpret stories. At any age, especially in the formative years before adulthood, stories are a necessary part to assign meaning in both imagined and real life experiences. It is said that from, “about three children can indicate fantasy or make-believe linguistics, produce coherent personal stories and fictional narrative with beginnings and endings.” The narration of stories is  the vantage point where we understand our own experience and communicate that to those around us.

You don’t get much more intimate than understanding your own lived experience by way of story, can I get an amen?!

POP CULTURE REFERENCE ALERT: You’ve heard of Humans of New York (HONY), yes? No? Well ,then get to googling it, quick!

They tell a good story. Here’s an article noting what HONY does well to share a compelling story.> 


Wellness Monday: What is Stealing Your Joy?

Photo Source

What is the thief of joy? Comparison.

Among other things, comparing yourself to others can be a thief of your joy, happiness, and contentment. However, comparison is an automatic behavior (source) so it is nearly impossible to quit completely. Fortunately comparison may be harnessed toward a healthier form than typical comparison. First, let’s unpack comparison.

In the field of psychology, comparison is studied as the term “social comparison” and Leon Festinger is an initial theorist. Festinger proposed “that individuals are motivated to gain accurate evaluations of themselves by examining their opinions and abilities in comparison to others” (source). In short, people compare themselves to others in order to know themselves. He also hypothesized that people are more likely to compare themselves to people who they recognize as similar to them. While this process is perfectly normal and seeming harmless, there are a few detrimental downsides. (As well as some upsides.)

There are two kinds of social comparison, upwards and downwards.

Upwards consists of seeking out people you perceive as similar, for comparison. In one respect, this is fortunate because this can prompt one to make life improvements to measure up to better models. Alternately it can cause you to discount yourself and lower your regard for your sense-of-self. For example, you may earn a 90 out of 100 on a test, yet you compare yourself to the person who earned 100, and feel that your performance is substandard. If you notice from the past example this can lead to feelings of inadequacy as well as fierce competitiveness. Further, upward comparison encourages uniformity and there is a tendency to conform to the comparison subject or group (especially as you consider the person or group to be similar to you).

Downwards comparison involves comparing oneself to those who seem dissimilar from you. In moderation it can help one to feel better about their self and situation. Yet some downward comparison is partly the source of a superior attitude that supports stereotyping and other destructive behaviors. Interestingly, this defensive strategy serves to help people, “dissociate themselves from perceived similarities and to make themselves feel better about their self or personal situation”(Source). In other words, you may realize you aren’t as bad off as others in more grim circumstances, so it boosts your sense-of-self.

Can people just one type of comparison for a better outcome? No, it is not that simple.

Only engaging in upward comparison encourages uniformity, sacrificing your authentic self to be like the rest, and you may wind up with lower self-regard. Conversely, downward comparison alone may cause you to have and inflated sense of self, and with such high self-regard there is no motivation to try self improvement. So, both types of comparison are important, but problematic. Luckily, it is possible to guide this automatic, and sometimes subliminal compulsion to compare toward a healthier end.

I propose, to first work to gain a general awareness of how you compare yourself currently. Next, make adjustments as necessary to compare yourself to yourself. This way you may evaluate your own efforts and circumstances relative to your past self, rather than in contrast to others.

Using social comparison to compare yourself with yourself (most of the time), will likely help you keep more of your joy, contentment and happiness in place. Ultimately, social comparison is something you already engage in, it is simply a matter of how you wish direct your comparisons.

Wellness Monday: Bee Style Healthcare

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

In a TED talk, Vikram Patel reveals a drastically different approach to healthcare than the current status quo. Patel outlines how common mental health illnesses like depression are among the leading causes of disability that contribute to larger health needs on a global scale. He suggests a human-centered approach using ordinary people.

Patel’s approach is to enable average community members to effect positive changes in their community, rather than the current model where limited mental health care providers are available, particularly in developing nations. While the approach is powerful where there are few mental healthcare providers among large populations, Patel envisions the possibilities in any nation.

I compare this behavior, of equipping larger groups of everyday people within the community to treat the most common types of mental illness, to the integrated functions of a honey bee population where bees assist and point to larger resources in the environment.

Honey bees are known for their complex social behaviors.  Not one or a few, but the majority of honey bees act in a distinct way that benefits the larger bee community. What do they do?They take action.

Like many other insects, honey bees use odors and chemical releases to communicate, but they are distinct because they also use visible actions. Antennae movements and dancing convey information on the type of resources available in the environment and their quality to other bees. Similarly, many people may be taught to treat the most common mental illnesses, a task shift to enable many willing people for good, while allowing health care providers to act as mentors.

Following Patel’s approach, it is beneficial to train groups of community members to help treat the most common mental health issues. Places with limited healthcare professionals could shift their priorities to reach the maximum amount of people by mentoring and training others to replicate the psychotherapy and behavioral therapies to treat the most common mental health challenges such as depression. This creates greater access to resources in the environment for positive mental health.

Patel and others have implemented this approach and the results are significant. Watch this compelling video for more.

Lastly, Patel defines this approach using the acronym SUNDAR, which mean “attractive” in Hindi. The acronym stands for:

Simplify the message of medicine

UNpack the treatment

Deliver healthcare to where the people are, using whoever is available

Affordable and available resources

Reallocation of specialists to train and supervise

This approach is attractive, to be sure. Following the honey bee model, any willing honey bee can point to resources, and this ability isn’t limited. So too, are ordinary people able to treat common illnesses to promote positive mental health changes. If the bees can do it, so can we humans.

Patel’s healthcare proposal is different from the current model, yet it seems replicable. In other words, this approach could be a sustainable model in any society, no matter the scarcity of mental healthcare professionals.

Join me, to explore this healthcare task shift proposal further as I follow Patel’s journey via his online presence.

Wellness Monday: Owning Your Emotions

more magnets

Let’s discuss owning our personal emotions.  There is a common yet destructive habit of blaming personal emotions on others and circumstances, especially when it would be best to simply own personal emotions. Admittedly, I catch myself doing this also. For instance, I noticed myself reporting how, “some driver cut me off, and that made me so upset”, and mentioned that “so-and-so neglected to return my phone call, and that made me sad”.  These types of phrases, while ubiquitous in everyday speech, are faulty. So, I decided to set an intention to change the way I talk about my emotions.

The intention is to begin owning my emotions. I intend to quit blaming others for my emotions, because it is I who am responsible for managing my own emotions.

Simply put, blaming personal emotions on other people actions and situations is faulty for a number of reasons.

  • it negates the fact that your emotions are your own
  • it sets an expectation that people and circumstances are responsible for correcting your mood, rather than yourself
  • others, not you become the source of correcting your emotions
  • it is an example of poor maintenance of personal boundaries
  • it breeds resentment from others, and holds others emotionally hostage for your problem

To accompany my intention, I plan to practice personal responsibility of my emotions and share my true feelings while reserving expectations concerning others’ reactions or shows of support.

Here is another source on ways to manage and control your emotions.

Does this resonate with you? What intention will you set for yourself?

Wellness Monday: Acronyms Help

Disney's Human Element - "You Better Think (Think!!!)"
I am here to share that acronyms work. Especially when you could use a little help with effective communication. How is it that acronyms possibly help, you ask?

The acronym that I will elaborate on in this post is T.H.I.N.K. It is mostly a shorthand list that serves as a helpful reminder when you are trying to communicate. (Also, acronyms work as handy memory recall strategies, but that is a topic for another day.) This acronym may not be for everyone, however anyone can use it and decide if it works for their purposes.

It is often accompanied with the phrase “before you speak, THINK…”. The phrase is followed by, “Is it true? Helpful? Inspiring? Necessary? Kind?” as a short questionnaire checklist.


The bottom line is this; all of us must speak. THINK is a useful reminder when communication is an inevitable human behavior. We are social beings. We pass on information, thoughts, ideas, criticisms, and much more using our body language and the power of the spoken word. As humans we communicate with other people using words, and with ourselves via our individual internal dialogue. Whether we communicate in an effective way, or otherwise, depends on our approach.

THINK is a useful approach because it serves as a quick and easy internal checklist before communicating to ourselves with self-talk and other people with our words. Odds are, if you consider whether words prior to speaking satisfy at least one of these questions (Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, or kind?), can be a measurement of if it should be said at all. You may also want to consider the THINK acronym in terms of your own self-talk.

A “yes” to the questions on the THINK list could mean that it will be worthwhile and solution based, while a “no” may be destructive or problem based. Words that do not meet the THINK criteria are most likely not worth your time and effort as they may not really communicate much. Similarly, your internal self-talk may be worth keeping or changing depending on the sort of language you choose and how it measures up to the THINK acronym.

With time and practice, this may become a habit of your communication strategy to yourself and everyone you interact with. It will be well worth the time and effort to adopt the, “think before speaking” approach that is immensely helpful to yourself and those you interact with from day-to-day.

Does this approach work for you? Are there other acronyms that work well?


Wellness Monday: Tend and Befriend

Bee and thistle.

A post shared by Elya Simukka (@elya365) on

This past weekend I vacationed with an all female group to celebrate a dear friend for her bachelorette weekend before her wedding. The retreat lasted a few days, yet I returned home feeling incredibly refreshed and happy. I don’t think I was alone. After the adventures, laughter, and special memories we enjoyed together I was emotionally elated and knew I had been engaging in something the field of Psychology has termed tend and befriend.

It is with this experience fresh in mind, the ladies’ time spent withdrawn from our normal environment, that I plan to introduce the phenomenon referred to as “tend and befriend”. While there is much more to explain beyond this post, this is supposedly a behavior that is more common in women when they reach out and use social connections with other women as a way to manage life’s stressors. It is a form of coping, and I argue a form of thriving as well.

This past weekend is a perfect example of tend and befriend, as an all women getaway was meant to celebrate a bride-to-be while also encouraging a sense of calm in everyone involved in this dramatic and positive life change. So, tend and befriend is a sort of coping that provides a calming effect as women engage fully in social connections with other women. Some studies have recognized the habit of sticking with female groups during duress to be true of human females and female rodents, while male rodents and male humans often prefer to be alone. Why is this so?

The answer to the sex differences is not be entirely certain, but there are a number of suggestions offered by researchers. As this behavior is noticed in both humans and other animals, it is likely to be related to an evolutionary need. One story, found here, suggests that mothers throughout time have needed to care for their young in order for the offspring to survive. In other words, staying put was a choice most likely to promote the survival of the young, while fleeing or fighting were less likely selections because of the low survival rate of the kids after abandonment or physical conflict.

Related to this question of sex difference, some research found here points to the chemical reaction that occurs in women physically as women tend and befriend. There is an additional release of the hormone oxytocin, that has an overall relaxing and stress reducing effect in individual women. It is possible that the same hormone may release in males, although the higher levels of androgens in the male body would counteract the hormone and thus have little to no effect. Men, also, may be socially conditioned (or trained by society’s norms) to choose solitude during times of stress.

All in all, tend and befriend is a behavior that is noticed most often in women as they gather in groups. Doing so has a calming effect related to chemical releases in the body. Read more about tend and befriend in the Wikipedia post on the subject by clicking here, but read with healthy skepticism as not all of it is cited properly.

Have you noticed the benefits of tend and befriend behavior? Do you notice others engaging in this way?

Wellness Monday: Nostalgic for Nostalgia

Nostalgia is an emotion. It refers to the familiar pining for, “the good old days” or a sentimental recollection of bittersweet memories. For a long while, nostalgia was considered an illness that caused one to ineffectively live in the present. Current research suggests that nostalgia has significant benefits, which have gone unnoticed by researchers for centuries until recently.

For an engaging audio clip of the details and a short interview with NYT columnist John Tierney click here.

Historically nostalgia was considered, a malady or illness. It is related to the term “homesickness” that was described as a condition of many Swiss mercenaries who missed the mountain landscape of their home as they fought in the lowlands of France and Italy in the 17th century. It is also related to melancholy, which also has some negative associations and is a common feature of Romantic literature.

Doctors Constantine Sedikides and Tim Wildschut, forerunners in the new field of nostalgia studies, have researched the universality of nostalgia across cultures, the warming effect on the body while feeling nostalgic, and the beneficial outcomes of nostalgia such as coping with transition and change, stronger social connection, increased sense of community, tolerance, and optimism.

A short video and article from The New York Times click here.

According to NYT Science columnist John Tierney, everyone engages in nostalgia, but it helps people move forward. It seems when people look back on life or feel nostalgic, it promotes a sense of continuity through life, and a sense of meaning. For example, remembering the past reinforces that a person’s social support system like friends and family stick around over time. Nostalgia has been shown to offset anxiety, loneliness, and boredom too. After feelings of nostalgia, people are often more optimistic, and excited about the future.

Not all nostalgia is beneficial, however. There is surely a balance of nostalgia with living in the present, as well as an appropriate time to consult a professional if you are experiencing disruptive thoughts. Last week, I discussed rumination briefly, and it is worth a read to distinguish nostalgia from other behaviors that may not be as healthy.

Luckily, the overall conclusion in nostalgia studies thus far, is that the positive things outweigh the negative.

Lastly, nostalgia is frequently triggered by sensory input such as music, certain smells, ambient room temperature, and so on. I am nostalgic for salty Pacific Ocean smells, 80s music, and foggy days. What are you nostalgic for?