We love a good story. There are lots of reasons this is true. For example . . .
- We’re raised listening to stories, some read, some told.
- Most of the media we consume is narrative based.
- Culture is communicated, instilled, and passed along through stories.
- We use narrative as a mechanism for processing stimulus and memories into something we can use.
We non-scientists know this later point to be true simply by observing our own internal dialogs. For example, when we feel wronged by someone, what do we do? We replay the story of the wronging over and over again in our heads. And then what happens? We change the dialog and the outcome of these stories as we imagine all the devastatingly clever things we should have said.
In the same way, when we think about the future we construct stories that encapsulate our hopes and fears. Depending on the content of the stories we imagine, and the intensity with which we imagine them, we might call this activity daydreaming, visualizing, or obsessing.
This internal process of story telling doesn’t stop with a single drama. We tell the story over and over, changing bits and pieces as we go. And then we go further. We assemble the stories into a broader meta-story that becomes the narrative of our lives. If a particular person has wronged us, we might resurrect other tales of being wronged in a similar way by other people. Or we might string together stories about other times that person did something to us we didn’t like. By doing this, we wrap stimulus, response, and specific memories together to create a narrative.
This act of linking stories together, either looking backwards or forwards, is a function of our wiring to use meaning and pattern making as a way of making sense of what goes on around us. We order our memories and what we perceive to be facts into a pattern that makes sense, a narrative that has meaning.