Allure of Personal Stories

Book Signing

The telling and retelling of personal stories is basic to our understanding of self and society. So why did it take so long for personal story preservation to go mainstream?

Stories used to be transmitted 'round the dinner table. Told again and again, family lore was imprinted on each succeeding generation through constant repetition. The "once upon a time" past flowed effortlessly through the present and into the future.

No longer. Today families are scattered, conversations hurried. We need to take deliberate action if we want to tell our stories and pass on our heritage.

Researchers at major universities say it's true: for some elderly people structured reminiscence alleviates age-related depression, boosts the immune system, reduces symptoms of asthma and arthritis, provides protection against heart disease, and actually extends longevity.

And we're doing it. A recent study by Harris Interactive says that boomers, by a factor of ten to one, consider their real legacy to be the "non-financial leave-behinds"—the personal stories that reveal not only the family history, but also the family ethics, morality and values.

The Memoir Movement is in full swing, and it benefits three generations.

When we tell our own stories, we relive the good and come to terms with the bad. We ensure that our voices will be heard and our actions understood.

When we ask our parents to tell their stories, we honor them with our interest. Our request makes them feel important and the result makes them feel immortal.

And when we give these stories to our children, we show them who they are and who they can become.

Crafting a memoir—whether an heirloom book or a celebratory video—takes time. But it's worth every minute.