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Friday, December 1, 2023

To Lead a Meaningful Life, Become Your Own Hero

B. Rogers, K. Gray, & M. Christian
Scientific American
Originally published 30 OCT 23

Here is an excerpt:

With our condensed version of the hero’s journey, we looked at the connection between how people told their life story and their feelings of meaning in life. Across four separate studies, we collected life stories from more than 1,200 people, including online participants and a group of middle-aged adults in Chicago. We also used questionnaires to measure the storytelling participants’ sense of meaning in life, amount of life satisfaction and level of depression.

We then examined these stories for the seven elements of the hero’s journey. We found that people who had more hero’s journey elements in their life stories reported more meaning in life, more flourishing and less depression. These “heroic” people (men and women were equally likely to see their life as a hero’s journey) reported a clearer sense of themselves than other participants did and more new adventures, strong goals, good friends, and so on.

We also found that hero’s journey narratives provided more benefits than other ones, including a basic “redemptive” narrative, where a person’s life story goes from defeat to triumph. Of course, redemption is often a part of the “transformation” part of the hero’s journey, but compared with people whose life story contained only the redemptive narrative, those with a full hero’s journey reported more meaning in life.

We then wondered whether altering one’s life story to be more “heroic” would increase feelings of meaning in life. We developed a “restorying” intervention in which we prompted people to retell their story as a hero’s journey. Participants first identified each of the seven elements in their life, and then we encouraged them to weave these pieces together into a coherent narrative.

In six studies with more than 1,700 participants, we confirmed that this restorying intervention worked: it helped people see their life as a hero’s journey, which in turn made that life feel more meaningful. Intervention recipients also reported higher well-being and became more resilient in the face of personal challenges; these participants saw obstacles more positively and dealt with them more creatively.

Here is a take for clinicians:

Here are some specific ways that therapists can use the hero's journey framework in psychotherapy:
  • Help clients to identify their values and goals. This can be done through a variety of exercises, such as writing exercises, role-playing, and journaling.
  • Help clients to develop a plan to achieve their goals. This may involve setting realistic goals, developing a timeline, and identifying resources and support systems.
  • Help clients to identify and overcome the challenges that are holding them back. This may involve addressing negative beliefs, developing coping skills, and processing past traumas.
  • Help clients to explore their purpose and find ways to live a life that is true to themselves. This may involve exploring their interests, values, and strengths.
The hero's journey is a powerful framework that can be used to help people find meaning and purpose in their lives. By framing their lives as hero's journeys, people can develop a greater sense of agency and control over their lives. They can also become more resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks.