Chocolate For The Brain
Dr. Gene Cohen, ground breaking author of The Creative Age wrote, “writing an autobiography for older adults is like chocolate for the brain”. If you are a chocolate lover you have a feeling of what what pleasure that could bring. And since you are reading this, you probably are in the position of benefiting from writing stories about your life or helping a loved one write theirs. Writing stories is enjoyable for all and the news about chocolate is an extra bonus.
Studies have found that reminiscing lowers depression, alleviates physical symptoms and stimulates the hippocampus where memories are stored in the brain. has been found to touch additional dimensions of wellness including physical, emotion, social, spiritual and intellectual. Telling life stories is essential as we age as this is the time that we begin to look within for a clear recognition of meaning in our lives.
When I retired several years ago, I had little idea of where my life was heading. When I began writing about significant events in my life, I obtained a better sense of who I had been and the lessons I had learned. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Way writes, “I write to tell myself the truth.”
Writing stories of my life gave me the opportunity to understand my experiences from within a deep place where they had been stored. Acknowledging stories helped me give credence to my strengths and skills and feel more confident in exploring the future.
In my book, Keep Your Fork-Dessert Is On The Way; Savoring the Second Half of Life, I reference the value of life stories in several different chapters.
Fascination with the power of life stories began when I was directing a volunteer program for an adult day center. It was an eye-opening experience.
I recruited and trained volunteers to help elders tell their stories and to type them up for the elders to keep. I asked one gentleman if he wanted to tell some of his stories. He said he would do that but that his life hadn’t been very interesting.
He revealed that in World War II he had jumped out of a fighter plane, that was being destroyed over Belgium and spent several weeks searching for his fellow soldiers. Like many soldiers he had come home, gone upstairs, changed his uniform for street clothes and had never said a word about any of this to anyone. After telling a volunteer his story, he told me that he finally “felt free”. I was moved to realize that such a modest effort by the volunteer had produced a life changing experience for this gentleman . It seemed fitting that he died several weeks later at the age of 92 after his life had been affirmed by telling that story. Maya Angelou wrote that “There is no greater sorrow than keeping an untold story within you.”
During that same time span, a women told me that she didn’t have anything fascinating to share about World War II , as she only had raised 3 foster children and held down a job in a department store. This caused sadness for me as I realized that so many people die with their story still in them. The lion’s share of people don’t realize how heroic they have been.
The last story is of a family whose mother had just passed. I didn’t know the family at all and the mother very little. Several weeks earlier I had arranged for a volunteer to write her story. I was the only one from the center who was able to go to her funeral. As I sat there among strangers, a daughter began speaking about a surprise the family had found on the coffee table in her mother’s apartment after she died. In a folder was several stories that her mother had dictated and someone had typed them up. The family was in tears reading the stories that they had never heard before. Again, such moving results resulting from such a modest effort.
Whether you write your own story or stories for someone else, you will be recording precious memories that not only will help your brain, but may also inspire you to enjoy some very excellent chocolate.