Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory. Tara Parker-Pope, NY Times, Writing Your Way to Happiness
I’m happy that Tara Parker-Pope wrote Writing Your Way to Happiness. And while I’m also glad/relieved/intrigued that psychologists and scientists are finally studying the positive impact journaling and writing can have on emotional health, I’m also surprised that this is news.
We need studies to validate a communication form that has been around, in various forms, for thousands of years? Seriously?
Communicating with one another – storytelling – is an ancient form of expression that is manifested in a variety of ways. Petroglyphs are a form of storytelling and hardly a modern one. So, too, hieroglyphs. Art, sculpture, painting, music, dance, theatre…these are all forms of storytelling and are part of how we share our individual experiences of life with other people. And they’ve each been around for a very, very long time.
Consider the flute. One of which, made out of vulture bone, was found a few years ago in a cave in Southern Germany. It is quite possibly 40,000 years old.
The ancient flutes are evidence for an early musical tradition that likely helped modern humans communicate and form tighter social bonds, the researchers argue. James Owen – National Geographic News (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/06/090624-bone-flute-oldest-instrument.html)
Consider dance. There are rock paintings that suggest the earliest forms of “dance” expression go back 9,000 years. And virtually every culture has some form of dance that defines it, whether it be belly dancing, ballet or voguing.
And consider art in all it’s forms. We are used to young children making “art,” like their cave living ancestors did so long ago, that their parents can proudly display on the refrigerator, or turn into holiday cards, or frame permanently for the walls of their homes. Although there might be children who do not create art, I personally don’t know any. But I digress…
We are used to parents wanting their children to learn a musical instrument or to sing, or dance, or take art classes – because they want them to be well-rounded, educated, cultured, interesting.
But there is an unfortunate tendency to dismiss the value of any kind of artistic expression if it isn’t turned into a career or one’s profession beyond a certain age. We seem to have forgotten that it is natural – and human – to want to express oneself artistically, to want to share stories, and that teaching children to write…to make art, to play music, to dance, to perform…has a value beyond making a living off of any artistic talent that child may have.
Every artist that I know says writing, painting, playing music, dancing…makes them, well, happy, makes them, well, feel better, makes them, well, better able to get through life.
Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. Tara Parker-Pope, the NY Times
Last year there was a wonderful series narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. One episode featured a story about Enheduanna, a Sumerian Princess and high priestess of Nanna, who was the daughter of King Sargon the Great.
Enheduanna lived and wrote around 2300 B.C.E. She is important because historians know her to be the first writer/poet/wordsmith that history knows by name. She is actually known by her name because Enheduanna actually thought to _sign_ her name to her hymns and poems. It mattered to her that others would know who the author was.
If that isn’t a desire to communicate, in words, like paintings etched on rocks, beyond the span of one’s lifetime, then I don’t know what is. I would love to talk to Enheduanna and ask her if writing made her happy. I would think, being a high priestess, that her answer would be “Yes! Of course!”
But it doesn’t really matter. Because I’m happy just knowing she was alive. And that the first “author” was a woman? Well, that makes me particularly happy.