We are surrounded by objects that hold meaning and memories; material things that are affectively connected to our narrative identities. Commodities can become powerful mnemonic devices that evoke feelings and memories of past relationships and thus embody added value for their owners (Moran, O’Brien 2014). We form emotional bonds between objects, people, and moments through association and ‘magical thinking’ that shifts through context, time, and space.
As an aspect of mind, magic is universal to human beings (Greenwood 2012) and is part of the storytelling mind. Magical thinking is essentially a way to construct meaning and connect with the present moment through a heightened state of affective being. Magical analogy connects with an alternative mode of reality that is more than just the visible and tangible world and involves an evocative transference of meaning from one connection to another connection (Greenwood 2012). The magical thought is chiefly emotional because it is constructed from affective connections that develop over time (Greenwood 2012).
Have you ever struggled to discard an object because it was linked to evocative memories or an important person in your life? Not wanting to part with an object because of your emotional connection with it is a type of magical thinking. You may feel that by losing your physical connection to the object you are also losing the emotional connection to the person or memory – by severing the physical connection you also let go of the emotional connection. This type of magical thinking also happens in reverse, where negative memories or feelings are let go of through physical transformation of symbolic objects representing the relationship, such as in grief rituals. The objects we surround ourselves with are linked to our narrative identities – our personal stories. Humans are obsessed with stories. As (Gottschall 2012) poetically puts it in his book The Storytelling Animal, ‘We are soaked to the bone in story.’ Our lives are so influenced by stories and a variety of story-like activities that scientific studies suggest we have about two thousand daydreams per day, meaning we spend up to half of our waking life daydreaming – telling ourselves stories (Gottschall 2012)! If you start paying attention to your stream of consciousness you may discover that daydreaming is your brain’s default state (Gottschall 2012).
If we tell ourselves stories to make our lives coherent and meaningful then could personal storytelling perhaps be considered a form of individual, everyday therapy? Would our inner worlds crumble completely without it. Our story is after all what shapes our lives and the reason we exist. If we fail to give our story meaning and embed it with a healthy amount of ignorance how does it affect our emotional well-being? A depressed mind is dealing with a broken story, as is suggested when Gottschall (2012) references psychologist Michele Crossley, who says that depression frequently stems from an ‘incoherent’ story, an ‘inadequate’ narrative, or a ‘life story gone awry’. If the mind doesn’t tell itself flattering lies, it is not healthy (Taylor, Gottschall 2012). Although the latter statement seems a little problematic – what is a ‘healthy mind’, what is a ‘healthy lie’ and where do you draw the line between harmless lies and dangerous lies – there is perhaps something to it. Studies have suggested that depression is often linked to a highly realistic view of the world. In other words, a worldview lacking in flattering lies and optimism? This would indicate that storytelling with a healthy dose of ignorance is, at least to some extent, good for our emotional well-being.
So how can we use emotional objects and our obsession with stories to add value and empowerment to our personal narratives? What does a process of ’emotional archaeology’ and ’emotional alchemy’ look like?
Resources Gottschall, J. (2012) The storytelling animal: how stories make us human. Boston: Mariner Books Greenwood, S. (2009) The anthropology of magic. Oxford: Berg Moran, A. and O'Brien, S., (ed.) (2014) Love objects: emotion, design and material culture. London: Bloomsbury Academic