The Power of Stories – Exploring the Joy Superpower of Storytelling

“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.” – Rukeyser, 1968

Since the beginning of time, stories have been used as a way of making sense of the world that otherwise seems too difficult to fathom. This is evident through ancient myths, legends, folklore, and religious origin stories. Stories can inspire, teach, offer new perspectives, form bonds between people, induce empathy, sadness, joy, and comfort. While there are many areas of life in which storytelling can be utilized, today we want to focus on the scientific findings behind storytelling and how it can be used as a superpower on our journey towards a joyful life.

Stories for self-development

In 1986, Theodore Roy Sarbin first introduced the term narrative psychology in his book and suggested that human behavior can be best explained through storytelling. Since then, many areas of narrative psychology and social psychology have been studied and examined to help us better understand the relation of stories and our personalities.

In 2007, McLean et. al. proposed that constructing “situated stories”, by which they mean narrative accounts of personal memories and experiences, is a way of maintaining and developing the self. Composing a life story is seen as a viable strategy to use when trying to achieve a sense of identity. This process starts early in our childhoods, and parents are an integral part of children developing their situated stories. It was found especially important for parents to talk about negative past events to their children – this was linked to the children having higher self-esteem in adolescence. Later research also showed that the events that adolescents deemed as the most meaningful and important in their lives, were emotionally negative. (McLean et. al.: 2007) This is called making meaning to your memories, and it helps you gain valuable insights and increase your well-being, and it’s essential in having a healthy narrative identity. (Singer et. al: 2013)

Research also suggests that you should not be afraid of sharing your negative stories. Pasupathi (2003) found that when re-telling negative past experiences or events, the amount of negative emotion was lower during the re-telling than during the actual event. Reliving your trauma or bad experiences through a storyline may help you decrease the negative feelings surrounding the event and aid you in the coping process. Lyubomirsky et. al. (2006) also found that storying negative events in the form of writing or talking about them, was related to increased well-being. Sharing positive stories, on the other hand, is good for connecting with people around you and exposing them to the “fun parts” of your life without the risk of burdening the listener.

So, the next time you’re feeling like there are some unresolved issues from your past, try writing them down in a form of a story and see if you feel better – the science stands behind you on this one!

Stories can make you a better person

You might want to make sure to be on the receiving end of stories as well. Being exposed to stories that are attention-grabbing, emotional, and that make you immerse into the story world, can promote prosocial behavior changes even after the narrative is over. (Zak: 2015) To give some background information – the human brain releases a chemical called oxytocin when in contact with people who they deem as trustworthy, safe, and familiar. The same chemical also motivates reciprocation and is associated with caring, connection, and empathy.

“[…] If you treat me well, in most cases my brain will synthesize oxytocin and this will motivate me to treat you well in return.” – Paul Zak

Zak’s experiments found that being exposed to stories with a particular structure – a dramatic arc – caused the participants’ brains to release oxytocin and cortisol, a chemical that aids with focus. This change in oxytocin motivated them to donate money to a stranger who was part of the study. In the following experiment, participants infused with oxytocin donated 56% more money to charity compared to participants infused with a placebo. The oxytocin-infused participants also experienced concern for the characters in the stories and felt motivated to donate money in order to help in some way, even if they knew that donating money wouldn’t help these fictional characters in the slightest. Thus, a good story can actually affect your behavior and treatment towards fellow people positively!

While there’s an abundance of studies to be covered about this topic, if there is one thing you take away from this piece, it should be this: There is no story more important than the story that is your life, and in that story, you are the only author. Don’t let other people write your narrative for you. Truly owning your life and your identity will bring you freedom and joy.

What’s your absolute favorite story of all time? Comment below or share it on social media using the hashtag #joysuperpowers. We’d love to hear your stories! If you want to hear more about storytelling and creativity from a very different perspective, stay tuned for next week’s Joy Superpowers episode featuring master storyteller David Intrator.

Join the discussion

Further reading


A transformative journey about seizing the moment and celebrating life’s precious experiences   60by60 I turned 59 today and I’m beyond...

Help non-profit organizations with their fundraising


Are you involved in a non-profit organization? A charity, club or association for example? Do you know someone who is?


Is that organization interested in raising more funds?


The EQJOY card game is a fantastic product for a fundraising campaign.



Help us find EQJOY Brand Ambassadors


Do you know someone famous? Do you know someone who does? Do you think that famous person would like to positively impact children’s mental health by giving them the gift of emotional intelligence and have their personal brand associated with EQJOY?




Do you work for a sports team or know someone who does? Do you think that team could be interested in having that brand associated with EQJOY and with empowering children to develop their EQ?




Do you work for a company which owns a well-known brand or know someone who does? Do you think the company could be interested in having that brand associated with EQJOY and with empowering children to develop their EQ?


If so, click on the button below, tell us who you know and let’s discuss how to make this happen.



Help us empower even more kids develop their EQ

Are you, or do you know well, any of the following:



  • A parent of a 6 to 9 year old struggling with their emotions

  • A primary school teacher

  • A middle school teacher

  • A sports psychologist

  • A decision-maker at a museum


If so, are you, or do you think they would be, interested in participating in our R&D work and thereby help us bring the gift of emotional intelligence to even more children?


If so, click on the button below to find out more about how to get involved with EQJOY’s R&D projects.



Empower children’s EQ development


I ask you to donate to our charity EQJOY Co.


EQJOY is on a mission to empower children to develop their emotional intelligence through play. Find out more about EQJOY


Your donations will be used to:


  • Give children in need packs of the EQJOY card game for free

  • Fund research and development of new EQ development tools


There are two paths to donations. For larger donations, click on the Champion Donor button below to find out more about the options. For smaller donations, click on the Donate Now button.


Help us spread joy to even more people

Through the Year of Joy community, we have a proven track record of empowering people to harvest more joy in their lives, especially those people struggling to find joy.


I ask you to help us give the gift of joy to people by inviting them to join the Year of Joy community to which we are currently offering free membership.


Share the link below with the people you know who could do with more joy in their lives.





It just might be the biggest gift you give them this year!

If you would like to invite a lot of people, you might be interested in being an official Year of Joy invite partner. Click on the button below to find out more.



Participate in an Insights Business Impact workshop for free


This gift is a special gift to my peers in the market research and insights sector. A sector which has given me so many gifts over the years. 


If you work in the sector, or are interested in doing so, I’m offering you the opportunity to participate in one of six free workshops I’ll be running on the topic of the ROI of Insights.


During this 3-hour workshop you’ll discover how to measure and demonstrate the business impact of Insights. 


You will leave the workshop with a clear understanding of how to measure the value Insights is contributing to the business, as well as how to craft a compelling story to demonstrate that value.


Participate in a Discover Your Recipe for Joy workshop for free


I’m offering you the opportunity to participate in one of six free workshops I’ll be running. 


During this 3-hour workshop you’ll discover the drivers of and the barriers to joy. You’ll be guided on a journey to craft your own Recipe for Joy and will leave the workshop with a plan for taking the next steps on your path to harvesting more joy in your life.


Receive a free Joy Superpower webinar for your organization


I’m giving away 24 Joy Superpower webinars for free.  


During the webinar I will share how through the Year of Joy initiative we were able to significantly boost people’s joy levels and I will lead the webinar attendees on a journey to discover how they can build their own joy muscles as well as bring more joy to the lives of others.