A Critical Reason to Record A Life Story

Jeff Makowka of AARP speaks to the BCC Chamber

A few mornings ago, I attended the Senior Marketing breakfast presented by the Bethesda Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. The featured speaker was Jeff Makowka, Senior Strategic Advisor for AARP. He talked to our group about the issues facing the aging population and what we could do as a group to help.

One of the sentiments that kept coming up was the overriding theme that people don’t like to admit that they’re aging.

And yet in talking with a colleague afterwards, we know this isn’t the case for everyone. She shared with me how despite the fact that her father had less than a year to live (due to congestive heart failure), he was embracing his situation and aging gracefully. His reaction to having to give up his car keys?  “At least now I’m saving a whole lot of money on car insurance!”

As the consummate documentarian, I suggested how amazing it would be to get his stories on video, not only for his children and grandchildren, but also to share what others might learn from his optimistic attitude.

And then just a few hours later, I came across an article that made me realize how personal documentaries are not just important – they’re critical.

The New York Times article “The Stories That Bind Us” is adapted from Bruce Feiler’s latest book, “The Secrets of Happy Families.” Feiler did several years of research to try and find out what makes some families happier and more cohesive than others.

What he found amazed me.

In a nutshell, he was able to determine that “the more children knew about their own family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.” A study he did after September 11th proved this fact, finding that the children who knew more about their families were the most resilient after this horrific event.

Though I’ve always knew that capturing your family’s story is important, both for the storyteller to feel heard and for the family to know their heritage, I never fully realized the huge emotional and psychological impact it can have on families.

So if you’ve ever thought about doing a family history video, this is one of the best reasons I've seen yet of why it’s so important.

While you’ll want to read the full article yourself, the bottom line is this - If you've ever considered recording your family history, this is one of the best reasons I've seen yet. As the article says, “If you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”