Have you ever thought of yourself as the main character of a heroic adventure? It could be good for your health. Research suggests that imagining yourself on a hero’s journey could help you achieve a more meaningful life.
You might be familiar with the hero’s journey. It’s a common storyline in books and movies. Mulan, Harry Potter, and Luke Skywalker, courageously facing their trials, all take this journey.
The idea was first made popular by the mythologist Joseph Campbell. In 1949, he published The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The book details the structure of the hero’s journey. In its most basic form, a hero goes on an adventure, emerges victorious from a defining crisis, and returns home changed for the better.ILLUSTRATION BY YOGYSIC—GETTY IMAGES
In a recent study, scientists at Boston College, in Massachusetts, found that seeing your life as a hero’s journey can benefit your mental health. It can boost your confidence, especially when you’re trying new experiences. Heroes thrive on danger. “That sets them off on a quest where they encounter friends and mentors, [and] face challenges,” says Benjamin A. Rogers, an author of the study. “And [they] return home to benefit their community with what they’ve learned.”
The study found that seeing your life as an adventure can enhance well-being, increase satisfaction, and reduce depression. It just takes some imagination. “The way people tell their life story shapes how meaningful their lives feel,” Rogers says. “You don’t have to live a super heroic life or be a person of adventure—virtually anyone can rewrite their story as a hero’s journey.”
How can you start imagining your life as a hero’s journey? Here, experts share some strategies.
Keep a journal.
Ask yourself: What makes you you? Describe your personality and core values. Think about events in your life that made you who you are today. Then ponder the challenges that stand in your way, and which allies can help you on your journey. Writing down a few sentences can help.
Ask: Who’s my favorite character in a movie or book?
Think of what appeals to you about that character. They probably inspire you because you relate to their positive qualities. Keeping them in mind can help you see yourself through a more heroic lens.
Flip the way you see obstacles.
Going through a tough time? See your problems as challenges. Think of them as opportunities for growth and learning. A challenge is a chance to develop strength and be the hero of your own story.
Go on more heroic adventures.
“We like people who have new experiences and grow from their challenges,” Rogers says. So seek out something new. It can be simple, like walking a new route to school. Or it can be dramatic, like borrowing a bike and riding it to school.
When you need a boost, think of your heroes.
Say you’re facing a big challenge. Lou Ursa, a therapist in California, suggests thinking of a favorite hero’s story. “[It] can help you have that eagle-eye view of what might be next for you, or what you should be paying attention to,” Ursa says. “Stories become this map that we can always turn to.” That can be reassuring. It reminds you that a new chapter almost certainly awaits you.