Human beings invest a lot of their waking hours in stories. This is nothing new; ancient cultures relied heavily on oral traditions long before other forms of communication were developed. Even now, whether we’re reading books, playing video games, watching television, or are lost in private daydreams, we’re constantly listening to or forming our own stories. But why? In his new book, The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall investigates the reasons why people are naturally programmed to tell stories.
At just under 200 pages long (not including the notes and bibliography), is a brisk read that tackles a big topic. Each chapter is about a different aspect of human nature as it relates to storytelling, and the overall argument is that people have evolved to tells stories largely out of biological necessity.
Take your daydreams, for instance. Sure, we sometimes check out and go off to la-la land just because. But more often than not, our daydreams involve problem solving. How many of you have, say, got into an argument with a friend or colleague, and then replayed that scenario in your head ad nauseum thinking of all the things you could have said differently? These “stories” serve a purpose, allowing you to work through different scenarios and process the different possible outcomes; maybe next time, you’ll be better prepared if something similar occurs.