Metaphors Built On An Idea

Often an idea, a one-liner, a joke, a statement, or a brief analogy can form the basis for building a therapeutic story. On a regular radio talk show, I was discussing the subject of happiness. One caller rang in with a very brief story: Once upon a time there was a king who had everything but wasn't happy. Thinking that if he found the happiest man in his kingdom and wore his shirt he might know something of the experience of happiness, he sent out messengers to find the happiest man. When they finally returned, they told the king that the happiest man didn't even have a shirt.

This brief tale communicates an important message about happiness and well-being. We—and our children—are fed many media messages about happiness and how to attain it through the purchase of a particular product. For example, our TV-viewing children are learning that the only way to produce a happy family is to cook on a particular brand of stove, spread your bread with a certain brand of margarine, or wash the family clothes with a designated detergent. Perhaps the story of the happy person who did not have even a shirt to wear helps counterbalance some of these other views children are learning on the subject of happiness. It says that happiness is not to be found in what you own or possess so much as in your attitude of mind and approach to life.

As I pondered the idea, it seemed that shoes had more metaphoric associations than a shirt. We have common metaphors about standing in other people's shoes, walking in someone else's footsteps, or standing on our own two feet. In Story 10, "Seeking Happiness," this idea is adapted into a children's story. Here the main character has become a young princess who could equally as well have been a prince, the son of a tycoon, a rock star, or a movie actor. The story follows the same plot and it comes to a similar conclusion illustrating that happiness is not in owning the latest toys, wearing brand-name products, or even having shoes on your feet.

Story 10 also shows how adult stories can be adapted into tales for children. An adult version of this story is told in Burns and Street (2003, pp. 1—3) where the character is a troubled tycoon and the book, Standing Without Shoes, takes its title from the tycoon's valuable discovery. Here, in Story 10, the princess (and the listener) not only develops an awareness of the nature of happiness but also is offered pathways toward attaining greater levels of happiness. The royal nanny provides useful steps for facilitating and enhancing well-being, based on the positive-psychology literature (Burns & Street, 2003; Keyes & Haidt, 2003; Seligman, 2002). She talks of the value of social interactions, the ability to laugh and have fun, and the benefits of being action-oriented. She speaks of extending boundaries and engaging in new behaviors, as well as broadening and building a range of activities

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