You won't remember the pandemic the way you think you will

That’s the essence of a body of research in the field of narrative psychology. “We study the arc within a given memory,” Dan McAdams, the Northwestern psychology professor, told me. “Let’s say a person describes a turning point, like: ‘I got fired from my first job, went into a depression, and couldn’t talk to anybody for three weeks. But I crawled out of it, and a year later, I landed a fabulous position and haven’t looked back.’ We call that a ‘redemptive’ sequence.”

That’s Man in a Hole. “Somebody gets into trouble, gets out of it again” is how Vonnegut described it in his lecture. “People love that story. They never get sick of it.”

Its opposite, the “contamination” sequence, describes a negative episode that ruins everything. “In a contamination sequence, everything is going beautifully at the start,” McAdams said. “ ‘She was the love of my life. We were going to be together forever. We were happy. Then I woke up Monday morning and she was gone, and I’m never going to find love again.’

“Every life story is filled with different sorts of scenes. We’ve found that people whose narratives include a lot of redemptive arcs tend to have higher psychological well-being. People whose life stories contain a higher density of contamination narratives tend to show higher levels of depression and lower levels of well-being.”