Why is it that the words “Once upon a time…” have such a strong psychological impact on us? And it’s not just in the English languages – most languages have their own equivalent of these introductation to a story or fairy tale, like the German “Es war einmal, vor langer, langer Zeit…”
Maria Konnikova tries to answer this question in an Article for the Scientific American.
She argues that for one, it’s the psychological distance that these words create for us – if something happened once upon a time, we do know that it won’t affect us now. And that’s why we’re ready to deal with terrifying adventures, gruesome monsters, and so on.
Another effect of the phrase once upon a time is that it’s vague – and while most of us don’t like vagueness in our own lifes, we do love it in fairy tales.
I can try out scenarios I otherwise wouldn’t. I can meet and understand people I never would in my everyday life. I can indulge in abstraction and play, engage my curiosity and foster my creativity, and remain the whole time protected by that vague veneer of once.
You can read the full article here: The Power of “Once upon a Time”: A Story to Tame The Wild Things