Memories of the past are a double edged sword. There are times that a song will trigger a flood of sunny memories. But there are other occasions which serve as a gloomy reminder of problems that have plagued us in the past. Recent studies suggest that how we manage our memories can be a significant factor in giving our spirits a lift or drawing us down into the dumps.
Research shows that people who start spending 20 minutes a day recalling good memories substantially improve their mood in as little as a week’s time. In fact, they were happier than those who spent the same amount of time thinking about what was good about their present life.
Psychologists have found that when people are alone they tend to spontaneously reminisce. People who allow their mind to dwell on problems that plagued them in the past end up lapsing into discouragement or despair. On the other hand, those who recall previous situations in which they’d experienced success and satisfaction actually build their confidence and bolster their motivation.
For example, imagine someone having an argument with their spouse. If they begin to think of a time or two that prior conflicts deteriorated into several days of stony silence, they’ll feel defeated and disengage – ensuring the outcome they fear. However, if they remember previous confrontations in which they were able to find solutions, they’ll recall the steps that lead to constructive conversations – enabling a proactive response.
Memories also affect how people feel about themselves. When a person’s facing a big challenge at work and their mind slips into recalling the struggles that derailed their efforts in the past, their belief in their ability to perform will be seriously degraded. But if they remember past triumphs, they’ll make themselves feel like a winner because they’ve summoned the strengths they’ve historically used to achieve success. Generating affirming recollections will motivate them to make the extra effort that usually defines the difference between those who succeed and those who flounder.
Our positive memories can also give our life a sense of meaning and purpose. When we put our lives into a bigger context, we can see how we’ve progressed as individuals and how we’ve helped others to move forward on their path in life. Reviewing the big picture reminds us of what we’ve learned about our most important values, which helps us make decisions about the direction of our life. Rather than having the sense that we’re merely being blow around by the whimsical winds of life, our positive experiences in the past can help us to understand what it is that will work to create a valuable life for ourselves in the future.
To develop your ability to generate a good mood, practice pulling up fond memories. To jog your memory, it can be useful to look through photo albums and sort through memorabilia. But take the time to enhance the experience. For example, recall all of the circumstances surrounding the photo. Where was it taken? Who else was there? What happened before and after the photo was taken? The more detailed the mental images are that you’re able to remember, the greater the joy that you’ll bring yourself. To the extent that you can share these stories with others who were involved in the event, the more fun it will be because you’ll fuel each other’s memories.
Some people find that they end up feeling bad when they reminisce, even when they’re recalling good times. Remembering how great it was to be with your grandmother may trigger painful emotions as you’re poignantly reminded that she’s passed. Remembering what a great career you had can lead you to feeling like a has-been in retirement.
If you contrast the rosy recollections of your past with the problems you’re experiencing in your present day existence, you’ll develop an attitude that damns you to thinking that there’s nothing now to compare with the good old days. But if you believe that your past experiences have permanently enriched you, then you’ll use the lessons you’ve learned to create good times for yourself in the present. This is the secret of sustaining your sense of well-being.
You can boost your mood now by remembering when you were younger and dreaming about your future. Now you’re probably living the life you once dreamed of having. Savor your success, and use the positive emotions that are evoked to reassure yourself that you’ll be also able to realize your current crop of dreams.