You can’t trust your memory.
Memory is fluid. Every time you recall something you’re essentially rewriting it in your head.
Yet you’re prone to stubbornly trusting this copy of a copy of a copy — even if it no longer resembles the original:
Eyewitness testimony? Often worthless:
But memory isn’t just something to use when taking tests in school. It’s tightly coupled with happiness:
- Reminding people of their childhood causes them to act kinder.
- Nostalgia increases the feeling that there’s meaning to life and decreases loneliness.
- Evoking personal memories makes people more likely to donate to charity.
- Reminiscing is correlated with happy relationships.
What does one of the foremost experts on happiness say is the biggest cause of unhappiness? My main takeaway from Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert’s bestselling book Stumbling on Happiness was:
Ever eat too much, drink too much, or stay up too late, say “I shouldn’t do this because it makes me feel terrible”… and then do it again?
Ever dread Mondays, going to the gym or get-togethers… and then realize they’re really not that bad?
So what are the solutions here?
1) Keep a list of what makes you very happy and very unhappy
Stop trusting your memory. Write things down. Feelings are fleeting. Keep a list of things that make you very happy and very sad.
2) Look at how other people react
Gilbert also has a suggestion that is quick and easy: Look at other people, what they do, and how they react in the moment:
Sorry, you’re not a unique snowflake. We’re more similar to others than we are different. Don’t fight this, embrace it. It can be the key to a much happier life:
3) Use your brain’s errors to make memories happier
Yes, your brain is imperfect, but it’s often imperfect in the same ways. You can use it’s errors to your advantage.
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, has shown that your brain consistently remembers only two things about an event:
- The emotional peak
- The end
So how can you game the system with this information and have happier memories?
Make sure tomorrow has one thing that will be amazing and that the day ends on a positive note. This is what leads to feeling good about your life in retrospect.
Your brain is not a perfect computer. What you will remember is not the same as what happened.
But you can game it so your memories are better than what happened. And happy memories are one of the secrets to feeling good about your life.
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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.