The Impact of Happy Memories


“Although we don’t live in the past, we live with the past.” – Rabbi Mark Miller

Have you ever participated in Throwback Thursday (#ThrowbackThursday) or Flashback Friday (#FlashbackFriday) on social media? Many people use these days to post older pictures of themselves or others. Sometimes the pictures are silly, sometimes they’re reflective, sometimes they’re even sad . . . but they’re always associated with memory.

My favorite picture to share is a school picture from 4th grade. The night before school pictures, my mom let me get a spiral perm. Needless to say, in my picture I closely resemble a poodle! This picture always evokes much laughter–both on my part and with whomever I share the picture! Also, it reminds me of a happy time, feeling confident and stylish, when I arrived at school the next morning with my new ‘do.

How do happy memories impact us? A 2014 study conducted at University of Portsmouth by L. Hyman showed that happiness possesses a strong temporal dimension (your temporal lobe being the part of your brain that is vital for declarative or long-term memory). Additionally, this study showed that reflections on the past can be a significant source of happiness for use in the present (Hyman, 2014). Researchers found that the act of reminiscing is actually a technique that people use to make themselves feel better (Hyman, 2014).

We see this trend especially in older generations (Hyman, 2014). Have you ever sat with someone older than yourself and heard them reminisce about the past? Older generations are more likely to view both the collective social past and their own personal past as happier, “better” than the current time period.

However, this study revealed that younger people also idealize the past (Hyman, 2014). Although they don’t perceive the past to be necessarily “superior” to the present, they find special pleasure in memories. (This is likely the reason that so many people participate in the “throwback” days on social media!)

It should be noted that while not all memories are pleasant, and memories can overtake us unexpectedly, we can also choose to reminisce to induce “warm, fuzzy feelings.” Another study (Speer & Delgado, 2017) showed that reminiscing can also help you calm down in stressful situations. While the idea that thinking about positive memories can improve mood and resilience to stress is not a new finding, research shows that “simply recalling happy memories can combat acute stress at a physical level” (Young, 2017). This is important because “people who tend to calm down physiologically soon after stressful events are generally healthier, both physically and psychologically, over the long term” (Young, 2017).

If you’re feeling stressed or down, or even if you just want to give a slow day a “pick me up,” perhaps taking time to look through some old pictures, sharing a memory with a friend, or reflecting on some happy times will give you just the boost you need.

References

Hyman, L. (2014). Happiness and memory: Some sociological reflections. Sociological Research Online, 19(2) 3. Retrieved from http://www.socresonline.org.uk/19/2/3.html

Speer, M. E. & Delgado, M. R. (2017). Reminiscing about positive memories buffers acute stress responses. Nature Human Behaviour, 1.

Winkler, E. (2014).  The science behind #ThrowbackThursday. The New Republic. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/118017/memory-happiness-science-behind-throwbackthursday

Young, E. (2017). New evidence shows the calming power of reminiscing about happy times. The British Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/05/12/new-evidence-shows-the-calming-power-of-reminiscing-about-happy-times/