POSITIVE REMINISCENCE

[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 8]  by Audrey Berger, Ph.D.                                                                                                      “Pleasure is the flower that passes; remembrance, the lasting perfume.” ~ Jean de Boufflers  Have you ever noticed how much happiness you can experience by simply thinking about a special memory in your life?  Many studies have found that savoring positive memories is a powerful way to promote and strengthen positive feelings in the present, especially for older adults. Positive memories can bring us joy, and they can even help us to cope with, and recover from, some of the difficulties that we all encounter in life. Fortunately, no matter what challenges we currently face in our lives, we all have within us the ability to transport ourselves to another time and place.

Research has shown that by recalling times when we felt truly happy, we are able to experience those same feelings again – sometimes even with the same intensity that we felt during the original event. Possibly because positive reminiscence is a relatively simple and accessible way to promote happiness in the moment, some studies that have found that the more time people spend remembering positive events from the past, the more they tend to enjoy the present. Some researchers have even been reported that positive reminiscence contributes to increased self-esteem and greater optimism about the future.

A number of studies have identified some things that can help to fine-tune the process of positive reminiscence. Taking mental snapshots of positive events as they occur, and memorizing the details, facilitates future recall of your happy experiences; as pleasurable as it can be to collect and save memorabilia, it turns out that simply bringing positive memories to mind is a more effective way to promote happiness. Also, when engaging in positive reminiscence, it is best to stay emotion-focused, since analyzing positive emotions has been shown to detract from the experience.

 Although remembering happy times doesn’t require any special strategies, there are a number of structured positive reminiscence activities that are worth your consideration. Over and above the fact that these activities can be quite enjoyable, they can also help to strengthen your brain wiring for positive emotions, enhance your resilience, and facilitate your overall happiness and well-being.

POSITIVE REMINISCENCE ACTIVITIES

Make a list of your happy memories: This list can include both special events from your life as well as any generally happy experience you are able to recall. Set aside time to select and recall the individual items on your list, and in each instance, bring to mind as many details as you can. Immerse yourself in the memory, and pay close attention to the feelings you experience.

Share Memories: Research has found that reminiscing with others about a shared memory is especially likely to evoke strong positive emotions (e.g. joy, accomplishment, amusement, contentment and pride), particularly as we get older. This can, of course, be done informally, but there is also a more formal approach that you can try. In the structured version of this activity, you and a friend each make a list of 3 -5 of your own happiest experiences. Then take turns sharing those memories with one another. As you describe a specific memory, include the following details: where you were; what was happening; what you were doing; who else was there; what made it such a memorable and positive experience; how you felt at the time; and how you feel now as you recall it. Try to really picture the experience and savor the memories. When you are the listener, help your partner savor their memories by paying close attention and asking questions that will help to enrich the experience for them.

Work with specific positive emotions: Instead of making a list of positive memories, you can begin by working with specific positive emotions. For this activity, choose a specific positive emotion, and then generate a list of times when you remember experiencing that emotion. Think of as many instances as you can, and for each instance, include as many details as you can recall. Your positive emotions portfolio can evolve over time, as you remember more experiences, and as you have new experiences that you would like to remember later.

If you have chosen to focus on one specific emotion for this positive reminiscence strategy, consider repeating it for a variety of positive emotions. If you proceed in this manner, you can then create resource boxes (or, if you prefer, computer folders) for different positive emotions. Linger over the process of creating these boxes/folders and use it as an opportunity to really savor each emotion and the associated memories. In each box or computer folder, include anything that can serve as a trigger for a particular positive emotion: photos, songs, written descriptions, letters, etc. Savor new positive experiences as well, and then integrate descriptions, photos or other mementos of these new experiences into the resource box/folder you created for the associated emotion. After a while you will have a wonderful array of resources for different positive emotions, which will be available to you whenever you wish.

Accomplishment Savoring – Think back over the years of your life, and make a list of things you’ve achieved. To facilitate recall of your achievements, it may help to generate a separate list of your achievements for each decade of your life. Include both large and small achievements. Include items that are meaningful to you, regardless of whether they would be seen the same way by others. What makes you proud of this accomplishment? What positive feelings do you have now, looking back on it? Who else was involved? What setbacks or challenges did you have to overcome? What skills and abilities did you use?

 Next time: MINDFULNESS

 

Audrey Berger, Ph.D. has been a life coach, psychologist and psychotherapist for 33 years. In her life coaching practice she specializes in mid and later life transitions such as retirement, empty nest, midlife transition, positive aging in general, and creating a new life after divorce/loss. She also works with an array of other life issues and goals, including helping couples to create the relationship they want. You can learn more about her life coaching services, and find out about receiving a complimentary coaching consultation, at www.turningpointlifecoaching.com. Audrey can be reached at: info@turningpointlifecoaching.com or at (585)292-0095.

 REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS

Biswas-Diener; Diener, Ed (2010-01-22). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Kindle Edition. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Bryant, F. B. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Cohen, G. D. (2008-07-31). The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain. Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Cozolino, L. (2008). The healthy aging brain: Sustaining attachment, attaining wisdom. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.

Fredrickson, B. (2009-01-27). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. [Kindle Edition]

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002-10-02). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

 If you haven’t yet read the seven previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can learn more about Happiness and Well-Being:

Happiness and Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness and Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                             Happiness and Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness and Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism                                                                Happiness and Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                          Happiness and Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset                                         Happiness and Well-Being, Part 7: Savoring

“Positive Reminiscence” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

SAVORING

[HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING, PART 7]

“Enjoy the little things in life…for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.” ~ Robert Brault
  • Do you frequently find yourself multitasking, or rushing around trying to get everything done?
  • Do you spend a lot of time using your computer, tablet, or cell phone, or watching TV?

It’s important for each of us to take the time to slow down, turn off the technology, and allow ourselves to just enjoy the moment; we can help ourselves to do this by learning how to savor our positive experiences. Savoring the things we enjoy increases the pleasure we experience in the present moment. It also strengthens the brain wiring underlying our positive emotions, helps us to better manage stress, and promotes our overall happiness and well-being (see Happiness and Well-Being, part 3).

LEARNING TO SAVOR LIFE’S JOYS

Paying close attention to your senses, and to the experience of pleasure, is the key to savoring.  To savor life’s joys, you need to actively allow yourself to bring about, appreciate, enhance and prolong your positive experiences, without guilt or feeling like you’re wasting time. Even if you already make a point of savoring special moments in your life, you can derive further benefit by also savoring positive things that you experience more regularly: the beauty around you; the music, sensations or tastes that you love; time spent with family or friends; and so forth.  When you are savoring something, try not to analyze the experience, since that will diminish your pleasure. Instead, simply focus your attention on enjoying the experience.

Although savoring is a process that increases your pleasure in the present moment, the situation that you’re savoring doesn’t have to be occurring in the here and now: you can bring joy into the present moment by savoring the memory of a positive past experience, or by savoring the anticipation of a positive future event. Studies have found that each type of savoring is associated with unique benefits: people who are good at savoring positive experiences occurring in the present moment tend to show less susceptibility to guilt, shame and depressive feelings; those who are skilled at savoring memories of positive past experiences show reduced susceptibility to stress; and those who are adept at savoring the anticipation of positive future events show an increased level of optimism.

If you don’t naturally savor what’s positive in your life, it’s a habit that can be easily developed and incorporated into almost any lifestyle. What follows are some specific strategies that can help to promote savoring. Try out some of these approaches, and continue to use ones that you like. Adopting a variety of strategies will help to keep your experiences fresh and interesting.

Strategies that promote savoring:

Celebration – When you have worked hard for something or accomplished a goal, take time to really appreciate and celebrate your success. Do something special for yourself. You can involve others in this activity as well.

Sharpening perceptions – Focus on specific elements of your experience and block out other elements. For example, if you are eating a piece of chocolate, rather than eating it quickly without thinking as we often tend to do, slow down and really focus on the sensation. Put the chocolate in your mouth, close your eyes, feel of the chocolate on your tongue, and delight in the taste.

Absorption – Allow yourself to get totally immersed in an experience, and try not to think. Don’t think about other things you should be doing or focus on the ways in which the experience could be improved.

Memory-building Studies have found that happier people have a habit of taking a mental snapshots of successes and positive experiences as they occur. By paying attention to the details and memorizing vivid images, it becomes easier to recall and enjoy the experiences later on. You can also build memories by taking actual photographs, or by journaling about an enjoyable event. Whether you use mental snapshots or physical keepsakes, this process allows you to more easily reminisce about it later and re-experience some of the pleasure you felt when it happened. [Next time we will further discuss the topic of savoring positive memories.]

Gratitude Journal (Counting Your Blessings) Experiencing and expressing gratitude can be seen as a form of savoring, because you are recognizing the blessings in things that can otherwise be taken for granted. Gratitude can be about either significant or mundane things in your daily life, or it can be about the powerful emotional gifts you receive from connections with other people. The topic of gratitude has been the focus of a great deal of research in recent years, and there is simply no question that practicing gratitude can significantly contribute to happiness and well-being. A very useful gratitude activity is the gratitude journal.

A gratitude journal involves writing down three to five things in your life for which you are currently grateful. Lyubormirksy (2007) has found that the best frequency for keeping a gratitude journal is once a week. However, other people might get better results with different frequencies for journaling – anywhere from daily to bi-weekly, so choose whatever frequency works best for you. Other gratitude journaling strategies include: writing more detail about one specific thing or writing about what your life would be like without some of the blessings you have. Of course, you can try a mix of all these strategies.

Next Month: POSITIVE REMINISCENCE                                    

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS

Biswas-Diener, R. & Dean, B. (2009-05-18). Positive psychology coaching: Putting the science of happiness to work for your clients. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Biswas-Diener, R. & Diener, E. (2010-01-22). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Bryant, F. B. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Colman, J. (2012-10-16). Optimal functioning: A positive psychology handbook. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Fredrickson, B. (2009-01-27). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007-12-27). The how of happiness: a new approach to getting the life you want. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002-10-02). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. [Kindle Edition] Retrieved from Amazon.com

 If you haven’t yet read the six previous posts in this series, click on the links below so you can learn more about Happiness and Well-Being:

Happiness and Well-Being, Part 1: Can You Make Yourself Happier?                                            Happiness and Well-Being, Part 2: Developing Happiness Habits                                             Happiness and Well-Being, Part 3: Rewire Your Brain for Happiness
Happiness and Well-Being, Part 4: Cultivating Optimism                                                                Happiness and Well-Being, Part 5: Overcoming Pessimism and Self-Criticism                          Happiness and Well-Being, Part 6: Developing A Growth Mindset

“Savoring” by Audrey Berger, Ph.D. was originally published on the Transition Network website.

DEVELOPING HAPPINESS HABITS

[Happiness & Well-Being, Part 2]  by Audrey Berger Ph.D. –  Life Coach at Turning Point Life Coaching

HAPPINESS HABITS CHECKLIST

“So what kind of reality do you want to create for yourself?” Tal Ben-Shahar

Not that long ago, scientists believed that we are born with all the neurons we will ever have, and that our brains are incapable of creating new neurons or developing further in any substantial way. But, in recent years, scientists have determined that we create new neurons throughout our lives, that injured neurons can repair themselves, and that new connections between neurons are routinely established. Thus, we now know that our brains are regularly being rebuilt, rewired and reorganized. This amazing process of on-going change in the brain is called neuroplasticity. Continue reading