[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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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.