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Nostalgia

How Remembering Happy Memories Can Make You Happier

Does reflecting on happy things make you happier in your day-to-day life? Psychology might just have the key to understanding this question and helping you determine whether it makes sense to incorporate regular reflection on the past into your daily life.

To understand the key components of this question and come to an educated conclusion, it’s a good idea to understand the basics.

How Memory Works


Research in psychology identified some of the key stages of memory, demonstrating how the conscious stores moments in time for retrieval. 1 Memory encoding is the first stage. This stage stores the visual, acoustic, and semantic aspects of the moment or event.

Semantic references the meaning of the memory to the individual. 2 Once the encoding has happened, it is either stored in the short-term or the long-term memory, during the memory storage stage. Finally, memories are retrieved depending on where they are stored. For instance, using association helps retrieve something stored in long-term memory.

elderly woman and young woman looking at photos Can Happy Memories Induce Happiness


The question of whether our happy memories can make people happier in everyday life is the subject of some debate in the scientific community, although the studies are leaning towards the idea that it does. 3

For one, people tend to seek out positive events in their lives and avoid negative ones. This means there are more happy or positive memories to draw from, rather than negatives ones, in long-term memory.

Furthermore, there is a tendency in the mind to deaden or sublimate the emotional impact of negative events and pay more attention to positive events. In turn, positive memories fade more slowly than negative ones do.

Impacts of Remembering


In general, people are wired to put negative experiences in a broader context that lessens their impact on the present. This would point to the idea that it can be beneficial to spend time remembering positive moments in your life. The more often you consider a memory, the more ingrained in your long-term memory it becomes.

Considering that humans have the tendency to remember positive things more than negative ones, it is unsurprising that individuals who have better memories tend to be happier overall. 4 First, if you have a good short-term memory, you can more efficiently complete tasks and tend to be a better listener. This can dramatically improve your relationships.

The flip side has also had some truth. If you don’t have a good working memory, you might be more brooding about your situation and pessimistic in general. This may be because since you lack the ability to draw upon your past experiences, you find yourself only able to focus on the challenges bogging you down in the present.

This research points to why it can be beneficial to exercise and improve memory through self-reflection. Making space in your schedule to consider memories or sharpen your short-term memory can improve mood and overall level of satisfaction with life in general.

young woman smiling looking away in park Think Happy Thoughts


More than anything else, simple exercises in nostalgia have been shown to increase optimism and general outlook. This is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence in psychology research. It suggests engaging with nostalgia can provide significant benefits.

In a recent study, individuals recalled a nostalgic event and then an ordinary event from their past. When writing about the nostalgic event, levels of optimism and happiness increased. When asked to select music from their past, the same was true. Repeatedly, studies have shown that the simple act of reminiscing can have an overall positive effect on mood. 5

Conclusion


According to psychology research, remembering happy things from the past can improve mood and increase happiness. Caveats to this conclusion are in relation to those who are suffering from more intense forms of mental illness.

However, for the vast majority of people, reflecting on the good moments in life can increase happiness at the moment. It can also help you make positive choices moving forward. By focusing on improving your memory and taking special care to remember the precious moments of your life, you can engage with the power of your memory and use it to transform your life for years to come.

Photo credits: JPWALLET/shutterstock.com, AntonioGuillem/shutterstock.com, OlenaYakobchuk/shutterstock.com

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