Who doesn’t have them? Even those who had amnesia or Alzheimer’s remember at least something. But how important are these memories? Are they even worth remembering?
To answer the third question, yes. Memories are worth remembering. That is their purpose.
So, what gives?
There are several things you need to know about the nature of your memories.
First, they are subjective. No, that does not mean that whatever you thought you remember actually happened. Our brains process the memories more to suit what we wish happened. The memories which we think are rigid and cannot be edited, is actually edited by your brain each time you summon the memory. It is further affected by our current situation and whatever thought or stimulus lead to the triggering of the memory.
Second, these things are cued in and made more unforgettable by the number of sensory stimuli we feel. I’m sure you are already quite aware of this. You probably heard a particular song and remembered someone who loved singing to it. That, is the power of cues which arise from other sensory inputs.
Third, memories which bring more impact tend to be more unforgettable. That car accident you experienced several years ago? I’m pretty sure the memory is still vivid until now. The more gravity an event contains, the more likely you’re going to remember it.
Okay, we got that covered. We already know that memories aren’t the perfect movie scenes we imagine them to be. So, a particularly ominous question arises, are you fooling yourself?
Probably. It depends.
A good memory (be it positive or negative) is something which isn’t easily forgotten. These things last in our minds for probably our entire lifetime. But with our brain constantly changing and editing our memories as we replay them, we tend to ask how we can ensure that whatever we remembered actually happened.
You ought to do the following:
- Write. Writing is powerful, especially if used to express something you feel and experience. Called expressive writing, putting down your thoughts and whatever experiences you feel is not only relieving, it also improves your health and psyche. This is especially true for traumatic or emotional situations. Although it may seem counterintuitive to write something which troubles you, studies have shown it has positive effects on your well-being. So, write your thoughts and experiences, as they may lapse into memories and paint a much more vivid and more comfortable viewpoint on the things you’ve seen or done or experienced.
- Record. Be it taking photos or videos, recording the things you see and experience provide more comfort since they trigger visual inputs that may have otherwise been corrupted by your editing brain or forgotten in the recesses of your memories. Watching these things seem to teleport you back to the time and place, all unchanged and where the emotions are much stronger. They also provide glimpses into a point in space and time you no longer recall, as shown in Ron Haviv’s The Lost Rolls Project where he uncovered over 200 rolls of film which have never been developed (read more about it here). Compile photo albums and video tapes, and when you’re in the distant future wondering about what you had back then, you can always return to those events by watching them unfold before your very eyes.
- Talk. There’s no better way in retelling your memories than telling it with those who were involved. You may talk about your wonderful class memories when you reunite with your former classmates. You can record the memories by talking about it in your phone’s audio recorder, or better yet, an old cassette. Then, when you feel like it, you just pop the files into the player, sit back, and listen to the raw memory or to you narrating the events. It’s a comforting and soothing experience.
As you may have noticed, all three ways of storing your memories for a more realistic retelling involves stimulating your senses. Writing affects your eyes and hands, watching involves your eyes and ears, and talking involves your ears. Combining the power of the senses provides a more picturesque and nostalgic feel.
Memories make up who we are as a person. They are unique to us. Even if two people watch the same game, they will have different memories. It’s all in the perspective, and perspective is a powerful ability.
So, what are you waiting for? Memories constantly happen around you, whether you are a passive or an active participant. Record, record, and record, so that when the time comes that you feel lonely and down, you can always listen to your past joys and sorrows and learn from them. And whatever you learned from them, you can use to become a stronger, happier, and more satisfied individual.