There’s an art to happy memories — you can make more by experiencing more “first”s

There’s an art to happy memories — you can make more by experiencing more “first”s

via TED Ideas by Meik Wiking

Studies show we’re better at remembering the novel and the new, so let’s use this tendency to add to our storehouse of memorable and meaningful moments, says happiness expert Meik Wiking.

Ask any older person to recall some of their memories, and there’s a good chance they will tell you stories from when they were between the ages of 15 and 30. This is known as the reminiscence effect, or reminiscence bump.

Memory research is sometimes conducted by using cue words. If I say the word “dog,” what memory comes to mind? Or “book’? Or “grapefruit’? It’s best to use words that are not related to a certain period in life. For instance, the phrase “driver’s license” is more likely to prompt memories from when you were a specific age than the word “lamp.”

In studies, when participants were shown a series of cue words and asked about the memories they associate with those words and how old they were at the time of the memory, their responses will typically produce a curve with a characteristic shape, the reminiscence bump. The recency effect — a final upward flip of the curve — can usually be seen, too. For example, when asked what memory comes to mind when cued with the word “book,” what people have read recently may pop up more easily than what they read 10 years ago.

You can also see the reminiscence effect in some autobiographies, where adolescence and early adulthood are described over a disproportionate number of pages. If you look at Agatha Christie’s autobiography, which is 544 pages long, the death of her mother happens on page 346, when Christie was 33. In the period that covers the reminiscence bump in her life, memories fill more than 10 pages per year. In contrast, she sums up the events of 1945 to 1965, when she was aged between 55 and 75, in just 23 pages — a little over one page per year.

What do you remember about being 21, or from another year? And how do your memories from different decades compare?

One theory behind the reminiscence bump is that our teens and early adulthood years are our defining years, our formative years. Our identity and sense of self is developing at that time, and some studies suggest that experiences linked to who we see ourselves as are more frequently retold in explaining who we are and are therefore remembered better later in life…

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