How good memories can influence mental health positively

Positive memories: 5 ways it benefits your mental health

Having positive memories and tapping into them time and again help us to remember all the good that has happened and may happen again with our efforts.

What is it about going back to a happy memory and reliving that moment that makes us smile? Is it the people we shared that moment with? Is it the happy occasion? Is it simply the fact that everything was perfect – the place, time and people?

In the popular American sitcom ‘The Office,’ which is primarily about office humour, there is a scene where one of the characters, Andy Bernard, says “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” This sentence personifies what good times that become positive memories do for a soul.

For starters, they give you tons of happiness. When there is a lot going on, one seldom finds time to unwind and travel. At such a point, recalling past trips help uplift one’s mood. A re-run of a loved show ignites past memories of times spent with friends, immediately making one happy. But the fact that a happy day occurred once also lends the hope and confidence to an individual of being able to reproduce such moments in life again.

Not just feel good, but memories play a vital role in keeping our minds healthy. They give us strength in hard times, help build healthy habits by making us work hard and strive for success.  Positive memories constantly give us something real and healthy to aspire for.

Soulveda shares some time-tested benefits of positive memories for mental health.

Power of nostalgia

Just like Andy from ‘The Office’, many of us vouch for nostalgia, or the mixed feeling of pleasure and a little sadness when thinking of past memories that are happy. Dr Krystine Batcho, PhD, psychologist and professor, studies the psychology of nostalgia and explains how memories and happiness have a connection. Dr Batcho says that “revisiting the past brings back the joy of the good times and the comforting security of being reunited with loved ones.”

This revisiting can come in many forms like talking about positive memories or looking at old photographs. While doing the former, we connect with our dear ones by sharing the details of the memory and how it made us feel happy collectively. Funny, anecdotal details add to the happiness we feel rising in our hearts while talking about the memory. The nostalgia helps us in feeling connected with each other. Interestingly, this activity also improves our self-esteem and life perceptions moving forward, making it a winner all the way.

Pictures are worth a thousand words

Photographs are a real treasure trove that transport us directly to specific happy moments in our past. Whether it is a family photo, a travelling special or a candid at home, photos work faster than magic, when it comes to jogging our memories positively. They capture not just an old memory, but provide with a hundred moments of feeling good every time we look at that photo. Most photos either make one smile, make one shed a tear or simply nudge one to share it with a beloved. No matter what context the photo contains, the reaction one has is dominantly positive.

In fact, a photo can be called a record of a time so specific, that when one looks at it, one can remember everything regarding that time in detail and feel exactly how one felt during that shot. At such moments, a smile at a photo increases the dopamine hormone in our bodies.

Since the advent of smartphones and easily affordable data, people have increasingly shared photos of each other, either personally or on social media, on a daily basis – people do so to remember a good time, an important incident or just to feel the bond they share. So take some time out every now and then to sit with your collection of photos and albums – it won’t just cheer you up for a day but might save a gloomy day from ruining your mental wellbeing.

Saviour in bad times

Dr Batcho emphasizes how powerful positive memories are in saving us from bad times. She says that “in difficult periods like the ones we’ve experienced in 2020, positive recollections strengthen our confidence that life will be good again soon and that we will be able to overcome current challenges”.

In fact, one doesn’t have to think of a worldwide pandemic to understand the strength of positive memories. Take any happy memory that you hold dear – it will certainly take you back, even if for a small amount of time, to a place where you were with our dear ones, laughing or having a good time. When you relive that moment in your head, positive memory activation takes place that dampens cortisol responses and improves mood in humans. With more tools available than ever, we have a wonderful opportunity to continuously remain in touch with our best memories.

Feel gratitude

When you recall memories that are happy and positive, it often brings with it a feeling of gratitude. Such surges of positivity can linger for a whole day or so.

A study done in University of Cambridge England has found that when one can recall happy events in detail, lower cortisol levels and fewer negative self-appraisals are seen in people.

One might note that after a particularly happy and successful day, one likes to count one’s blessings. I have great friends who support me. I am so loved by my family. I have great colleagues who make work fun. I have travelled and seen so much. Such thoughts stay with us even after that day is over. We feel the taste of achievement and joy for months and years after. Such a positive memory is very powerful as it brings with it a feeling of gratitude toward life and one’s environment.

Aspire to be more

In the world of Harry Potter, inspiration might just be a flick of a wand or a spell away, but in the real world, nothing inspires more than the fact that we have achieved great things in the past and can do so again. Indeed, it is the best memories in life that hold the key to do better and be better.

For many people, remembering or recalling moments of great joy and happiness are often attached to moments of achievement. For instance, maybe you had won the school race or ranked first in studies that year. Or maybe your mom had won the singing challenge in the local neighbourhood. Or you had burned the midnight oil for a school project that had won accolades from the principal. Positive memories like these don’t just make you happy, they urge you to be at your best in the present moment too. Additionally, they motivate and inspire to replicate the success we once got and outdo it perhaps.

Having positive memories and tapping into them time and again help us to remember all the good that has happened and may happen again with our efforts. As performance coach and speaker Jeffrey Benjamin sums it up succinctly, “The ultimate definition of success is the ability to repeat it.”




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