When you go to work and go home, go to work and go home, whole years (even decades) feel like they disappear into memory sinkholes. Time feels like it is speeding by. Family routines, work routines, even social routines can make life feel flat and blurred. Nothing stands out. When someone you haven’t seen for awhile asks how you are, “just the same” is the only answer. Monotony and familiarity make time shrivel up.
Can you recall a bad memory from when you were a child? Perhaps a nasty bee sting, a frightening dog barking, your mother telling you off. Or that time your best friend decided they didn’t want to play anymore. It is easy to conjure up these sorts of memories. Bad memories stick. When you go looking for them, they readily come to mind.
The same thing happens as an adult. How easy is it to forget the 3 positive things your boss said to you, and only ruminate on a criticism? Or dismiss all the good things your partner has done, and obsess about the fact they never take the rubbish out?
The human brain has a negativity bias, like a Velcro for bad experiences, and Teflon for positive ones. And when life gets stressful, or busy, or you encounter a rough patch, it is easy to start feeling like your whole life has been bad. It is tempting to focus on your regrets rather than your achievements. The things that went wrong.
So time is speeding past, and you tend to only remember the unpleasant parts. It can make you feel quite discontented and stuck. You can make some big changes, shake up the monotony, move, change your life. But sometimes that isn’t so easy. You just need an easy hack that makes you happier without major change.
Gratitude is a simple way to ‘trick’ the neural machinery of memory to weave positive experiences into the brain and self, more deeply. When you punctuate, and record distinct memories, you burn them into your consciousness. You can cultivate good memories.
You can actively record, and focus on positive memories, as another tool in your gratitude toolbox. A gratitude habit rewires your brain toward the positive, it reduces your negativity bias. A rich past, recorded in journals or photos will trigger a great sense of satisfaction. You will just feel happier, more content with yourself and your life.
Smartphones mean we always have access to a camera. Recording the details of your life can be a hugely satisfying exercise.
By making a record of a beautiful sunset sunset, a bouquet of flowers, your child’s messy hair in the morning, you log those details. You create evidence of your happiness. A picture records that moment in time, never to be forgotten.
Choose to document your adventures, your life, your loved ones. You will never regret it.
I use Instagram for this. A private page, I don’t need anyone else to like it. But my Instagram feed is full of happy memories, details noticed, memorable meals, mundane moments that felt a bit better than usual. I have a collection of around 1000 of these moments, and it is hugely satisfying to look back through them.
Others use a journal. I have a book by my bed and I only write in it sporadically. But the book has been there for about 5 years. It is a proper gratitude journal, with neat little boxes to write 3 things I am grateful for. Sometimes I write about the big stuff, grateful for my family etc, but the beauty is in the details and the small stuff. When I leaf back through it, so much comes back to me: how my daughters chubby little hand felt as a toddler, how satisfying it was to declutter my wardrobe, how much I loved that book, how warm my house was on a cold day, how good it feels to be on top of the housework for once.
When I flick through those, I cant help but think that ‘Life is Good’. Writing makes a big difference to mental health. It is therapeutic.
Try to acknowledge when you have a happy moment. Take a picture. Notice lovely things. Keep a record of the good that came your way today. Log it into your memory banks.
- What made you smile today?
- What were you grateful for today?
- What did you receive today?
- Who did you connect with today and it felt good?
- What compliments, gifts, favours were you granted?
- What offers of help were made?
- Who shared a generous spirit with you?
- What did you achieve?
- What moments stood out?
- Think of your 5 senses: what did you see, taste, hear, touch or smell today, that felt good?
Happiness is a choice. You can choose how to remember a day at home in the garden. A day of chores, or a day spent being productive, being in nature. Be selective. Pick small details that matter. Give your life a positive spin. You might as well fill your brain with satisfying stuff. Don’t leave it to the default of your negativity bias.
Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory – Dr Seuss