Sunday, November 17, 2013

Our Remembering Selves

To my son Tommy,

Here is another trick to having a happy marriage and a happy life.  Go back through your pictures often! Pull out the picture albums or go through your flickr account or view slideshows and old home movies.  These moments that are captured are usually filled with smiles and good memories.  Somehow the struggles from the time the picture was taken have almost completely vanished from our remembering self.  So when life gets tough we can invoke our remembering self to trump our current experiencing self.

I stumbled upon the concept of the remembering self versus the experiencing self two or three years ago.  Your mother was doing a paper on a book for a prerequisite English course for nursing school.  She was faced with a question like "If you could live one full year with a perfect life but at the end of the year you wouldn't remember anything, would you?"  She and I were talking about her required reading and her report and the concepts contained within the question.  I was struggling explaining my understanding when I suddenly remembered that Daniel Kahneman, a behavioral economist and someone who I had read much about his ideas and respected, had given a TED talk about the same idea.  This is before TED talks were ultra popular and at a time that not everyone was invited to do a TED talk.  So I pulled this out to show your mom and learned a few things myself.

Anyway the basic idea is that the remembering self decides how you perceive any events in the past.  Imagine you are at the most beautiful concerto and everything is perfect except at the last moment before the end the violinist misses a note and sends out a horrible screeching note.  It no longer matters that you had over 99% of an enjoyable experience.  It has been tainted and almost the only thing you can remember is how bad that note was.  Kahneman went on, as behavioral economist will, to talk about what happens if the bad note came in the beginning or the end and how this effects peoples perceptions of the experience.  If I remember correctly, it continued on relating this how this alters people buying experience and how it makes a repeat customer.  He is after all an economist, but his lesson transcends all science and sociology.

As for me, I have figured out how to use this knowledge in just every day life.  Just take some time out of every week's schedule to look at those pictures from your past.  You don't need to be depressed to do it, and I would even suggest that you don't do it while depressed.  If you were to, you chance comparing your current experience to what will seem like a more perfect, more happier time, and that is not what we are after.  Instead make it almost routine, when you are in good spirits or at least on even keel, to spend time going down memory lane and fondly remembering your past when you are in a good mood.  Look at your wedding pics and let the love you felt that day come over you like a warm blanket renewing your feelings.  Look at all those happy moments, from baptisms to birthdays and all the events in between and let it re-energize the positive emotions in your life.  Then come back to the present and look at those in your life with new eyes re-inspired by the memories of such love experienced.  Trust me, it works and it is well worth the time.

Sincerely with love from you dad,

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