12.12.2010

The importance of memory endings.

I have a tendency to associate memories with negativity. This is something I've felt when brainstorming ideas for my Memory Friday posts. So often it feels like describing and dissecting a memory is an opportunity to rehash something negative that happened to me, an opportunity to right a wrong. But I just watched Daniel Kahneman's TED talk (The riddle of experience vs. memory) and his points about how memories and happiness are connected really spoke to me. If a memory feels ruined, an experience feels ruined, he says. How true!

Daniel presents an anecdote of two patients who undergo colonoscopies. The first patient's procedure is shorter and ends painfully. The second patient's colonoscopy lasts longer and winds down quietly, so to speak. You might think that the second patient's overall experience was more negative than the first because the painful moments lasted longer, but that's not the case. Since the second patient's procedure had a calmer ending, his memory of the experience was more positive than the first, whose memory of the ending was associated with pain.

I'm not doing the story justice (take 20 minutes and go watch the talk... totally worth it). But the point is this: endings are very, very important. And if that's true, then maybe we should be paying attention to bettering the endings of experiences, all in the name of increasing our experiential happiness.

How can we tangibly do this? How about giving yourself extra time on your last day of vacation? Packing the night before you leave to go home, or at least having a plan, can help assure a stress-free last day. Even if there were hiccups during your trip, having a calm and positive last day can make your memories of the trip more positive and contribute to an overall feeling of happiness.

Does this sound like brainwashing? I guess it kind of does. But that's what the power of positive thinking is, isn't it? And if we have the opportunity to make our memories more positive, then it stands to reason that we're also making our experiences more positive. And there we'll be, without having won the lottery, in a happier place. Interesting, isn't it?




P.S. I watched this video and wrote this blog post in a plane. What! It's totally the future.

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