Remembering better times

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One of the most frustrating thing about humans is that we’ll feel a particular way—happy, sad, angry, annoyed—and then we’ll find excuses as to why we’re feeling that way. If we’re feeling sad, it’s really hard to remember times when you were happy. If we’re feeling annoyed, then the most minor things can cause us to lose our cool, even if they’re things we’d hardly notice on better days.

It’s pretty clear that for whatever you’re feeling, that’s what you’ll be good at remembering. If you’re having a great time, you’ll be better at remembering similar happy memories. If you’re hitting a particular difficulty, it’s much too easy to remember all the other times you’ve hit the same difficulty.

Sometimes we recognise our feelings are transient. When we’re feeling hungry, we know that’s a temporary state, even if it causes us to buy half the supermarket when we go shopping. But if we’re feeling sad or lonely, then it’s way too easy to think those are somehow permanent, because all the other similar occasions are what easily spring to mind.

One of the real struggles here is that there’s an actual block in being able to conjure up those other feelings. You might say, “I know I was feeling happy last Thursday”, but if you’re feeling rotten right now, then you’re just stuck with “knowing”, rather than “feeling”. That abstract knowledge might not make you feel any better—in fact unless you’ve actually sat down to honestly remember how you felt each day—you might not even remember that you were happy last Thursday in the first place.

This, more than anything else, is why I track my moods. It’s why I journal my experiences. My memory is biased, and records and journals are one of the few ways of seeing how I actually felt at any given time. My challenge is to keep them up to date; if I’m having a great time—and sometimes if I’m having an awful time—then often they don’t get recorded, and I miss what are arguably some of my most important records.

But even if you don’t track your moods and experiences, then at least remember that if you’re feeling down, or angry, or frustrated, then your brain—and your memory in particular—is going to actively mess with you. You may not be able to stop that from happening, but having knowledge and insight may at least help you make better choices than what you may have otherwise made.

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