As many of us return to work or studies after the Summer break, I have noticed that enquiries as to how friends and colleagues enjoyed their holidays have often been met with the reply ‘it was great but it feels like ages ago’. How is it then that pleasant memories, emotions and experiences can seem to fade from our memory so quickly once we find ourselves again consumed by our everyday pressures and worries?
We know that memory is highly complex. As neuroscience advances we are starting to become aware of the different areas of the brain involved in laying down, storing and retrieving memories. Whilst there is still much to learn, one thing that seems to have an important influence on our ability to remember situations and events, is the degree of emotion that we experienced at the time. Thus moments of intense joy are often easy to recall, as are those of intense embarrassment or repulsion. However recalling those of contentment or simple pleasure might prove to be more challenging.When we experience emotion our body responds to sensory stimuli in the environment with physical and chemical changes. When we re-create experiences through imagination or memory these changes occur in response to not to outside stimuli but to those generated internally. Thus re might imagine or recall sounds, sights, textures, sensations or conversations. As individuals we may find that we are better able to recreate some types of stimuli than others. You can try this out for yourself by trying to close your eyes and imagine these scenarios :
- jumping from a metre high wall onto shingle
- looking at of your front door
- hearing the theme tune of a favourite programme
- smelling your favourite perfume
- the taste of your favourite food.
You may well have discovered that you have a bias towards noticing and recalling either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic information.
The good news is that we can become better at storing and recalling positive experiences. With practise we can become better at noticing, remembering and recalling the sensory information associated with experiences we would like to remember and re-experience. Thus when we look at a photograph we might be reminded not just of a beautiful scene, but also of the feel of the sun or wind on our face, the sound of the waves or the birds, the colours and textures of the sand and the sea. We might also start to notice our heightened stature when someone praises us, or how we register feelings of peace or contentment in our body. With practise we can start to recognise and re-create the thoughts, pictures in our mind or physical gestures that can help us to re-experince those feelings. In short we can learn to savour our experiences more and to enjoy them again, keeping us going until the next holiday!