Tuesday Tip: The Power of a Positive Memory

There is a lot of energy focused on negative memories, and for good reasons. For one, everyone experiences them. From a evolutionary stand point, we are wired to remember the things that bring us pain. This is our ancient, highly effective warning system that is designed to keep us safe. By remembering the things that have caused us trouble, we’re more likely to avoid them and keep ourselves alive. 

In fact, researchers have discovered people have a tendency to attach a much higher weight, {or valence in psychological lingo}, to negative things rather than to good. One of my favorite research studies was done way back in 1984 by two professors (Dr. Daniel Kahneman and Dr. Amos Tversky) and involved the participants hypothetically winning or losing money. Basically, what they found out was that you are more upset about losing $50, than you are happy about gaining $50. Something viewed as negative made a greater impact.

While negative events may hold more weight and make a greater impact,
there are two things something that researchers have discovered about the human brain that is absolutely incredible. First, researchers also have found that many good events can actually overcome the psychological effects of a bad one. According to Dr. Roy Baumeister, the psychological effects stemming from a bad event can be negated with a ratio of 5 positive events to one negative event.

Second, the research found that by savouring a positive memory, there was a kind of ‘re-experiencing’ of the event contained in the memory. Senses were re-engaged and the emotions associated with the memory were re-experienced. You can trigger your brain to think about an event and your brain will recreate the exact feelings surrounding that event.

In a new study just recently published in January of this year, researchers out of the University of Cambridge found that recalling specific positive memories and happy life experiences fortified resilience and reduced the risk of depression.

While our hard wiring makes it impossible to avoid the the greater impact of negative events, researchers have now discovered that positive memories can make a definite effect on us. Positive memories can increase positive emotions and have the capacity to reduce anxiety by reducing the way we respond to threat. It also can ease the symptoms of depression and stress as evidenced in cortisol levels. It allows us to see the world through a more optimistic and happier filter.

An example of a picture off of my fridge of a fun memory that always makes me smile.

So, today’s Tuesday Tip: Surround yourself with positive memories. Whether it is pictures of a specific family event that make you laugh or a playlist that reminds you of the good old times or the scent of a freshly washed blanket that reminds you of home–create an environment that allows you to remember and reexperience the positive memories in your life. Positive moments can make more of a difference than you know.

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