Train Your Brain to Remember the Good Stuff
The more vividly you can capture happy moments, the easier it will be to revisit them in harder times
After a long string of bad days, Tuesday night was an unexpected bright spot. My husband and I followed our sons on their scooters for a post-dinner romp at the neighborhood playground, which we had all to ourselves. The sky was cotton-candy pink, the temperature was just right, and best of all, the boys had traded their usual bickering for belly laughs.
Chasing my three-year-old around the park, I felt free, childlike, and connected — almost like the world wasn’t crumbling all around me. It was something I hadn’t felt in months.
It was also fleeting. By the next morning, the buzz of that evening had already worn off, and I once again found myself consumed by stress as I slogged through the day. If only I could teleport back to that breezy, balmy night at the park.
Life seems to grow more overwhelming and unpredictable every day, and during the pandemic, positive emotional experiences are hard to come by. But we can nourish ourselves by revisiting the ones we’ve already lived through. Remembering that life once felt good can create a sense of hope, and reexperiencing that feeling firsthand can offer respite from the stress of the present.
It takes a bit of work, though, to capture a moment thoroughly and vividly enough for that kind of emotional time-traveling. Natalie Dattilo, a psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says we’re more likely to remember things that are highly charged. Often, that means your brain remembers scary or traumatic experiences over happy ones — your psyche’s way of protecting you from future dangers. But Dattillo says it’s possible, and important, to also encode happy memories in your brain with similar intensity.
“It’s probably just as critical that we’re able to recall happy events, even if they’re momentary and fleeting,” she says. “By reexperiencing those positive feelings, we can stay optimistic and look forward to feeling good again in the future.”
Since the brain tends to replay more emotionally charged experiences, the key to hanging on to positive ones is to “charge” the memory…