In this episode, I explore the fascinating relationship between memory and happiness. I look at the book by Miek Wiking. The Art of Making Memories and share insights from a book on the topic and studies conducted by the Happiness Research Institute. We learn about the power of curating happy memories and how it can improve our mood and overall well-being. I also provide practical tips on creating and remembering happy memories, such as engaging all our senses and experiencing new things. I also discuss the importance of episodic memories and the potential for false memories. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in the science of happiness and the role of memory in our lives.
[MUSIC] Have you ever wondered if you can make yourself happier just by curating your memories better? That’s what we’ll talk about today. [MUSIC] Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, and the things you never want to lose. Kevin Arnold. Today we’re gonna talk about the book, The Art of Making Memories, how to create and Remember Happy Moments by Mike Viking, and that is spelled M-E-I-K-W-I-K-I-N-G. He wrote a couple of books about happiness, and he is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. He also wrote some other books on hygge and other topics that we’ve talked about in the past, so I was really interested in what he had to say about memory and happiness. He says that he likes to think of memories as the place where you know you’re having fun. And he brings up a time when he visited his childhood home. He asked the people, “Can I come inside?” He wanted to get back some of the memories he had from when he was a kid and remember how things really were. He says in the end that these memories are what ties together our lives, ties together everything we know and understand and our experiences and it gives us a way he says quote free from the limitations of the present moment. So in this happiness Institute that he has they did a couple of studies about memory and happiness and he calls it the happy memory study. That’s what they did when they looked at various happy memories and whether remembering them could make you happier. It says in the end they weren’t looking for a specific memory, they were looking for a happy memory. And when they asked people, about 23% of the memories were some sort of big experience, something very different. And 37% of the memories were meaningful, like weddings and baptisms and birth and big events in your life. 62% involved most of our senses. You could smell the sea breeze, you could smell the flowers, you could see the night sky, or you could hear the laughter of your mother when you told her a funny joke. All these types of memories that they found brought happiness had a lot of sensory perceptions along with it. He says that 56% were emotional, 22% were struggles, but 100% of them had to do with what you were paying attention to. If you don’t pay attention to things, you can’t memorize them. So this is where he comes up with the books. He tries to come up with these ideas and ingredients to help us come up with memories. He calls some memories as outsource memories, and those have to do with when we have other pieces of paper, like a diary or a photo or something. He says that memory collection is Marie Kondo’s arch enemy. That was pretty funny. Because she’s telling you to throw everything out and he’s telling you to keep things. He also knows that memories can help us change our mood. They can make us temporarily happier when we think about a happy childhood memory or some other happy time in our lives. And so what part of his study did is they asked people, you know, where are you in happiness if you represent it on a particular scale. And so then they looked to see if bringing back happy memories helped make people’s moods better, helped change their moods. And the theory worked out. He also brought up the rude point that dog memories made people much happier than cat memories. “No, I had a cat. My cat gives me good memories.” He says maybe it’s just that more people own dogs than cats. He talks a little bit about episodic memories, and that is something that happened to you. And he gives the example like, “What did you watch for TV last night?” Or “What did you do yesterday?” It’s different to have episodic memories, which is part of a “What did you do?” An autobiographical memory, maybe “How did you get to the place that you’re currently at?” Or then there’s semantic memory, which has to do with facts and figures and other things that you learn. It’s quite often true that when you have semantic memory, it just becomes part of your storage. don’t remember when you learned about World War II, or you don’t remember where it was that you learned about the Battle of Gettysburg, you know, you just know that it entered your memory and now it’s a part of your memory, unless it involves some other memory that was episodic or an event that made you learn about it more. So these memories, he said, when they’re semantic memories, they don’t have smells, we don’t have personal knowledge of any of these things, we were just told at some point, “This exists.” While episodic memories are something unique to us, something that we experience, and so we have a lot of associated sensory and memories and moods that go along with it. He said, “Episodic memories can be seen as the sixth sense, a sense for the past. It is our ability to time travel.” You know, it’s true. You can go back when you think about a memory from your childhood or something that was monumental to you and it is almost like you’re going back in time. He says that when you’re young, semantic memory is what you get first. You remember that oranges taste good or when I touch this it hurts, you know, something like that. It’s the episodic memory that develops later and is much more complex. He says that, you know, when we have these semantic memories, we learn facts and figures and experiences about the world, but those memory systems will grow as we grow, and then we gain another memory that’s called procedural memory. We talked about that when we talked about Jim Quick’s book talking about memory, but it’s also the process of doing something, and there’s also short-term memory. He says that semantic and episodic memory are explicit and procedural memory is implicit. The procedural memory allows us to do tasks, like we can ride a bicycle and not think about we can drive to work and not really think about it. Although we should think about it ’cause we’re driving to work. But it lets us go on with our lives without having to focus on so many things. While we have these other memories and they may not come up quite the way that the procedural memories, how to ride a bike, will come up for our daily lives. He says that happy memories are good for us. I think it’s true because if we have all these memories and they’re all negative. It can lead to depression. It can lead us to thinking badly about our lives. I won’t get into depression theory because there’s a lot to what you remember and what you retrieve. And if you have too many bad memories, it’s a little chicken in the egg. Does the depression cause the retrieval of bad memories? Or does the lack of good memories cause depression? there’s much more there. We’re not really talking about depression. But one of the things that’s interesting about memory, and you might realize this is when you’re in a similar situation, your ability to pull out a memory like that situation is easier. So if you’re in a happy mood, you’ll remember happy memories. And if you’re in a bad mood or you’re fighting with your boyfriend or your spouse, you’ll remember and dredge up every bad fight you’ve ever had with them. That’s where things start getting into these fights with the kitchen sink, Because you say, “Oh, you never wash the dishes.” “Oh, you know what?” And you never take out, and suddenly you’re dredging up every bad memory. So it is harder to bring up good memories when we’re not happy. But the question is, is can we help people with depression start to recall better memories and maybe improve their moods? And can we bring back those memories through some techniques so that we get into better moods? A lot of this book, and this book is really interesting, talks about a lot of the experiments that their institute did on happiness and memory. And we’re not going to go into everything because you could talk about a lot of what he did forever. But read the book if you’re interested in how he came up with some of the data. We’re starting to get into the idea, and he introduces this, that maybe our good memories are not just random, but maybe we need to work on them to remember them better so that we can retrieve them when we’re low or when we need a good memory or we need a good story. He brings up the history of nostalgia where it talks about how it used to be seemed as a negative or a neurological disorder, that when someone just dredges up the past or thinks about the current times as not as good as it used to be, that it was a problem. I think now we look at nostalgia as a happiness, as something that we love, something that we look fondly of and I don’t think we think of it as a negative the way they used to do that. Because now we see I think that when we look back on our past or we have those experience of nostalgia it produces positive things in us. We feel good. We can remember times when we stood up for ourselves. It also can boost our mood, our ability to stand up for ourselves in the future when we remember we did it in the past. So now, nostalgia or looking at the past isn’t seen as quite the negative as we used to believe it. When we look at the past, some of it has to do with firsts. The first time we got married, when we got baptized, when we first graduated from a school that we were old enough to remember. A lot of times, firsts are big, important things when it comes to our memories. And he said that if you talk to someone who’s older, they’ll probably remember a lot of those first things. And they’ll talk about their early adulthood, their childhood, and they’ll link to times when they felt that life was happy for them at that time. And I don’t think it necessarily means that they think their life is unhappy now. It’s just more that it was a first. It was a first time. I saw a thing about aging, And it talked about how time seems to go faster the older you get. And that is absolutely true. Things that, you know, you had a summer and the summer was taking forever, or this was taking forever, and nothing really seems to take forever anymore. A lot of that has to do with that we don’t have firsts anymore. We had the first time we rode a bike, the first time we graduated from school. But as we get older, those firsts get harder and harder to achieve, which means they get harder and harder for us to actually then store as memories. And so it makes time feel more like it’s going quickly because we have no benchmarks, no big events in there. And after I read that, I decided to try to do a little bit better on my own before reading this book about making landmark things that I’ll remember this more. Going out and doing the things that sometimes we don’t feel troubled enough to do. A couple of weeks ago, we had a big aurora event. The sun unleashed this beastly wave towards the earth. It was gonna go all the way down, I think, to the southern border, and a lot of people who never got to see the northern lights, or the auroras, finally got to see them. And not only that, a lot of times, when you look at auroras, they’re way on the horizon. This was overhead. It’s hard. It’s 10.30 at night. You wanna go to bed, you wanna get in your jammies, You want to drink a cup of hot cocoa or something like that? And to haul yourself out of your house, drive into the country where it’s nice and dark, it gets hard. But it’s important, I think, because that’s where he’s talking about. These firsts, these experiences are hard to come by the older you get. And so you will have to force yourself to do extraordinary things or things that are harder to do just to keep life from going by too fast. So, he suggests a lot of memory tips inside this book. He says that there’s things you can do, like go someplace you’ve never been before every year. Do something for the first time often. Maybe that’s even just trying a new food, going to a new restaurant, camping in a new place, traveling to a new place. But those first-time memories will help you remember life better, and it’ll help slow down your lives so that we don’t feel like it’s just whizzing by. If we can do the first, we’ll make our lives memorable and happy and we’ll be able to recall things beyond just the things we do every day. He says it even works on other people, that if you want people to remember you, you can do something memorable. He suggests bringing a pineapple on stage and everyone will say, “Hey, you remember that girl who brought the pineapple on stage?” So we can also use that trick of making something very novel memorable so that we’re memorable too. He also says that you probably should explain it, otherwise people will just think you’re kind of weird. He says that we can even make our memories multi-sensory, which means that we taste something unusual. You know, you go to Hawaii and you have the Hawaiian ice. You go to Italy and you have Italian food. You know, you do things that make it extraordinary. That smell of hot brewing coffee when you’re over the campfire or the taste of a food that you’ve never tried before. By creating what he calls triggers, you’ll start be able to associate more of our memory back again. So that we can even have a soundtrack to our happy memories. a song we love, the birds chirping in a certain way. If we remember all these senses that are coming into our lives, we’ll have a better chance of remembering it. He says, unfortunately, too, that we can have false memories. They did some studies and some looks at ways people get implanted with false memories. I have seen this happen, I think, in the past, where someone tells a story about a childhood event and they say that they did something. Now, I remember it pretty clearly, and I remember someone else did that thing, not that person. I think when she was retelling the story, she was bringing herself in as the person who did it. That strikes me as a false memory, or maybe it’s a false memory for me, but just be aware that sometimes false memories are a possibility. He says another good way of triggering memories is to visit places that are novel to us. If you can’t get away and go to another country, then maybe it’s just a new place that you’ve never visited before. I was on vacation for the last couple of weeks and my car broke down and it was kind of sad, but I got a chance to see more of the county I live in than I think I ever have. I had the chance to go to a state park and go birdwatching. I went to a monastery and started contemplating my big change, some things that are going on in my life, in peace and quiet. I left the cameras in the car, I left all my bird stuff in the car, and just walked around, sat down, and contemplated. So it gave me a new chance to have a new experience in a new place. And when I think back to that experience, I remember how beautiful the place was. It also smelled like pine in the best possible way, and the birds were chirping. I have so many memories of this place from almost every sense. Picked up pine cones. I just had a really amazing time being in the moment. So if we can bring that to us, we’ll be able to collect that vision, that novel thing, and put it into our memory. He says that if we’re trying to describe a moment that we would like to keep in our memory, if we’re talking to ourselves about the story, writing it down in a diary, whatever way we use to remember things. He says that it’s important to write down the whole scene. I think he means by all the senses, all the different experiences. You know, I pulled up to the monastery, I parked in the wrong place. I had to get my car and go park somewhere else. Then I walked down this path and I found this other path that wasn’t on the trail map. I went down it and found the lake. No one intended us not to go to the lake. In fact, there’s another way to go to the lake, but because I went the secret forest way that wasn’t on the map, made it exciting. So that’s a good way, he said, to make sure that our memories stay in place. He gives a quote from Confucius, “The palest ink is better than the best memory.” Meaning if we write things down, no No matter how good our memory is, we’ll be able to remember it even better if it’s on paper. So we’ll stop there, and then we’ll continue this conversation on the next week. So my challenge to you is try to have an experience that’s new this week, something that you’ve never done before. Maybe you just go for a walk in a place that you’ve never been before. Last week I went for a walk, and I walked by a house that was made by Frank Lloyd Wright, someone really did an amazing thing with the garden. Beautiful. I’d never seen it before and it’s blocks away from my house. So see if you can find some sort of new experience. Doesn’t have to be far, but then try to write it down using all the senses. All right, everyone. Thanks so much. I hope you have a wonderful week and I hope your memories are serving you well. Remember to subscribe to the podcast and tell a friend. I am trying to get the podcast out to more people and see if we can’t make a community where we could do more fun things in the future. Maybe we’ll have a Twitter space, maybe we’ll have an online type of thing, but I want to know from you what you would like to see in a community or something that I can provide to you. So you’re always welcome to tell me what you think by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org And just remember, the way down memory lane starts with small steps. (upbeat music) you [BLANK_AUDIO]