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Holten: Enjoying the here and now

"Memories of painful emotional experiences linger far longer than those involving physical pain," writes Kevin Holten.

Kevin Holten
Kevin Holten
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What are your most prized possessions? Are they your new car, the ranch you inherited, your high school state basketball most valuable player trophy or your family?

All of those are wonderful things but your most valuable possessions might just be your memories, both good and bad. Good because they are pleasant to look back on. Bad because they are the ones that taught you the most and make you what you are today.

Memories are made even more valuable by the fact that they fade. And yes, dementia is a terrible thing that destroys memories. But I’m not necessarily referring to that. Because our memories fade with time as part of a natural progression anyway.

And yet, there’s a beauty in that too because that’s what makes reunions so wonderful. At reunions you can get together with a group of friends and together you can piece together a past situation like a puzzle with everyone remembering different things.

After all, we all view life from a slightly different perspective and retain alternative portions of the same situation.

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There are also those memories that never seem to fade. Those are the one’s that you retain the intricate details of forever.

According to Dr. Shahram Heshmat Ph.D., who was an associate professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield, memory formation involves registering information, processing it, storing it, and then retrieving it. And that’s where emotion comes in.

A normal function of emotion is to enhance memory in order to improve recall of experiences that have importance or relevance for our survival. You see, emotion acts like a highlighter that emphasizes certain aspects of experiences to make them more memorable.

So, from the beginning, ‘attention’ guides our focus to select what’s most relevant for our lives and our attention is prompted by what is most novel or unusual. Nothing focuses the mind like a surprise, for example.

Then again, most of the information we acquire is forgotten and never makes it into long-term memory. In other words, it’s logical for us to imprint dangerous situations with extra clarity so that we may avoid them in the future.

Meanwhile, memories of painful emotional experiences linger far longer than those involving physical pain. There is an old saying that “sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.” Well, the fact is, they can.

Plus, our current emotional state facilitates recall of experiences that had a similar emotional tone. When we are in a happy mood, we tend to recall pleasant events and vice versa.

And stress can lead to memory deficits, such as the common experience of mentally blanking during a high-pressure exam or interview.

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American author, blogger and speaker, Gretchen Rubin, said that one of the best ways to make yourself happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past. And photos are a great memory-prompt because we tend to take photos of happy occasions.

But former world champion boxer George Foreman might have summed it up best when he said that it's great to reminisce about good memories of the past. But it’s more important to learn to enjoy ‘the moment’ because doing so has two benefits: it gives you happiness right now, and it becomes a good memory later.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Dickinson Press, nor Forum ownership.

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