Isn’t it funny how a good memory remains a lingering thought for only a short time. Of course you will revisit happy memories when reminiscing with friends or a loved ones, or maybe when you are feeling a little blue and need a pick-me-up, but a good memory usually is not a constant reoccurring thought in the back of our mind, day in and day out.
A bad memory on the other hand can become a torturous, daunting thought that plagues the mind for weeks, months, or even years. So why is it that the negative events in our lives create such powerful memories and how can we relieve ourselves from these painful re-occurrences?
Humans are wired with a negativity bias. Why? It is what helped us survive when life was a little bit harder and threats to our existence were abundant. We evolved to be highly aware of negative events because such events could be fatal. In the modern world however, we are rarely threatened by animals, invading tribes or dying from a winter snow storm. But unfortunately, the amygdala – the portion of the brain which releases stress hormones when we perceive a danger or threat, is still very active. It can be triggered by common, every day “threats” such as feeling disrespected, unheard, or frustrated by things outside of our control. As a result of this, we are literally hard-wired to pay more attention to negative events and perceived threats than we are to positive events and opportunities. This cognitive bias affects how we perceive and interpret virtually everything that happens to us. It is also why our bad memories can be so vivid and overwhelming. Oftentimes, a bad memory is something that triggered our brain’s alarm system. It’s also true that in the past bad memories were learning moments and this can even still be true today. We often don’t learn from our good memories, we learn from our bad, which is why they can still leave such profound effects on our memory. And while memory forming can in some cases be a survival mechanism, our brains can latch on and view our bad memories in a way that serves no purpose but to disrupt our effectiveness and happiness.
According to a Fulfillment Daily article titled “The One Thing Happy People Do Differently”, “how you view your bad memories determines how happy you are.”
As discussed in her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, author Susan Cain explains that “the way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives.”
“Unhappy people tend to see setbacks as contaminants that ruined an otherwise good thing (‘I was never the same after my wife left me’), while generative adults see them as blessings in disguise (‘The divorce was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, but I’m so much happier with my new wife’),” Cain says. “Those who live the most fully realized lives – giving back to their families, societies, and ultimately themselves – tend to find meaning in their obstacles.”
The article describes a strategy discussed by author Daniel Pink who says “how we explain negative events to ourselves has a major impact on our resiliency.” According to Pink, there are 3 important questions one must ask them-self in choosing to view a bad memory/setback as a blessing in disguise.
“Question 1: Is this permanent?
“Question 2: Is this pervasive?”
“Question 3: Is this personal?”
Remember, “Unhappy people blame setbacks. Happy people find meaning in their obstacles,” says Fulfillment Daily author Adam Baker.
Click here to read the full article, “The One Thing Happy People Do Differently”