Who we are is very much a result of our memories and experiences. What we have seen, felt, heard and touched has shaped our personalities and influenced who we are. Taking the time to remember and reflect on positive moments in our past can be fulfilling—and make us feel happier.
Psychological research dating back to the 1930s supports the belief that holding onto and reflecting about our good memories—and leaving the bad ones behind—can help us to move past difficult situations.
If you have ever been in the middle of a bad day and then heard an old favorite song on the radio, thought about a great time you had with a child or recalled that delicious cake you tried at a party, then you know the power that a positive memory can have on your psyche. It can even turn your mood around in the middle of an otherwise lousy day.
Any time we like, we can boost our mood by focusing on a happy memory. Here are a few suggestions for gaining the most benefit when you relive those past experiences in the present and turning them into a mini mindfulness vacation:
1. Find a quiet place where there are no distractions
It may be indoors or outdoors, it may be in the morning or the evening, but it is important that is a place that is quiet and comfortable, where you can be alone with your thoughts and feelings.
2. Engage your senses
Find a photograph to look at, a trinket to hold in your hand, or play music that reminds you of the experience. If possible, smell something that triggers memories of that moment, taste something that reminds you of the food you ate when you were there. For example, when I hold my daughter’s baby blanket, I smile immediately and am flooded with memories of her as a little one.
3. Focus on the specific details
Recall the people, places, colors and shapes that gave you great joy at a distinct moment in time. Try to imagine yourself in that place and envision it with as much detail as possible.
4. Envision the room you are in as a favorite travel or vacation spot
If you love the mountains, imagine the cool air, the feeling of the rocky mountain against your feet. Take your mind and body back to that place to become as calm and relaxed as when you were there.
5. Focus on your emotions
Your emotions are a powerful connection to past experiences. Focus on one particular feeling like joy or a sense of peacefulness or satisfaction. If you are focused on feeling happy, you might reflect on a time you received a promotion, or recall your first date with your husband, or that time your best friends threw you a surprise party.
The important message overall when it comes to reflective thinking is: make time for it! You’ll feel happier, more calm and peaceful, it will be easier to make it through tough moments—and you’ll be able to remind yourself about the joyful times you’ve had in your life.
Stacy Kaiser is a successful Southern California-based licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality, and a frequent contributor to Live Happy.