Why you should immortalize your memories

I read an article about happiness by a Stanford PhD graduate a few years ago. I cannot find the article anymore, but her words left an impact on me. In that article she stated that the reason she’s happy is that she has a poor memory, therefore the annoyances and pains of the past are easily forgotten in her mind. While I think she makes a great point about not letting the past hold oneself down, I think that those of us with stronger memories need to come up with a different strategy for staying happy.

I remember absolutely everything. I remember the words of my kindergarten teacher in December 2005 as we watched The Polar Express. I remember her telling the class that the bell gifted to the main character at the end of the movie made a different sound than the one he lost. Even back then, this made me question whether the events that transpired during the movie were “real” in the movie’s own context, or whether this was simply all the boy’s imagination. I still don’t have the answer 14 years later, but I know that the memory of this event was important to him.

One of my favorite memories of this semester is from September 11, 2019. Partly, I remember it because that was the day I bought Apple AirPods and successfully applied for my first credit card, which helped me build a strong credit score fairly quickly. But I mostly remember it because someone did something that made me question my self-worth and, for the first time in several months, made me cry.

A lot of people say “hi” or wave when they cross paths with someone, but only a few people go out of their way to make sure that their friends know they’re not invisible. As I sat in the main hall of the Darrin Communications Center relishing the music that was playing on my new AirPods, disconnected from the outside world, a girl I’m friends with named Maddy walked halfway across the hall, tapped on my knee to get my attention, smiled, and said “hi.” Following that, she said she had to leave for class and left in the same direction that she approached me from.

It seems like such a small gesture in retrospect, but it reminded me that people really cared. Although I’ve been taking steps to improve my self-esteem, there are days when I don’t feel so great about myself. But that day, I questioned why I viewed myself with such low regard, when it was clear that my friend didn’t. One of the best things about growing up is feeling valued and important. Treating yourself with money you earned and applying for credit cards are milestones that every college student should strive to hit. But on that day, my friend made me feel more valued than the AirPods and credit card combined.

I’ve experienced a few similar moments in the past few years, but one of the most powerful and important memories in my life only came back to me as I scrolled through old photos. In the middle of 2017, I took a photo of a slice of pizza. The date-stamp however, stopped me in my tracks. It was taken at a moment in my life when I was severely depressed and at my lowest point.

Slowly, the memory of that materialized in my mind. My parents took my brother and I out for dinner. The restaurant was more upscale than I usually prefer, and we had a quiet, relaxing, uneventful dinner. My dad told us a few stories of the hard times he experienced in college, and told me that no matter what, it was never the end of the world because I had his support. I ordered some pasta and two slices of pineapple pizza—a clear sign that I wasn’t feeling so good. But I couldn’t even finish the small meal, so I took one slice home with me. Feeling chaotically numb, I didn’t particularly enjoy any part of the night and I no longer remember exactly why I chose to take the photo—I almost never photograph food—but I’m glad I did because this memory reminded me of something important: my parents’ love.

I like writing about simpler memories too, such as the people in my classes. Every semester there are a few really interesting people to take note of. In 2013, I was once in an after-school leadership program, and I wrote down a few cool things about each member of my class. Looking back on what I wrote six years ago, I see the value in documenting the little details of an important period of time in my life.

I think I finally understand what my kindergarten teacher was trying to say. It didn’t matter if that bell wasn’t the same, and while we may never know whether the events in the movie were real or not, we know they were valuable to the boy. The friends he made along the way, the adventures he had, the beautiful, ethereal moment he had with Santa, the insanity of Santa’s North Pole, the bitter, crushing disappointment of losing his bell, and the cautious, delicate fascination he felt when he unwrapped his presents back at home on Christmas Day, only to find a curiously similar bell—all these feelings were real and precious to him. This was a night he’d never forget.

So, pull out your diary and write about the silly little moments you enjoyed this week. Take photographs of beautiful sunsets with your significant other. Write about the mesmerizing movie you just saw. Make a collage of all the memes and inside jokes that you and your friends have, so that you can pick up where you left off 50 years from now. Record the silly dance your friend did, so that you can laugh about it later. Collect cool trinkets and souvenirs like concert tickets and stickers. And above all, make sure to take a moment to stop and soak in the moment; burn it into your memory to let your mind know that this is a moment worth remembering. When you feel alone, these memories will remind you of what’s important in life.

This semester was an important one for me. It was far from perfect, and there were some truly awful moments, but the positive memories I made far outweigh the negative moments. I’m writing, photographing, and scrapbooking these events so that I’ll never ever forget these precious, fleeting moments and the valuable life lessons I’ve learned. The future is uncertain and exciting, but I know I can handle anything that comes, because I’m charging forward—armed with the wisdom of the past.