How to Feel Happier – According to Science. Using Positive Memories to Increase Positive Emotions

How to Feel Happier - The Proven Way to Increase Positive Feelings

Memories are powerful. Far from being the passive remnants of our history, our memories actively shape our experiences, our relationships and our life stories that we are yet to create. Now, exciting new research has found that our positive memories can also be used to increase positive emotions.

We are wired to remember the things that bring us pain. This is our ancient, highly effective, sometimes annoying, warning system, designed and finely tuned by evolution to keep us safe. By remembering the things that have caused us trouble, we’re more likely to avoid them and keep ourselves alive. This is a great thing for our survival, but not such a great thing for our feel-goods. (Evolution can be a pity sometimes.)

Our capacity for remembering the positive isn’t as easily triggered as the negative, but research has found that with deliberate effort, we can change this and use positive memories to work hard for us. Our positive memories can give us access to a remarkable repertoire of resources that can shape our experiences in positive ways, and strengthen our mental health. 

Research has found that by savoring our positive memories we can increase positive emotions. It also has the capacity to reduce anxiety by reducing the way we attend to and experience threat, and it can ease the symptoms of depression by letting the world be seen less through a more optimistic, happier filter.

The Research

The study was published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. As part of the study, participants were asked to remember a recent positive memory of being with another person. The memory was then expanded through a technique called the Social Broad Minded Affective Coping (BMAC) technique.

The research found that by savouring a positive memory, there was a kind of ‘re-experiencing’ of the event contained in the memory. Senses were re-engaged and the emotions associated with the memory were re-experienced. As well as this, the meaning contained in the positive memory helped to push against any negative beliefs that tried to push their way through and cause trouble. Feelings of warmth, social safeness (how connected you feel to others) and calm were increased, while negative feelings were decreased.

How do I use my positive memories to feel happier?

To nurture positive feelings through positive memories, think of a recent positive memory and expand it by remembering it through each of your senses. Here’s how:

  1. Think of a recent positive memory of being with another person.
  2. Move around the memory, engaging all senses as you do. Let it broaden in your mind.
  3. Where are you?
  4. What do you see?
  5. Turn your focus on the other person. 
    • Focus on his or her face. What do you see?
    • Try to get a sense of the positive feelings the other person was experiencing.
    • What are they wearing?
    • What are they doing?
    • How does the other person in the memory feel?
    • What is that like for you – that other people think or feel this way about you?
  6. What do you hear?
    • From the other person?
    • In the environment?
  7. What can you smell?
  8. Does your memory involve any tastes?
  9. Can you touch anything in your memory? How does it feel to do that?
  10. What is the strongest and most positive part of the memory? Let the feeling expand in you. Sit with the feeling and enjoy it for a few moments.

(The full social broad minded Affective Coping Script that was used in the study can be found the Appendix at the end of the study here.)

Building a beautiful brain through experience.

Research over the last decade has shown us that we have an enormous and ongoing capacity to change our brains. Positive memories activate positive emotion. The more you do this, the more your brain will change to accommodate this. It’s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Over time, it will become easier to access positive emotion by expanding positive memories, and to nurture the positive experience that comes from that.

And finally …

Healthy living is about more than avoiding trouble. It is about the way we perceive and respond to the world around us, and how we interpret the things that happen. Our emotions provide a filter for everything we experience. We are hardwired for that filter to be a negative one, but by deliberately accessing our positive memories and letting them we can also make sure that our positive filter has a heavy hand in the way we live our lives.

3 Comments

Minda Caldwell

This works. The more you focus on positive experiences, no matter how small, does exude a sense of satisfaction within and without.

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Lisa

I can’t believe I had such a difficult time trying to recall a happy memory.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Lisa you’re probably not alone with that. If it’s difficult to turn your focus to happy memories that are already there, take the opportunity now to create some happy ones – let it be about you for a while.

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Adolescence is all about the transition from childhood to adulthood. It can be a confusing time for everyone - not just for our teens but also for the adults who love them. 

Too often, the line between childhood and adulthood can be a blurry one. The expectations of adulthood can come charging at them, but without the freedoms, confidence, or capabilities that adulthood brings. They can feel with such depth and intensity, but without the adult wisdom or experience to make sense of those feelings. 

They’ll be okay, but it might feel wobbly for a while. In the meantime they will look to us for signs of safety and certainty. This doesn’t mean certainty that everything will always be okay - it won’t be - but certainty that they’ll get through, certainty that they are extraordinary, and needed, and that their will be a space and a place in the world that only they can fill.

We might not always feel that certainty. Some days we might ache, and wish we could make their world feel softer for a while. In those times, it will be less about what you do and more about who you are - being the one who can be with them without needing them to be different, the one who can handle any of their hurts or heartaches with gentle, certain hands, the one who can block out the world for a while by letting them rest in our care without needing them to be, or do, or give anything back in return.♥️
For our children, we start building the foundations for adolescence in their earliest years - the relationship we’ll have with them, who they are going to be, how they are going to be. One of the things we’ll want to build is their capacity to know their own minds and be brave enough to use it. This isn’t easy, even for adults, so the more practice we give them, the more they’ll be able to access their strong, brave, beautiful minds when they need to - when we aren’t there.

This means letting them have a say when we can, asking their opinions, and letting them disagree.

When kids and teens argue, they’re communicating. We need to listen, but the need won’t always be obvious. When littles argue because it’s spaghetti for dinner and ‘I hate spaghetti so much’ (even though last week and the 5 years before last week, spaghetti was their favourite), they might be expressing a need for sleep, power and influence, or independence. All are valid. When your teen argues because they want to do something you’ve said no to, the need might be to preserve their felt sense of inclusion with their tribe, or independence from you. Again, all valid. 

Of course, a valid need doesn’t mean it will always be met. Sometimes our needs might need to take priority to theirs, such as our need to keep them safe, or for them to learn that they can still be okay if everything doesn’t go their way, or that sometimes people will have conflicting needs that need to take priority. What’s important is letting them know we hear them and we get it.

It’s going to take time for kids to learn how to argue and express themselves respectfully. In the meantime, the words might be clumsy, loud, angry. This is when we need to hold on to ourselves, meet them where they are, let them know we hear them, and step into our leadership presence. We might give them what they need because it makes sense and because there isn’t enough reason not to. Sometimes, after giving them space to be heard we’ll need to stand our ground. Other times we might solve the problem collaboratively: This is what you want. This is what I want. Let’s talk about how we can we both get what we need.♥️
Anxiety will always tilt our focus to the risks, often at the expense of the very real rewards. It does this to keep us safe. We’re more likely to run into trouble if we miss the potential risks than if we miss the potential gains. 

This means that anxiety will swell just as much in reaction to a real life-threat, as it will to the things that might cause heartache (feels awful, but not life-threatening), but which will more likely come with great rewards. Wholehearted living means actively shifting our awareness to what we have to gain by taking a safe risk. 

Sometimes staying safe will be the exactly right thing to do, but sometimes we need to fight for that important or meaningful thing by hushing the noise of anxiety and moving bravely forward. 

When children or teens are on the edge of brave, but anxiety is pushing them back, ask, ‘But what would it be like if you could?’ ♥️

#parenting #parent #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #positiveparenting #heywarrior #heyawesome
Except I don’t do hungry me or tired me or intolerant me, as, you know … intolerably. Most of the time. Sometimes.
Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.

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