Attachment to Memories
Good memories give us solace in hard times and deepen our pleasure in good times.
They boost confidence and provide the directions to explore life more while we are young, and gratitude when
we get old. A child needs those good "first impressions" to move forward; as
the elderly need them to look back with pleasure and accept what lies ahead.
We move more when we are young, making memories we rarely stop to analyze
or sort out, doing experiments without seeing their results. As we grow older
and wiser, we take
our time reflecting and tasting
the old pleasures anew, finding that only "happiness" remains
longest in our
memory. Nothing is as significant: we recall a few moments enjoyed at
ease better than hours of hard work or breathless running, even cherishing a solacing
pleasure in the middle of hard/tragic times. On reflection, we see life
short adventure we had to take, a moment of
deep delight, not a long mindless race toward nothing. Thus we keep our "curious, playful, childish" attitude, up to the end.
Both the old and the young need to make, cherish and enjoy memories. Memories
help us understand ourselves better, knowing why we love some things so much,
and why we detest others. Good memories are useful, enjoyable ... and harmful
sometimes, when they are untimely evoked.
Why do good memories feel so, even though
- they were not that good sometimes, if at all, when they
actually took place;
- we may change our mind about them, if we can travel
back in time to them;
- we prefer present tangible pleasures to past ones,
whenever both are offered?
1. Present Causes
- Exposure to evocative objects.
- Thinking, reading, learning about the past.
- Recently losing or expecting to lose a familiar object/person/place.
- Missing purpose/freedom/pleasure at the moment.
- Having no future to look forward to, or expecting a bad one.
- Getting closer to death and further from life, because of aging, illness,
accident, danger ...
- Sleeplessness/restlessness, drug influence, hypnosis ...
- Having a weak short-term memory.
Any of the above makes us favor or rely on long-term memory
rather than short-term one.
2. The Nature of the Memory
The power of memories depends on different
factors that can make a bad memory more painful and a good memory more enjoyable:
- The object of memory is typical of a certain person, place or period: his/her/its
smell/sound/appearance, music style, arts, games, old technologies, trademarks, fashions, fads, and events (personal/national/international).
- The evocative object hasn't been encountered in a long time. Once we
get familiar with it, unfortunately, it loses its magic power of
reviving memories (an old song you keep replaying, an old dish you keep
cooking, etc.). Thus, it's good to search for "new" memory-related
objects, when the "old" ones lose their initial memory-jolting effect. There
are many such objects, associated with the endless memories stored
in our brain from all life stages. Examples of objects we
encounter less are those in holidays and beginnings of seasons, a yearly trip, etc; even an
unusually hot day during winter, or a cold day during summer has a nostalgic
effect. Rarity deepens the effect of memories, just as it increases the value of
- The effect is faster when the memory is connected with any of the five senses,
than with abstract ideas. It can be any of the following, or a combination of, that you haven't encountered in years:
- A smell (perfume, plant, furniture, paint, soap ...).
- A tune (you had heard much before, or heard at important occasions).
- A food (the person/place/occasion for serving it is not present).
- A place (old home, school, rendezvous, nature, art/historic place ...).
- An object (photo, gift, prize, keepsake).
- A person you haven't seen/met/talked to in a long time ... etc.
- The memory took place during childhood/youth, at our formative
stages, when the brain depended more on memorizing than analyzing, giving the
past powerful indelible impressions, difficult to dismantle, track or analyze
- The gap between reality & imagination, present & past, is difficult
to bridge because the object of memory is challenging to find.
- If it is close, you can easily reunite, pleasing you
as much as you expect. You may fear losing it someday, or, conversely,
not value what you temporarily have at all.
- If it is distant, you are most
tantalized & arduously spending time & energy trying to reunite,
like being away from a person/place/object
you miss but can't return
to, easily or immediately. However, temporary distance,
geographical/psychological, is good for
"anticipating & valuing" what one misses.
- If it is nonexistent, there is NO way to
reunite, suffering most when thinking of it. However, when focusing on
the present, it's relieving, because nothing can be done (the power of
hopelessness): no effort
needed to meet which is impossible. Examples: attachment to a dead
person, a lost physical character, a place no more existent, a past era of one's life (childhood/youth/etc.)
or of a place's/country's history, etc.
3. The Nature of the Past
We can't turn back time. We can't re-live memories; the objects
of memories are unreachable, which TEASES us, making them
seem more valuable than they are sometimes. We crave more for
the things we can't possess, notwithstanding their quality.
We had more life. We had more in our ACCOUNT OF YEARS then than we
do now, as we are getting closer to death. Sometimes we miss being young rather
than miss the memories themselves, that merely get their value by association with youth.
Had we been "immortal," we would have lost interest in many such memories. Actually,
mathematically speaking, we are as close to death/nonexistence in
our youth as we are in
the late years, as we come from and return to nothingness.
We had less knowledge; we were more naive about life. We relied more
on imagination to discover the world, as we always do whenever we lack facts.
Unfortunately, adults did not tell us the hard facts of life at an early age;
they even lied to us sometimes. Accordingly, we didn't know we
would just die eventually, like every life form. We were told many childhood myths, to
please our imagination at the expense of our understanding. Our elders lovingly,
and ignorantly, kept us from developing bad impressions about life at its
We had less responsibilities, we were dependent on adults in
childhood, life was more of a game, we only saw life from an amateur's
We had more expectations, ambitions, and plans, taking all the time
we need, without feeling much hurry to realize our dreams.
We had more strength, better health, memory, and hormones boosting our stamina and
mood, even to a superfluous reckless level.
4. Human Nature
We are both optimistic and nostalgic by nature: we are programmed
to remember good memories from the past and expect good future scenarios more
than bad ones, because pleasure hormones' effect on the brain memory center is more powerful and enduring
than that of stress hormones. If we equally remember/expect good and bad times,
we become emotionally "neutered," losing motivation to do anything.
Sharing helps evoke memories. If you are a sociable person, and it doesn't cause you any embarrassment
to contact/approach an old friend/acquaintance, you can re-live memories by
sharing your memories with them. The person can be a memory themselves (whom you
just want to see and be with), or you want to be with them to recall old
This is the most decisive factor in retaining and recalling memories,
distinguishing humans from animals. If
you see a memory so vividly, you won't need anything or anyone to remind you of
it. "Memories are in the eye of the beholder," constantly saved in the mind of
him who thinks, ready to be summoned on demand, instantly. The memory will
answer your call even if you are thousands of miles away from where it took
place or several decades older, or no one but you only still remember it or had
Memories can be safely, effortlessly, differently
recalled by thinking of them with or without trying to physically possess
an object, or visit
a place, or meet a person reminding you of them, which can prove
difficult or impossible sometimes, socially embarrassing, and most of all
"limiting" imagination and thinking:
- You always have more memories "in store" than what reality can ever offer.
- The mind is passive when the body is active, and vice versa, that
you can better see the memory with your body still and your eyes closed.
- In the mind, the memory can be mixed with other memories, fantasies and
- It can be seen and enjoyed properly, when it's among the rest of
it belongs to.
- It can be seen and enjoyed differently, when it's combined with different
memories and fantasies.
- It can be more useful, when it's used as part of a thought, shedding more
light on a physical fact or supporting an abstract argument. Thus it gives new
KNOWLEDGE, which is the ultimate goal a memory can achieve.
We lose interest in memories, fantasies, books, possessions, places, and people,
once we know all
we want from them. Knowledge is the pleasure all other pleasures are based
An old place may now be different/replaced/nonexistent, and so could a
person. Whereas, viewing memories "in your mind," where they are permanently
saved, allows safer, freer, easier, faster "navigation."
If there is a physical contact with the object of memory eventually,
imagining it in advance increases anticipation, which makes the moment of
re-uniting more enjoyable (like the days preceding a holiday).
A pleasing memory doesn't have to be related to a socially acceptable
behavior, a physically
beautiful sensation, or a happy occasion. It makes
no difference if your first date took place in a party or gutter, watching a
comic movie or a terrible accident, as long as it was strongly felt.
The benefits of cherishing one's memories are similar to the
learning history. When we recall memories, read diaries, view
old pictures, reminisce with old friends ... we learn about
our own "life history" just like reading a history book about an old place or era:
- Gratitude. A good past helps us accept a bad present. It
allows us a firm ground to stand on, giving us momentum/motivation to go on. It's an inexhaustible source of pleasure to
revisit whenever the present is painful, stressful or dull. Memories can even
help us accept death, as we feel "satisfied" when we remember how
happily we lived. Or, conversely, they can help us accept death
as we feel "sorry" if the old sources of happiness no more/rarely/differently
exist, where death looks better by comparison with such a dull life. However,
curious, adaptive people who cope with new and different pleasures, little or
much, do not feel so sorry about the past.
- Mixing present with past. Good memories help us enjoy the
present more, by adding to it some elements from old pleasures to mix with the
new ones, resulting in different new combinations.
- Understanding ourselves better. Some problems have their roots back
in the past that you must delve in to recognize and find solutions to.
We heal past wounds and "rediscover" our selves that we ignorantly
thought we knew too well.
- Giving coherence to life and its difference stages, by seeing the
whole picture, that you may be satisfied/dissatisfied with.
- Avoiding past mistakes. We risked life, health, others, and
everything, for a short thrill or an unknown path we wanted to take. We
ignored others' advice, scientific/historic facts, and logic.
- Completing past work. We had set off on many projects/experiments we
never finished, and goals we never achieved.
- Realizing past dreams. Whatever happened to our childhood/youth
plans, when we wanted to discover the world and make it a better place, for
alive and future generations?
- Trying a new different present since we already know what we tried before.
- Planning for/dreaming of a different future, knowing what you had
already achieved/tried before and what you are yet to achieve and try.
- Reclaiming lost advantages from the past. You might have been more
enthusiastic, courageous, experimental, curious, etc.
- Learning old skills to use when the need arises. You may only
need to refresh/hone/brush up on those things you had been good at in the
past, that you
opportunely need now.
- Mind-travel: We take a trip down memory lane. We start our
time-machine and travel in time, when we are stuck in time or space, in a dull
present or place.
Attachment to memories has harms similar to those of history when it's not studied alongside
other branches of knowledge, or when history is
misapplied, untimely trying live in a past era while stuck to the present, ending
up losing the advantages of both. Life's quality gets generally worse when we
insist to drive backward:
- We understand less. Memory bias negatively affects understanding,
as we never remember
something exactly as it happened, adding or missing some details. In old
age, excessive reminiscing and incuriosity about new things can even speed up
- We work more, repeating ourselves, which wastes time,
energy, resources ...
- We enjoy less, feeling sorry for the past, apathetic toward
the present, and incurious about the future. We ignore present pleasures and
duties while we dwell on the
past. Regressing to memories is sometimes an alarming sign of escaping a bad
present that we cannot/would not change. (However beautiful a memory or a fantasy
is, a pleasurable present reality is worth seeking more.)
In other words, obsession with memories can gradually harm:
- Thinking: under-using some brain functions; e.g. observing, asking, analyzing, etc.
- Behavior: lagging behind in technology, hygiene, information, social
- Emotions: naivetι, depression, insecurity, and isolation from the real world.
The Benefits of Learning History