You are lying in bed or sitting on the sofa and the most spectacular images fill your mind. There are flashes of dark green, the same dark green as the trees in the forest behind your old home. The amazing wonderland where you made friends with bugs, built houses made of mud, and lay in the sun dreaming of faraway mystical worlds. Images of your favorite red dress consume you. The dress you used to wear everywhere! The dress that made you feel like a princess. A musky scent fills the air, it reminds you of your first shaving attempt. You barely had a beard, but you were so eager to become an adult that you could resist any longer. Days long gone but feelings that evoke a smile and a warm cozy feeling in your heart. ‘It feels like just yesterday’, you think. A feeling of content consumes you and you are more at peace.
These beautiful images are your brain’s unique gifts to you, your memories. What exactly are memories then? According to human-memory.net memory is the innate human ability to store, encode and retain information and experiences from the past. Those exact memories hit you with a bang when you visit a place or smell a specific scent. The best part of these images is that your brain is powerful enough to enable you to recall these wonderful memories when and as you may need them. Be it with friends or when alone.
What then is it about memories that keep you healthy? A good question indeed. Memory empowers us to learn from the past, remembering things we would like to experience again (happiness and laughter) while avoiding those less desirable moments, like when you bumped your car for the very first time. Memory enables us to build friendships while adding on to existing memories. Amazing, isn’t it?
Back to the evidence. Research published by the American Psychology Association suggests that individuals with loving childhood memories present with less depression, better general health, and fewer chronic illnesses later in life. Alice G. Walton’s findings in ‘The Power of Happy Memories’ (2019) states that although antidepressants and therapy can be an effective form of treatment, the recollection of happy memories may be an effective alternative as it reduces the individual’s depressive symptoms in a more natural, yet readily available manner. One could argue that your happy memories become your personal protective measure, easily accessible and at absolutely no cost.
On a neurological level happy memories, along with sunlight (a previous post) exercise, and massages, can boost your serotonin levels. Serotonin? Yes, serotonin! Serotonin is the chemical in your brain known as the happy chemical. Serotonin is considered a main contributor to wellbeing and happiness. Happy memories, therefore, boost your serotonin. Alex Korb’s article on Boosting your serotonin activity in Psychology Today (2011) emphases that happy memories work in two ways. Firstly, it directly increases your serotonin levels. Secondly, it potentially keeps negative thoughts away. In short, think happy even when it’s difficult. One happy thought will get the ball rolling!
Hey Happy recommends that you take some time for yourself. Spend this time making memories. Be it by yourself, with your favorite book, on a stroll with your four-legged companion, or chatting up a storm with a loved one or friend. Remember to occasionally grab the camera (AKA smartphone) to eternalize a moment or two as a keepsake for older age, kids, or even perhaps grandkids.
You can supplement your memory with Omega-3 fish oils and vitamin E while remembering to soak up the sun!
written by Alicia Myburgh, Clinical psychologist