Human memory is not logical. It is not linear. And it is not perfect. What human memory is, however, is very flexible. Which, let’s be honest, can sometimes be kind of frustrating. When it comes to remembering the things that make up our personal stories and the narrative that is our lives, we often tend to focus on the big moments. The moment where we met a friend, got accepted into a program we were excited about, or moved to a new house.
But are those the meaningful moments that change our lives? Maybe — or maybe not. In a 2014 study published by students at Harvard University entitled “A ‘Present’ for the Future: The Unexpected Value of Rediscovery.”, researchers found that when you are asked to record mundane moments in your life, and then return to those moments after some time has passed, those moments become more meaningful. As one researcher put it to WBUR in an interview about the study:
“The thing is, time changes, right? We move, we make new friends, and these ordinary experiences are imbued with more meaning as time passes…Now there’s a feeling that’s a lot more meaningful. We actually had a lot of participants write to us and say, ‘My gosh. This was such a meaningful experience. I had completely forgotten about this interaction that I had with my daughter. At the time, it didn’t seem very special. But now, looking back, I’m so glad that I was able to capture that moment.’
But mundane, unquestionably changing, or somewhere in the middle, those moments and how we think about them still have a big impact on our life. Author Larry Smith collated a book of essays about these life-changing moments called “The Moment” that explores exactly that experience. And those moments are often quite intensely personal. Quote:
The moment I ended up writing about in the book dealt with my eating disorder in high school. At one point, I had to go to weigh-ins with my dad and I was hiding weights in my pockets, and it was insanity. I just had this moment when I just realized this just needs to end, I’m making myself and everyone miserable and I agreed to get help. For me it was a turning point. I wasn’t that interested in revealing that part of my life to the world, because it’s painful and personal, but that’s what you’ve got to do if you’re asking other people to do it. I think a lot of the stories in the book will give people courage to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
So – intensely purposeful, incredibly personal, or finding the magical in the mundane, what moment do you think about?