Tuesday 6 August 2013

Do you remember the time...

My husband and I used to enjoy eating at a particular local restaurant. I forget the name, but I will always remember the words printed on their menu:

"We create memorable memories to remember"

Not sure what other sort of memories there are, but it was the next bit we always liked:

"You will enjoy our food three times: In the anticipation; in the eating; and in what comes next".

Now, in our entirely mature way we used to snigger at that last bit because, given it was an establishment serving food of the quite exotic and spicy variety, what 'came next' may well have involved several long trips to the bathroom.

But now I look back on it with a slightly wiser head on my shoulders (!?) I think I now know what they meant.

They had cottoned on to Gretchen Rubin's 4 stages of happiness before even she had. Their food, like all pleasurable moments, can be enjoyed in the anticipation, in savouring the event itself, and in reminiscing about it afterwards. (They could have got extra points for adding in 'sharing' and 'recounting' but we'll let them off).

The point is, remembering good times after the event brings back all the happy feelings you felt at the time,
again and again. In fact sometimes, given we're often a bit rubbish at being present, we're actually able to appreciate and enjoy the moment even more when we look back on it later from a calmer, more mindful place.

The reason I'm mentioning all of this is because today is day 6 of Happiness Happens Month and  every day this month I'm talking about a different one of the 31 types of Happiness as defined by Pamela Gail, founder of the Secret Society of Happy People and Happiness Happens Month. Given that yesterday we were talking about anticipation, I thought I'd round the circle off with 'nostalgic' today.

Although, actually, I'm not sure 'nostalgic' is quite the right word.  Nostalgic does have a little hint of yearning, of wanting life to be something other than it is, of wishing you were back when times were happier and that's not at all what we're after. We want people to be able to relax and be content with exactly who they are, where they are and how things are to be truly 'happy'...that's not to say they can't also aim for growth by the way.

Maybe 'reminiscing' would be better?

Anyway, I'm letting my pedantic love of semantics get in the way of the point here (although I do think that was quite a good point I just made, even if I say so myself).

The main point is, like I said yesterday, one way to get more happiness is to eek as much out of what we already have. So, just like looking forward to something before it happens works, so too does looking back fondly on something afterwards.

Like anticipation, this remembering past highs is also used in therapy. You often hear people talk about "going to their happy place", or being encouraged to replace negative worries about the future with positive experiences from the past.

In NLP we talk about the 'circle of excellence' which we fill with as many positive experiences, images, sounds we can so that every time we step into it, we can trigger the positive emotions we felt the first time round.  You can create a simple anchor just by remembering the time you felt most happy and amplifying those feelings until you think you're going to burst, then amplify some more.  Just before you reach the absolute peak of those feelings create an anchor for yourself - it could be clenching your fist, twiddling your wedding ring, something you can do easily and subtly for yourself. Keep embedding the anchor over and over again by repeating this process. After a few goes, next time you need a little happiness boost all you'll need to do is 'fire your anchor' and the feelings you attached to it should flood back in. FYI you can do this with whatever emotions (or resources to use NLP speak) you need...eg confidence for an interview etc.

Here are some other ways we can all take advantage of the 'nostalgic' happiness state to eek out more of that happy stuff:

1. Take photographs...anyone who's been following this or my other blogs or who knows me will know how much of an advocate I am of this one. But more importantly, look back at them often.

2. Don't like cameras? Take mental photographs. Make sure to stand aside from the happy thing happening and just take it all in so you can replay it in your own mind again and again later

3. Pick up a souvenir. Great for holidays and days out. Every time you see it again you'll be reminded of the
fab time you had

4. In fact to build on those points, decorate your house with it all. My house is like a living tour of my memory. There are photographs, nick nacks, little random pebbles I picked up from a special place and all sorts so everywhere we look we are constantly reminded of all our happy times. (Actually, Alex is constantly reminded that his wife collects too much clutter and doesn't dust enough, but apart from that it's a lovely sentiment!)

5. Talk about the event/day/whatever it was with other people

6. Keep a diary.  You don't even have to drivel on for ages listing everything that happened, just write down what it was you did on that day. When you look back at it the emotions you felt then will flood back even without the additional narrative. In fact, the less words you use to describe it the better because to put an experience or an emotion into words it has to go through your language filters which takes some of the shine off the original feeling...think of it like Chinese whispers from your heart to your head to your mouth to the page.  It's actually for this reason that whenever anybody asks me what my wedding day was like I just sort of sigh and smile (in an annoying wistful dreamy sort of way) and say 'perfect'.  It might be quite an annoying reaction but it saves me trying to boil down a massive emotional high into a few rubbish words about white dresses and pink peonies.

7. Does anybody know the 'alphabet game'? You know, you're on a really boring car journey and the kids are asking "are we there yet?" every 2 seconds?  We used to play a game where you go through the alphabet and race to be the first to see something beginning with that letter.."Audi!", "Bench", "Car" etc. Well, I make my husband play the holiday/nice day alphabet game with me after the event. We go through each letter of the alphabet and come up with something that had some relevance that day that starts with each letter. It may sounds super silly,but it's a great way to remember and keep remembering all the little things that made that day so special.

They say the devil is in the detail, but I think that's where the happy is too.

8. Do your 'gratefuls' every night.  Thinking of three things you're grateful for at the end of every day brings back to mind those three things. If you keep a grateful journal you can then flick back through it and recapture those little highs again and again.

But of course, we'll only have memorable memories to remember if we're in the habit of making memories in the first place. So rather than just looking back to the good times you've already had, be sure to stay present and create good times today that you can enjoy again tomorrow.

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