Surprise!

Embrace the unpredictable and create the unexpected

Investing in Reminiscence

How memories affect our happiness

I often find myself in a tug of war between doing what's best for my moment and what’s best for my future.

Savor an extra piece of chocolate now or avoid the temptation and feel healthier later?

Go on a walk with my dog now when the weather is beautiful or stay in the Work Dungeon (my affectionate nickname for my home office) and earn more money for later?

It’s obvious that the answer lies somewhere in between (okay, maybe not so obvious when the aforementioned extra piece of chocolate beckons), but when I still can't decide between no and later, I ask myself one question:

Is this experience an investment in my IRA: Internal Reminiscence Account?

The moment is brief, the future is unpredictable, but I know my memories will stay with me a very long time (and often act as the bright spots on the darkest days).

Research shows that reminiscing is a powerful source of life satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and identity development.

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One study found that a year after the incident, individuals who were paralyzed felt nearly the same level of happiness as individuals who had won the lottery, but only when the accident victims were reminiscing about the past.

Memories
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Like any good investor, you want to have a diversified portfolio with memories of joy and laughter but also struggle and adversity, but the blue chip stock will almost always be memories of surprise.

By tracking micro-expressions, my colleague LeeAnn Renninger found memories that sparked authentic happiness almost always contain an element of surprise. New, unexpected, unusual, and exciting experiences stay with us longer and more vividly than pleasant but non-surprising events.

The trouble is that new and surprising can feel uncomfortable, and personally, sometimes I just feel too tired for it. But the compound interest it yields in terms of future happiness is well worth it.

Okay, before I stretch this investment metaphor a little too far, I really want to ask: What new memories do you hope to invest in your IRA this month?

Tania is the CEO of Surprise Industries and a psychology instructor and researcher at Hunter College.

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