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Going Down Memory Lane: The Value of Reminiscing

Reviewing life events helps us to better understand their effect on us.

Key points

  • All too often, we forget lessons learned from the past.
  • Reminiscing can stimulate thoughts and events long forgotten. Remembering them can be revitalizing.
  • Reminiscing is a life-long activity, starting as a child with parents and continuing to our elder years.

Reminiscing is an activity that can provide both cognitive and emotional meaning to our lives. It occurs when we think about past events or experiences or when we discuss them with others. According to Bluck, Alea, and Demiray (2010), recounting memories can guide our actions and can assist us in bonding with others.

Parental Reminiscing

The first instance of reminiscing occurs when we are children and interacting with our parents for bonding purposes. These “joint reminiscences” between child and parent (often the mother) not only build and strengthen their relationship but also help the child feel good about themself. Another outcome of young children reminiscing is the development of their self-concept, which impacts their self-competence and social acceptance.

Moreover, this joint reminiscing with the parent teaches the child the value of remembering past experiences and how to construct them so as to be able to remember and share them with others (Kulkofsky, Behrens, & Battin, 2015). Another important contribution of recalling past events and conversations about them is that the child has had time to remember and reflect upon the experience as well as have a better idea of assessing why the event was important and its personal relevance to the child (Behrens, 2015).

Benefits of Reminiscing as an Adult

Thinking about our memories can elicit many positive functions for oneself. Reflecting on people, events, or situations opens us up to savoring those experiences. It also stimulates other beneficial outcomes, such as:

  • Engaging in self-reflection so as to give meaning to one’s life
  • By recalling one’s past, we become more aware that our years are limited and, therefore, more prepared for death
  • Sharing one’s life experiences to help others by informing them or giving advice (Demiray, Mischer, and Martin (2019)

In addition, recalling difficult times and recognizing how they coped can remind someone of their resilience.

Most people engage in reminiscing when they are with others. This form of “social reminiscence,” with conversational disclosure of one’s past, including the recall of positive and negative events, can be very therapeutic. Disclosing one’s personal past in social settings helps maintain emotional bonds to connect or reconnect with others, as well as acknowledge similarities.


Reminiscing is not limited to the aged; that is, reflecting on the past and reviewing one’s experiences can be helpful at any age. However, older individuals may be more nostalgic and want to remember the long lives they led and go to a place in their memory that elicits encouraging and satisfying remembrances. Often this occurs among older people who benefit from recalling memories of themselves when they believed they were capable and had fulfilling lives.

Erikson (1959) identified eight stages of psychosocial development, the last stage being “Ego Integrity vs. Despair.” This stage is for individuals 65 years and older. He identified this period as one when the person has slowed down, is less productive, and is now at an age when retirement is expected. The purpose of this stage is to reflect on their accomplishments for which they can develop integrity and believe they led a successful life.

However, if someone sees themselves as leading an unproductive life or feels guilty or bad about not accomplishing their life goals, they are in despair and experience depression and hopelessness. These delineations, however, are not so definite. Most successful people experience both ego integrity and despair at different points in their life.

Clearly, this last stage is a time for reminiscence among seniors regarding the life they have led. If one cannot see a successful life lived, the frequency of reminiscing may be reduced.

Therapeutic Benefits of Reminiscing

Reminiscing can be a focused activity, particularly for older aged persons, irrespective of whether they are healthy or not. Many health and rehabilitation facilities offer activities directed toward successful aging in place. Reminiscing is most popular with occupational and activity therapies (Fletcher, 2017). Simple life review disclosures can attract participation from others. The social interaction is enhanced if the participants had similar events and now share their common or unique experiences.

Other means to evoke memories include mementos. For example, many older people have photographs arranged in their homes that have special meanings and remembrances. Seeing these memorialized depictions can activate memories and return the viewer to that place and time. Often, the most meaningful photos may be placed in personal spaces where emotional reminiscing is intended as opposed to public rooms where reminiscing is not expected to be as emotionally laden. Other personal items or acquisitions that depict or remind one of past experiences can also evoke memories of people or events that were meaningful.

It is important to live in the present and be aware of the here and now. However, remembering past experiences and profiting from them encourages the evolution of a better self and life, no matter one’s age.


Bluck, S., Alea, N., & Demiray, B. (2010). You get what you need: The psychosocial functions of remembering. In J. Mace (Ed.), The act of remembering: Toward an understanding of how we recall the past, pp. 284–307). UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Demiray, B., Mischler, M., Martin, M. (2019). Reminiscence in everyday conversations: A naturalistic observation study of older adults. Journals of Gerontology, Psychology Science3, 74(5), 745–755. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbx141.

Erikson, E. H. (1959), Identity and the life cycle. International Universities Press, New York.

Fletcher, T. S. (2017). Factors that bring meaning to mementos created by elders. Aging & Mental Health, 21(6), 609-615.

Kulkofsky, S., Behrens, K. Y., & Battin, D. B. (2015). The bonds that remind us: Maternal reminiscing for bonding purposes in relation to children’s perceived competence and social acceptance. Infant and Child Development, 24(5), 469–488.

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