Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Play Back Your Best Memories

Recalling cherished moments is good for you, especially when you use this trick.

small objects that remind me of great moments

Small objects I keep near me when I'm writing that remind me of joyful moments

Being able to call up positive and detailed memories helps us to deepen our inner sense of well-being and joy.

And we know that a greater sense of well-being and joy is oh so good for our body and cells. I found that out -- and so much more -- during the two years I spent researching and writing my new book, The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life – all about the new neuroscience of joy and how it can help us cope with chronic illness.

But research also shows that calling up good memories is particularly hard when we are feeling stressed or anxious or sad, which is of course when we need to switch our brain state the most.

So investigators wanted to see what would happen if people used a specific trick to enhance their ability to bring back good memories— a technique called the "method-of-loci" strategy.

Here's how it works. Recall a great memory and think about an object that you associate with it, or the location where the memory was made. For me a few location-associated memories might be, say, the day 20 years ago when my husband got down on his knees on the steps of the Annapolis State House and asked me to marry him. Or the many times my Dad and family and I used to sail under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Meaningful objects include the carefully crafted (by tiny hands!) clay animal sculptures, necklaces or paintings my kids have made for me over the years (one favorite is the Mother's Day card my son gave me when he was 10: he drew a sunrise on the handmade card and when I opened it up it said, "Mom, you are my sun."). And I still remember the moment I looked up through the kitchen window while doing the dishes and he was painting the words "I Love You" on a giant piece of paper on an easel, smiling at me, ear to ear. A much bigger object is their baby rocker, where I rocked them both from the day they were born, and for many years after.

Making a concrete association between a vivid memory and an object or a location, and recalling the love or joy we felt in that moment — helps us to relive that positive emotion again each time we see that object or place. And that helps us to turn on what I call, in The Last Best Cure, The Life Channel -- and turn off The Pain Channel.

Once we make that concrete association -- between an object or a location and inner joy -- then each time we see that particular location or object, our brain tracks to The Life Channel more easily.

In the study, participants were asked to come up with 15 positive memories. One group was asked to use method-of-loci strategy to create strong associations with good memories, while a control group was asked to simply recall memories without associating them with objects and places.

Later, participants received a surprise phone call from researchers, who asked them to recall their good-feeling memories one more time.

Participants who used the method-of-loci technique were significantly more able to dial up positive memories and emotions and change their mind-states.

Researchers say that associating vivid, positive memories with physical objects or locations makes it easier for us to not only recall positive memories, but "to elevate our mood in the long-term."

Elevating our mood in the long-term. I like that.

About the Author
Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Donna Jackson Nakazawa is the author of The Autoimmune Epidemic and The Last Best Cure. She studied English and Public Policy at Duke University and is a graduate of Harvard's Radcliffe program in publishing.

More from Donna Jackson Nakazawa
More from Psychology Today
More from Donna Jackson Nakazawa
More from Psychology Today