By Eric Peterschmidt
When you look back on old family photos or reminisce about happy moments from the past, you’re likely to be doing more than just reliving fond memories. Research has shown that recalling positive experiences can have a range of physical and mental health benefits.
During a recent “siblings call,” which is a weekly Zoom call between – you guessed it – me and my siblings, something came up that made us all laugh harder than we had laughed in years. To be honest, I laughed so hard that my face hurt. What a great time we had! And I felt AMAZING afterwards.
Come to find out, a ton of research has been done regarding happy memories, smiling, and laughing – something many of us do when we’re looking at old family photos, going through albums, or sharing stories and memories about people and events.
It certainly makes me happy, and, if you’re reading this right now, I’m thinking it makes you happy, too.
Let’s talk about some of those benefits. (I’m wondering if I can now claim that my family history work is also a wellness plan. Keep reading and you decide.)
I will admit that, after the siblings call last week, I actually did NOT get my usual night’s sleep. I wonder if it’s because I was re-living the laughing too much? It certainly wasn’t because all that laughing caused stress and anxiety. In fact, the big thing about the following physical benefits is that they all really hinge on #1. See what you think:
- Stress reduction: Remembering and sharing happy memories can trigger the release of endorphins, which promote feelings of relaxation and wellbeing (and they’re natural painkillers, too). This can reduce stress levels, and we all know that helps with lowering blood pressure and lowering the risk of heart disease.
- Boost immune function: This is closely related #1 – stress can weaken the immune system, so it follows that you can boost your body’s defenses by reducing stress. I’m reminded of an old song – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Or maybe it’s “When You’re Happy and You Know It, Share Some Pics.”
- Improves sleep: Also back to #1 – stress and anxiety can interfere with sleep. If recalling happy memories can help to reduce stress and anxiety, we’ll sleep better. And sleeping better is the key to many other health benefits.
Recalling happy memories can also have a range of mental health benefits. Here are a few:
- Enhances mood: Recalling happy memories can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This can lead to feelings of happiness, contentment, and even euphoria. Frankly, in today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in the demands of work, family, and other responsibilities, and forget to take time for ourselves. However, making a conscious effort to recall positive experiences can help us to stay grounded and maintain a positive outlook on life.
- Improves mental resilience: When we share and remember good memories, it helps us build resilience. We become more optimistic when we focus more energy on good things, and thus become better able to cope with challenges and setbacks.
- Fosters connection: This is the biggie for me. In today’s world, when we tend to be far-flung and relying on Zoom calls to stay connected, it can be easy to feel alone and even lonely. Sharing stories and memories of times past fosters a sense of connection with others, even those who are no longer with us. By sharing memories with family and friends, we strengthen our relationships and build a foundation of shared history and identity – something that also pays off for the younger generations in our families.
How to Make the Most of Happy Memories
So, how can you make the most of the benefits of recalling happy memories? Here are a few tips:
- Set aside time to look back on old family photos and think about the stories that go with them. This can be a great way to reduce stress and boost your mood, and can also center you in your family history and celebrate all the people who went into making you into the person you are today.
- Share your memories with others to strengthen your relationships and foster a sense of connection. While past approaches saw us creating photo albums and scrapbooks, today’s technology makes it possible to create an online sharing community – preferably a sustainable one that lets you share photos AND collaborate around the stories that go with them AND neatly preserve everything to enjoy again later (like TightKnit!).
- Capture the memories you’re making today. Whether you’re taking a family vacation, trying a new hobby, or simply spending time with loved ones, creating the archive of your current adventures and events can help you stay centered AND capture the memories for future generations to enjoy.
It’s a fact: recalling and sharing happy memories can provide a renewed sense of perspective and help us to appreciate the good things in life. When we focus on the positive, we are more likely to feel grateful and optimistic about the future. This can help us to stay motivated and engaged in our work, relationships, and other activities, even when times are tough.
And yes, sharing photos and memories with my family is definitely a wellness plan. Don’t you think?