A popular goal that many of us have in life is to create happy memories. We take it upon ourselves to plan exciting vacations, we mark special occasions with decorative balloons and confetti, we engrave our jewelry with unique sentiment, and we take pictures of… well, pretty much everything. All of this for the purpose of being able to look back one day on the happy, fulfilled, and successful lives we’ve made for ourselves (and with possibly little to no regrets).
What we don’t seem to realize though is that the majority of memories we “create” in our lives actually tend not to be in our conscious control at all. We don’t get to actively choose every thought, every emotion, or every moment that gets stored in our hearts and minds because every single thing we do or say, no matter how insignificant, has the potential to be worthy of long-term memory storage. Whether we are actively trying to remember something or not, remembering still happens. Memory is not something we can just turn on for the happy/exciting times and turn off for the boring/upsetting ones.
Memory can be our greatest friend and yet our worst enemy.
Consider the varying/numerous memories (and associated emotions) that likely flood you just while on your commute to work. You’ve likely had emotional experiences at every gas station you pass by, the coffee shops, the grocery stores, or even the dock on the waterfront…
You might pass by your local Starbucks and feel a flash of happiness that lights up your face with a smile as you remember that day last month when you clumsily knocked your husband’s coffee cup off the table in front of all the other customers; a moment that set off an eruption of embarrassed laughter between the two of you until, with a loving playful guilt, you decided to slide your chair next to his and share your cup.
As you pass Starbucks, you might still get a flutter of excitement when you stop at that same traffic light where you picked up the call from your best friend 2 years ago telling you that she was going to be a new mom; just the simple visual of the yellow light changing to red and your foot pressing down on the brake pedal might be enough to transport you back to that squeaky excited tone in her voice and the tears of happiness building up in your eyes.
A couple blocks from there you might still let out a little chuckle as you pass the dock where your baby daughter (now grown) used to look down into the water and point her tiny finger at all the “fishies” and “duckies” as they swam by her on that beautiful sunny day so many years ago.
None of these memories were planned. They had nothing to do with a special occasion, nor were they motivated by a goal to remember it all one day. These are moments in time that have been locked into our being without our awareness or intent… and only because in their insignificant ways they made significant impressions on us. They brought happiness to us that we didn’t need to seek out.
If only our lives could consist of these happiness road-maps alone…
But unfortunately, our paths are fraught with just as many sad sights and landmarks (if not more) as our happy ones…
You might still get that sunken feeling in the pit of your stomach when you pull your car into that same gas station where 3 years prior your girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend) sat timidly in the passenger seat and said she felt things were no longer working between the two of you; her sad eyes fixated on her fingernails while you searched around in your pocket for the last nickel you needed for the soda you stopped for. Maybe you now avoid that gas station altogether, along with that particular soda.
It’s possible that as you walk through the greeting-card aisle at Walmart echoes of your teenage voice shouting at your mom to stay out of your life become louder; the image of her walking away and leaving you standing there in that very spot some years before creeping its way back into your mind. In this moment it almost doesn’t matter that your relationship with her is fine now; the regret of that moment still lingers.
Even the passing sight of your town movie theatre might now be enough to drain you as it takes you back to a few days ago when your husband told you that you shouldn’t eat any popcorn until you lose more weight. It’s possible you’ll never want to go to that theatre again, that popcorn might never taste the same, and that anything related to the particular movie you were watching that day will always, in some way, sting you.
Again, none of these memories were planned and they certainly weren’t sought out, yet, they are forever embodied in our everyday experiences; set to be unleashed with our most passive glances, touches, or smells. They have the power to change our course and stray us from our intended destinations, even when we think we’re the ones in control of the wheel.
The purpose of this writing is not to wallow in our helplessness when it comes to memory storage, but instead, it is to emphasize the critical job we have to surround ourselves with as much health and happiness as possible on our paths, while closing all roads to toxicity and sadness. We can take a more conscious and more active position when it comes to our everyday experiences as we set more intentions to make the best of every moment, not just holiday, vacation, or special occasion ones. It is crucial that we start going into even the most routine moments and experiences with the goal to make it something nice to remember; being much more resistant to negative interactions and/or more open to putting in the effort to shift negative moments/interactions to something more pleasant whenever possible. We have the authority to restrict or cease contact with anything (or anyone) in our lives that we recognize as obstacles to this goal.
We must seek to leave little to no sadness in our tracks and to have the option to make as many stops at happiness that we possibly can along the way. Lets see how many times that routine path can make you smile.