Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bring Back Memories of Bygone Days

During the holidays, when my six siblings and I get together, a favorite
pastime is to recall times passed-the annual family treks to Canada, the
endless games of "kick the can," the ritual decorating of icebox cookies in
the kitchen of our childhood home.  We good-naturedly debate the details,
not always agreeing on who did what, where, when and why.  But whether
the memories we discuss are happy or sad, comic or tragic, the seven of us
always end the conversation feeling closer to each other.  I got in touch
with Robyn Fivush, PhD, a professor of psychology and director of the
Family Narratives Lab at Emory University, to talk about the importance of
memories.  She told me that having coherent shared memories-
recollections of our shared history in relation to other people-is an
important part of the social network that promotes emotional health.
"people who feel close to others and have strong levels of social support
have been found to have higher levels of well-being and to cope better
when negative events happen," she explained.  Reminiscing bolsters that
social network.  You can promote that kind of psychological health and 
resilience by making an effort to increase your own recall of past times
spent with loved ones... talking about shared memories with other people
who were involved in the events, if possible... and divulging personal
memories to friends and family members who did not share the experience 
but with whom you would like to forge a stronger bond.  Helpful...THINK
about your yesteryear's.  Set aside quiet time to let your mind mull over
the past.  At first. recalling long-ago events might seem impossible, Dr. 
Fivush said-but the more you try, the more your brain starts to incubate
those forgotten memories, eventually allowing you to bring them into 
consciousness.  I find that memories return more easily when I re-create a
sensory experience (sound, smell, taste) associated with a particular
person or event-for instance, by making applesauce using Grandma's old
recipe or singing my late father's favorite song.  Visit important places
from your personal history-schools, camps, former homes, etc.  If it is
not possible to do this in person, look at photographs in family albums or
online.  Recently my siblings and I checked out our elementary school on
Google Maps and were flooded with classroom and playground memories.
Dig up old memorabilia.  Your attic or basement could hold a treasure
trove of old letters, scrapbooks, diaries, childhood trophies and the like.
After I came across a trunk full of our old ballet recital costumes, my older
sister and I spent hours in happy reminiscence.  Talk to friends and family-
frequently-about shared experiences from long ago.  Take advantage of
holiday get-togethers, class reunions, weddings and other gatherings...or
communicate via Skype, phone, text, e-mail or snail mail.  If you long to
feel more connected to a person who has died, write a letter saying I
remember when...I miss you...I'm so grateful that you were part of my

Tell stories of your youth to your children and grandchildren.
These people didn't share in your early years, of course,, but as Dr. Fivush
noted, learning about intergenerational history helps younger people figure
out who they are and how they fit into the world, promoting a sense of 
confidence and well-being.  Urge your kids and grandkids to reciprocate
in sharing their own memories, too... to further enhance the bond between you.

Source:  Robyn Fivush, PhD, is a professor and chair of the department of
psychology and director of the Family Narratives Lab at Emory University in
Atlanta.  She is coauthor of numerous books and coeditor of Autobiographical
Memory and the Construction of a Narrative Self (Psychology Press).

* The previous article as it appeared in healthwoman FROM BOTTOM LINE


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