Positive Reminiscence: How to make the good times count

Step back in time to an event in your life that brings back positive, playful, funny, thoughtful, or interesting memories. Here’s a few ideas to get you started…….

It might be the time you were a bridesmaid in a close friend’s wedding, the birth of your baby, watching an iconic movie at the cinemas, school graduation, going on a wonderful holiday, attending a live music concert, winning a trophy from a sports competition etc.

What is positive reminiscence?

It’s a fancy way of remembering good times.

Positive reminiscence has been shown to be a significant factor for well-being in life.  Simply speaking, the ability to remember past events, situations of people fondly can provide pleasure and solace when you need it most.

Why is this so important to do in our lives, and what meaning can it bring by simply remembering a positive time in your life?

Memories are powerful.

Memories of past successes and emotional high points are a great source of positive emotional energy.

Positive reminiscence is a way of engaging with fulfilling memories, and times in our lives in which we may have felt satisfied, acknowledged, proud, untroubled, pleased, contented and happy. The positive psychology literature helps us to know that reminiscing has good empirical support and can influence our well-being.

How is it done?

The 3 main strategies that have been researched include:

  • Positive mental time travel (thinking about a past event)
  • Capitalising (sharing that event with someone else)
  • Capturing memorabilia/objects of interest that reflect the event

Mental time travel. There’s a myriad of ways of remembering good times and experiences.

  • Get reading those past diary entries, love letters, original poetry pieces that were drafted during memorable times.
  • Listen to music that evokes memories of good times
  • Look at photo albums of previous occasions celebrated with family and friends, and (if you haven’t already) display them in your personal and work surrounds.
  • Hold in your hands those hard-won trophies
  • Look at art pieces and personal artefacts that help you to remember fond memories.

Remembering positive memories is a skill that can be honed with practice using Visual Imagery. Here’s how:

  • First make a list of some positive memories then choose one to reflect on.
  • Sit down, take a slow, deep breath, relax, close you eyes and begin to think about the memory.
  • Allow images related to the memory to come to mind – think about the people there, what they were doing, saying, and wearing.
  • Listen to the sounds around you and make them as vivid as possible, remember where you were and what made the memory so special. Allow yourself to savour the luxury of this moment in time.

Capitalising. Research has shown that our positive experiences are deepened, and subsequently our well-being enhanced, when such experiences are shared with someone else. This is called capitalisation, or simply, sharing.

  • So, find another person, tell them about positive reminiscing, and then each take turns to share positive experiences.
  • You can even ask questions about the positive memory to help magnify the positive experience.
  • Bryant and Veroff (2006) found that one of the main savouring strategies is sharing one’s positive experiences with others.

Making it visual. Having imaged a moment in time, shared it with someone else, it is now time for the third aspect of positive reminiscence – bringing the memory to life through visual objects.

  • Are there any objects or places that have become symbolically important to you in your personal life? These can be photos of places or someone special, a special object that someone gave us or made for us, a card or letter, something we have made or created, or just something that reminds us of a special time: ticket stub, seashell, rock or souvenir.
  • Create a visual piece of art that captures a positive moment in time or period of time – include physical objects like photos, poetry, pictures, objects. Scrapbooking and cluster photo displays are another way of making positive memories visual.

A final note

Lyubormirsky’s (2007) studies showed that analysing one’s past does little to enhance happiness.

What is more important and helpful to do, is to replay and relive positive life events as through rewinding a videotape. This approach is what actually enhances joy and well-being.

Savour it, describe the details of the memory and determine what makes the memory so special. Don’t forget to share it with others and bring the memory to life!

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