Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Memory vs. Experience

Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk, entitled “The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory”, was fascinating to me.  Literally, I couldn’t look away, couldn’t turn it off, not until I’d listened to the whole thing.

In his research as a psychologist, Kahneman studied how we experience and remember different feelings and he discovered a pretty amazing thing—that our experiencing self is very different from our remembering self, that our remembering self is a storyteller, and that how a story ends is how we remember it.


For many of us, we think of the future as anticipating memories.  We anticipate savoring moments of joy on vacations.  The truth is that we weight memory heavily over experience, and we can influence the outcome of our memories by telling ourselves better stories about them.  There’s a classic case of colonoscopy patients in there that made me giggle and cringe in equal measures.  It turns out that a varied experience that ends well leads to the best memories, so the next time you have to do something you dread, make sure it ends well at least.  And the next time you plan a vacation, make sure you have a varied schedule of events and that the vacation ends as well as it can.

Also, ask yourself how happy you are day-to-day, moment-to-moment?  How pleased with you with your life as you actually remember it?  It may turn out that your memories are happy, but your day-to-day is drudgery, or vice-versa.  You might be happy IN your life, or you might be happy ABOUT your life, or optimally, both.

There’s also a difference between the reflecting self and remembering self—in thinking about life vs. actually living it.  I’m guilty of this with documenting experiences as they happen, rather than putting the camera or phone away and giving myself up to the full experience of whatever is happening in the moment.

Kahneman also found out that it’s our relationships that influence our happiness most.  If you’re not happy in your life, the best way to change that is to work on being satisfied in your relationships with people you like.  All-in-all, one of the best talks I’ve seen, TED or otherwise.

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