The economics of happy memories


Following up to “Memory and self-discipline“.

A Facebook conversation I observed went as follows, reassuring a frazzled father

you are helping create wonderful memories for your kids

I hope they remember because I am losing my mind doing this stuff

They will remember….always.

Based on my own small supply of episodic memories I’d guess they won’t, but will remember the fact they were loved. But why do people care so much about creating wonderful memories for themselves and their children. Why are happy memories considered to be such treasure? Maybe this is trying to cope with the “availability heuristic“.

According to Adam Khan

Reminisce about the good times and the special times. Strengthen those memories. Store them up. They are your true riches.

and he says studies show that recalling pleasant memories improves concentration and reduces anxiety.

Maybe that’s why we sometimes like to revisit and discuss our favorite fictional stories, too, or the biographies of interesting people. There’s probably not much difference between reminiscing about their lives and our own. For example, knowing that you handled a tough situation similar to this well before should give you a lot of confidence, but, failing that, maybe you can at least remember that and how your favorite hero/ine or ancestor handled it and gain some extra confidence.

This reminds me of a thought experiment that’s popped into my head more than once.

Suppose you have the option to have a wonderful weekend, in fact the most wonderful weekend of your life, and you’d pay 6 months salary to experience it. But the catch is that afterwards you will have no memory of it and no one will ever tell you anything about it, no photos, and so on. How many months salary would you pay for that?

Or what if you won’t even remember what that weekend was, just that you paid for it. How much would you pay?

If I had a better episodic memory would I strive harder for fine experiences, because they would then seem more valuable?

One response »

  1. People often want to be remembered after they die, at its best to leave a legacy to future generations, either their own great creations or enabling those of others, such as Henry Lucas’s famous chair of mathematics at Cambridge. The most obvious explanation is that it’s an attempt at a virtual immortality. (Woody Allen said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.”)

    This impulse could be another reason why parents want their children to remember the good times they made happen for them.

    And we sometimes feel that if no one remembers our life, then it’s as if it didn’t happen. Well, we all like to feel more significant than we are.

    Also related to praying for those in purgatory.

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