It’s no secret that we all experience stress from time to time in our everyday lives, and each person has a different way of coping when life starts to feel overwhelming. One common stress-relief method is to think about precious childhood memories, according to a recent study commissioned by the British travel agency On The Beach. Roughly 20 percent of adults said doing so made them feel more optimistic about life.
The study of 2,000 British adults focused on the effects of recalling childhood memories on stress. One in ten admitted that recalling memories cheered them up when they felt down. One in seven thought it helped them relax when they were stressed, and one in five felt more optimistic and energized when thinking back to past happier times.
As well as having a positive impact on stressful situations, the survey shed some light on which childhood memories stick in the mind most vividly: School trips came out on top with nearly three quarters of Brits remembering these days out. However, it’s the carefree days of swimming in the pool on vacation that came out on top of happiest childhood memories.
In order to understand how we can recall these memories more clearly in our minds, Peter Kinderman, MA, MSc, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool, provided insight into how memories are constructed and advice that may help people remember life’s best moments more clearly.
“Philosophers and psychologists agree that we are what we remember — our self concept, our understanding of ourselves, of other people, and the way the world works all depend on our memories. Our sense of who we are and our capacity to be happy and fulfilled is hugely dependent on our memories. In mental health, traumatic and unpleasant memories from childhood and the ways in which we get along with our parents are supremely important in determining our mood.”
“It’s also true that memories, including folklore-type memories, and these days films, books, and great literature, are all important in terms of giving us tactics for solving problems in our lives,” Kinderman said. “If our kids are scared on the first day of new school, we say, ‘Do you remember when you joined Brownies, you didn’t like Brownies on the first day, were you scared?’ And they say ‘Yes,’ and you say, ‘Well, you’re scared of going to school; it’s just like Brownies.’ Of course, kids are kids, so it never really goes according to plan, but the point is that we learn how to navigate the world using our memories.”
“We construct our memories and they are not an exact reflection of reality. Memories aren’t like films, they are more like a cartoon that you re-draw every time you recall something. We’re constructing memories all the time, so kids will build a picture of childhood, and a picture of their parents, and a picture of what their summer vacations were all about.”
“We are constantly building up this picture of who we are and weaving experiences into the story of our life. One experience of eating calamari on vacation won’t necessarily add one percentage point to your happiness, but the overall experience may have all the elements of creating a happy memory: the eating of calamari, the laughing of the juggler, and the fact that the sun didn’t set until 10 p.m., and the fact that your parents were relaxed, and it was during that trip that you kissed a boy for the first time; those things you weave into the story of your life, and that’s how memories work.”
Ways to Recall Our Precious Memories: Meditation
The 5-4-3-2-1 meditation method may help us recall our early memories with ease and is a popular practice which helps people ground themselves in any given moment. The method is traditionally used by those suffering with anxiety, as it is a way of regaining control over our thoughts — but Kinderman says parents can use it to help keep precious family memories fresh in their minds.
The method recommends focusing on five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. “When it comes to memories, multi-sensory experiences are more likely to stay in the mind, so a moment that triggers all the senses is more likely to be remembered and consolidated,” Kinderman explained.
For example, if you are on vacation, you could say to your child: “Isn’t this nice? Wearing your favorite dress and watching the sun go down while the waves lap the sand on the beach. And can you hear those birds singing and the crickets in the background?” Or, “Look at that juggler over there, and can you feel the sand underneath your toes, and that lovely cool breeze?”
“If you want to hang on to those wonderful memories of your children, and if you want your children to also retain those memories so that they can incorporate them into a story about their life, then this method is a great way of doing so,” according to Kinderman.
The Importance of Childhood Memories
Alan Harding, marketing director at On the Beach said, “Our Childhood Memories campaign is all about looking back on those special moments that really define who we are and help write the story of our lives. We commissioned this research because we wanted to ask [people] about the experiences that mean the most to them, and the results show that our early memories really are important when it comes to our growth into adults. It was heartwarming to see how many people enjoy looking back on their happiest memories.”
The 5-4-3-2-1 Method
- When out with your family, pick a moment that you would like your child to remember.
- Point out five things you can see, for example the sun setting, a street entertainer, an item of clothing, a souvenir shop, or the beach.
- Point out four things you can hear, like music, birds singing, children laughing, or waves lapping.
- Point out three things you can feel, like a tablecloth underneath your fingertips, sand between your toes, or the warmth of the sun.
- Point out two things you can smell, like the smell of suncream or freshly grilled fish.
- Point out one thing you can taste, like an unusual flavor of ice cream.
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