During the holidays, a favorite pastime is to recall times passed—the annual family vacations, 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, we always end the conversation feeling closer to each other.
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 yesteryears. 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 life.
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.