Close your eyes and think of the happiest memory you have. What time of year was it? Can you feel the hot or cold of the season? What about what you were wearing? How does replaying that memory make you feel physically? I bet you have a smile on your face!
We can make ourselves laugh over the memory of a hilarious joke shared with friends, or flood ourselves with a feeling of warmth by recalling the hug of a beloved relative. To remember a happy experience fully and mindfully is to appreciate it and reap physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits. Recalling and appreciating those happy memories release our brains with Dopamine, the “feel-good chemical” that floods it at the time of the actual experience.
Recalling happy memories doesn’t just make you happy – we can actually practice mindfully recalling favorite memories as a strategy to cultivate optimism, alleviate negativity, and even boost our physical health. Brain scans show that dopamine is released not only when we engage directly in pleasurable experiences, but also when we reflect on and remember these significant moments in our lives.
Remembering a positive experience can also help fight off hopeless thoughts, and learning to recall past successes related to a present challenge is a powerful weapon against the panic and hopelessness of “I can’t.” Try the following exercise with students if you are a teacher: On a small piece of paper or 3×5 card, have each student write something he or she would like to achieve, but feels is unattainable (“I can’t get all A’s or run a mile.”). Then have them write on the back of the card a related thing that they have accomplished (“I got one A on my last report card” or “I can run farther now than I could a few months ago.”).
Now facilitate the discussion. Ask your students: How did you feel when you wrote the “I can’t…” side of the card? Do you feel differently after remembering what you had accomplished? How?