Took an amazing hike? Took a picture of the view. Went out and had an incredible night with the girlfriends? Put it on Facebook and tagged everyone. Made honor roll? Tweeted it. When important or memorable things happen in our lives, we create memories of them. Now more than ever, we try to immortalize those memories with the use of technology.
Memory is one of the most important functions of the brain. Without memory, we couldn’t learn or create relationships or perform daily tasks. Essentially, memory has three forms: sensory, short-term, and long-term. Sensory memory is held in the brain for less than a second because it’s the memory of a stimuli–a sight, smell, or sound. Short-term memory is where the information goes next, where it’s held in the mind and we think it over. Finally, long-term memory is where we store our past events and behavioral patterns.
It’s clear that memories, especially long-term, have an impact on how we live our lives. A long-term memory is one of our best or worst moments, it’s what makes us who we are. Of course, we want to hold on to those great moments as long as we can, so we take a picture or post about it. But is this behavior of being too caught up in documenting memories making it so we don’t fully live the experience?
Taking a picture is great, but a picture doesn’t show everything. You smiling against a sunset doesn’t show the intense leg cramp you had during the hike or the argument you had with your friend about where to take the photo, or the deer that walked across your path seconds after you put the phone away. Photos don’t capture every moving, breathing, feeling thing that happened, so it can’t capture the full essence of the scene; social media posts are the same. By focusing all your time and energy into taking the perfect photo or crafting the perfect caption, you could miss out on enjoying the memory to its fullest.
We mostly focus on only capturing good memories. Nobody wants to take a photo of the car crash they were in, or post about their intense and personal breakup (some do, that’s a personal choice). These “bad” memories are less documented because we don’t want to remember them. But we need to, just as much as the bad.
I have trouble sleeping sometimes, which I’ll chalk up to my tendency to always be thinking about something. When I lay in bed at night, it’s the prime time for me to think about every action I did, and every word I said during the day, which of course keeps me up late at night as I analyze myself and think about increasingly heavier things (we start with the cookie I ate for breakfast and go into if I’ll find a job when I graduate).
So I’ll sometimes remember happy events in my life, like first traveling to Spain or getting my college acceptance letter. I feel comforted by these memories, so I fall asleep faster. But other times, I think about my worst memories, like being broken up with, or the look on my mother’s face as I left for the airport to go to Spain for nine months. These memories hurt me, but remind me that I am allowed to have bad memories. While I don’t have photos or posts of these, they’re seared into my brain and make me who I am.
Reflection is a healthy and normal process. By remembering, we bring ourselves back to a time when everything was really wonderful, or a time when everything was really awful. We become aware of our feelings about the events from the past, which can help us enjoy or cope with what’s happening in our lives today. Make sure that you actually remember your memories; live in the moment instead of trying to document it with a photo or a social media post.