The secret of a more sustainable happiness may lie in forming the habit of remembering the good times and forgetting our regrets. The way we remember the past seems to have an effect on our overall life satisfaction. A study from San Francisco State University (Howell and Zhand, 2011) shows how personality has a strong influence on a person’s happiness. Their findings suggest that people with certain personality traits are happier than others because of the way they think about their past, present and future. These researchers found that highly extraverted people are more satisfied with their lives because of a tendency to hold a positive, nostalgic perspective of their past. This means that they are less likely to have negative thoughts and regrets. People who are more neurotic tend to have the exact opposite view of the past and this has a lowering effect on their levels of happiness.
For many decades psychology has made the case that our personality type is a powerful predictor of our overall life satisfaction. We know that some people have a natural tendency to be pessimistic or optimistic. However, the good news is that our personality type is not necessarily a ‘life sentence’ when it comes to achieving more happiness. Indeed, some studies suggest that the genetic component of personality may be as low as 50%. This would indicate that there is another 50%, which is changeable. Pessimistic people can work at being more optimistic and by reframing their memories of past events they may be able to experience more life satisfaction. I am not suggesting that we should deny negative experience but how we think about things affects our feelings today. Some people need to be reminded that they had good days as well as bad days. We need to regularly remind ourselves about the good times as well as talking about the darker periods in our life. Everyone experiences golden days.
When I was a child we had a photograph album and we revisited wonderful birthday parties, recalled the magic of Santa and his generous presents and excited ourselves about holidays from the past. By flicking through the pages of the thick heavy albums we could nearly sense the positive experiences again. My uncle, Father John, brought magic to the living room when he switched on his projector and started his slide show. We marvelled at the happy days as they beamed onto the wall. Nowadays, its’ too easy to leave the memories in our phones or digital cameras. We need to harness the magic of the ‘golden’ days of our lives and share them more often. Science has shown that such exercises lift mood and increase our sense of happiness.
© Shane Martin