We want our holiday memories to be good memories. If something bad happens, many people worry that this will affect the holiday every year into the future. What can you do about this? Isn’t there a way to have a choice about this?
What do you do with someone on what is likely to be their last Christmas? You do what you would always do. You visit them. You hug them. Do you remember that each time you hug them may be the last time they hug back.
The last time they hug back!
Hug them harder and think, “To hell with it!”
How many hugs have you given never knowing that this was the last? Too many!
Do not throw memory away on useless things.
Keep memory for the best moments. Keep memory for the hug after you see someone for the first time in a long time. Keep memory for your children’s best achievements: winning big races, graduations, for being a graceful loser, for every time they showed what a fine person they’ve become.
Keep memory for your first love. Not how they threw you over, but remember your passion, which they could never have handled.
Keep memory for the exasperating little habits of your mother, that you now miss so badly. Aren’t you happy now to remember them?
That we can, to some degree, control what we remember is one reason some of us keep journals and take photos, mementoes of events and situations we want to remember. This is one way we can ensure that we have good memories of people and situations, talismans to pull out for difficult days. For are there not also memories that are beyond our control? Why do some memories stay with us while others disappear? When do we have these memories? What bids them come?
Psychiatry has concerned itself over the years with the notion that there is a reason for the memories that stay with us. Have you not remembered something trivial and yet spent time contemplating what it could possibly mean, as if the meaning will be revelatory? Who has not wondered what a recurring memory or dream is trying to tell us?
What we are learning from Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy Research is how important it is to help patients find positive memories and to recall the positive emotional states associated with them. It is not our fault that negative memories are most influential in our lives, but it is important for us to recognize that these may not tell the whole story. It is the present and the future that hold the key to happiness.
What does this research mean for psychoanalysis, which once dominated psychiatric treatment? There would seem to be little research showing that the psychoanalytic focus on memory and the past can promote mental health. There is something of determinism in psychoanalysis – the idea that the past influences the future and that it’s difficult to break free of this past. But is there not something to be said for just letting go? For purposefully seeking positive memories, allowing them to be informative?
Hence the reason to keep positive memories: to hug deliberately and to remember the better part of today.
Do not throw memory away on useless things!
(Note: This is an image of Sigmund Freud’s couch from The Guardian.)