It occurred to me the other day that a person’s memory is a complex thing. My memory, in particular, is sometimes irksome and now and then borderline frustrating. For example, it happens to me quite often that a person recounts a memory of a story from our shared past and asks, “Do you remember that?” and my answer is invariably “No”. There are lots of things I do remember of course, but it becomes plainly clear when the former scenario happens that some of my memories have simpled dried up and gone away.
These experiences over time have added up to make me question one thing: why are good memories sometimes forgotten but bad ones never are?
I am lucky that the experiences I’ve had to date in my life have been, for the most part, quite great. I had a wonderful childhood and was a ‘good kid’ who was involved in everything in high school. I went to university in three different cities and travelled to further interesting places in the world for work. I’ve driven around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, climbed the Great Wall, drunk beer in Munich and skied the slopes of Whistler. I’ve notched a lot of good memories into my life belt, but yet it sometimes feels that I’ve forgotten a good portion of them. And so I wonder, why would our brains be made in such a way that we forget the good things we’ve experienced in life?
On the flip side, I don’t have a lot of bad memories but will never forget the ones that I do have. There was the time I got swindled out of an (albeit small) amount of money by a man in France and the time my friend got hit in the back by a man throwing a popsicle stick at her in China. I once spied a man pleasuring himself in a car while looking at me in (again!) southern France and another time had to fire someone who then got particularly agitated with me at work. (I’ll save some space by only mentioning these few!) All these negative experiences have seared themselves onto my brain, and I’m not likely to forget any of them any time soon. And so I ask – why have I not experienced any memory loss with these situations?
I realize that I’m very lucky that these memories and others like it are probably the worst ‘bad’ memories that I have. Many people could not say the same so I’m thankful for my situation. What I don’t understand, though, is how our memories work in such a way so that we remember all the bad but forget some of the good. When I’m 90 years old and my memory is really failing, and I’m reminiscing back on my (hopefully) incredibly-spent life, will I only remember the awful things that happened? I shudder at the thought.
I suppose it’s a comment on my (and perhaps our culture’s) subliminal tendency to dwell on the worst side of life. Realizing this fact, this is a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ kind of moment. When good things happen to me from now on, I’ll try to cherish them more closely, remembering how it felt, sounded, smelled, tasted and looked. Perhaps I’ll never be able to forget the bad things in life but if I pay more attention to the good things, when I’m old and gray I hopefully can say that life was kind to me, and I remember that it was!