Gary Bacon

Gratitude and Memory Loss

Recently I completed the book Flourish, by Martin E. P. Seligman, which was recommended by a friend. The author explains what well-being really is, based on decades of study.

He describes gratitude in the following manner:

Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them.

In a second exercise to express gratitude, he prescribes the following:

We instruct the students to write down daily three good things that happened each day for a week. The three things can be small in importance (“ I answered a really hard question right in language arts today”) or big (“ The guy I’ve liked for months asked me out!!!”).

Next to each positive event, they write about one of the following: “Why did this good thing happen?” “What does this mean to you?” “How can you have more of this good thing in the future?”

I’ve been doing this now for a month. At the end of every day, I open Evernote, and create a new note titled “Gratitude [Date]”. At first, this proved to be rather difficult.

However, the more I practiced it, the more I became mindful of it during the day. I would find myself pulling up Evernote on my phone and jotting down something I’m grateful for — in the moment.

It conditioned me, in a great way, to continually be mindful of the positive in life.

One morning on the way into work, halfway to the door, I realized that I had forgotten my badge in the car. Normally I would grumble and say something like, “Ugh. I forgot my stupid badge again.”

However, this time, I caught myself. I said internally, “I’m sorry, brain. Thank you for reminding me that I left my badge in the car. I did remember. I didn’t forget.” Immediately, I relaxed and felt at ease. Any sense of anger or irritation washed away.

That’s when it hit me. This had happened in other circumstances.

I was creating, at a sub-conscious level, anxiety about forgetting.
This then fed back in and perpetuated feelings of anxiety.
That anxiety made it difficult to retrieve the information.

It took some practice to catch myself again when this would happen. However, the lapse between “forgetting” and then recall grew shorter. As I relaxed, mindfully thanked my brain for remembering, recall became easier.