Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Selective Memories

Last night , I attended a lecture given by Professor Jennifer Aaker from the Stanford School of Business called “Happiness is Miserable”.  Now, I know that sounds terrible, but it wasn’t a depressing topic.

She talked about how we really don’t know many times what makes us happy and what we THINK makes us happy is different than what ACTUALLY makes us happy.

Professor Aaker used Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth, as an example. She showed all her family pictures of everyone having a great time, but she also showed us pictures of her family standing in line, getting sick, and being just plain tired.  The truth is Disneyland is not always the happiest place on Earth, but most people would hesitate to remember anything but that from their visit.

The irony is that many times we remember those good old days and try to make our present compete with the memories of what we recall as those very happy times.

But, it’s selective.  Much of it is our perception of the past and how happy we were.  

Six years ago, my older son started high school at the same high school that I attended.  I remember going back to the school and reminiscing about the wonderful times I had had there.  It made me nostalgic for the “good old days”.  But, as the years went on and now that my younger son is about to graduate, I can say that there were a lot of times in my high school years that weren’t that terrific.  In fact, I graduated one semester early because I had had enough and I was ready to move on. 

It’s so tempting when you are going through difficult or even boring times to selectively remember things, but it’s not really fair to our “present” days.  They are competing with a fantasy.  It’s hard for the present to battle with memories of days that had no down side.

As I go out to the football field this Friday and watch my son graduate, I think I will feel a sense of relief knowing that I had the chance to return to high school and, eventually, put it back into reality.

High school was an exciting time, but it was also stressful and scary and I am not sure I would ever want to relive it.  Actually, what I have learned is that I am really “happy” to be right where I am and even with the responsibilities and challenges of being a “grown-up”, I have a much better understanding of who I am, what I want, and where I am going.

Now that I think about it, that makes me pretty happy.