Nostalgia is a funny thing, and you may be missing out on some of your best opportunities for reminiscing. While you're likely to expect notable events - like holidays and unusual activities - to be more fun to think back on in the future, it turns out that the most mundane experiences can give you just as much pleasure.
In a study published in Psychological Science, Harvard Business School psychologists had students create time capsules full of songs they were listening to, papers they'd written, social events they'd attended, and records of conversations they'd had. The researchers had them estimate how curious and surprised they'd be by each record three months later. When they opened the capsules at the start of the next school year, the students were consistently more interested in the not-so-ancient relics than they'd predicted.
It's no surprise that memories delight us. But the enjoyment of rediscovery has little to do with the excitement of the actual event. In another portion of the study, participants were able to accurately rank how much they'd enjoy reading about a special day with their partner, like Valentine's Day. But they underestimated how much they'd like reading about a typical day with the same significant other.
“People find a lot of joy in rediscovering a music playlist from months ago or an old joke with a neighbor, even though those things did not seem particularly meaningful in the moment,” Ting Zhang, lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “The studies highlight the importance of not taking the present for granted and documenting the mundane moments of daily life to give our future selves the joy of rediscovering them.”
Of course, too much documentation can be a very bad thing: Previous studies have found that taking too many pictures during an experience can actually keep you from truly remembering it. But in that study, researchers suggested that interacting with the photos instead of just amassing more and more of them could solve the problem.
You shouldn't go around photographing every moment of your life (or tweeting about it), but Zhang and her colleagues found that it only took a few snippets of text to remember a conversation. By keeping a daily journal or curating slow and steady stream of personal photos, you reap enjoyment tomorrow from the mundane goings-on of today. Just be sure to actually go back and look at them.