The key to living a memorable life is the pursuit of a memorable life. We share few ideas to stock up your personal happiness store, without spending too much money.
Let me ask you a question – “Can you recall what you did on each day for past 30 days?”
Don’t feel bad if you can’t because it doesn’t indicate a poor memory. In fact, if it gives you some comfort, here is an interesting fact – according to a study most people can’t remember more than 3 days from their past 30 days of life.
Surprising, isn’t it? So what happened to all those forgotten days? You might as well have not lived them since they, in hindsight though, appear to be a complete waste of time.
The real reason is that very few of those 30 days stand out as memorable. For majority of people, most of the days of life don’t look very different except few special occasions like festivals, getting married, having kids, and few sad ones like death of a loved one.
And it’s not just with days, but with our thoughts too. A scientific study revealed that a normal human being thinks on an average 50,000 thoughts a day. The irony is that 80-90% of these thoughts are repetitive. That’s one of the reasons one should read books on diverse topics because it steers your mind in different directions and makes you think different thoughts.
At this point you may want to ask, why am I talking about intangible things like memorable days and abstract ideas like ‘thinking different thoughts’? Well, I have discovered that it has a strong correlation to happiness.
Allow me to explain.
You’d agree, for most of us, the ultimate goal is to maximize the amount of happiness that we experience over our lifetime. So goes without saying that happiness is a very important topic.
Instead of speculating on this subject, let me draw your attention to the research done by noted psychologist (and Nobel laureate) Daniel Kahneman.
In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow,, Kahneman writes …
…the score [about happiness and satisfaction] that you quickly assign to your life is determined by a small sample of highly available ideas [i.e. memorable], not by a careful weighting of the domains of your life…people who are happy to be reminded of their marriage when asked a question about their life are not necessarily happier the rest of the time. Unless they think happy thoughts about their marriage during much of their day, it will not directly influence their happiness.
You may argue that the pleasure derived from memory of a joyful experience is far inferior to the real experience. Agreed! But the difference isn’t as much as you think it is. Why else would people insist on capturing the special events in camera?
When it comes to experiencing pleasure, it’s important to understand the distinction between two parts of our mind – the experiencing-self and the remembering-self.
When you are in the middle of a pleasurable experience, it’s the experiencing-self which is deriving the pleasure. However, after having consumed that nice experience, sometime in the future when you recall that event, the pleasure derived from that memory is experienced by the remembering-self.
Now the experiencing-self gets to enjoy for a limited time (while the event lasts), but what about remembering self?
During the process of living, memories are constantly getting created. Each piece of memory has different shelf life in our brain. When the pleasurable memories last longer (which depends on intensity and uniqueness of the event), the remembering-self has virtually an unlimited store to derive pleasure from it. It’s like watching an awesome movie again and again.
The topic of movie brings me to an interesting analogy. I heard this from famous Bollywood movie director Rajkumar Hirani (director of movie 3 Idiots and Munnabhai series). He says that a good movie is one which continues to entertain the audience even 10-20 years after it’s made. It’s so true and according to me most of Hirani’s movies qualify that test.
Same is true with memories. Our job is to find out how to create those kind of long lasting memories. Let’s now explore what kind of experiences can help us in this quest.
Collect Experiences Not Objects
Buying a brand new car and a vacation at an exotic location – both might give you equal amount of pleasure, but the longevity of both experiences is very different. Based on our understanding so far we can conclude that in case of vacation experience the remembering-self keeps getting endless pleasure by recalling the sweet memories but in case of car there isn’t much left for remembering-self to enjoy.
Let me take Daniel Kahneman’s help in adding some more clarity to above thought. Talking about difference in quality of happiness derived out possessing material objects Vs experiences, Kahneman writes …
Compare two commitments that will change some aspects of your life: buying a comfortable new car and joining a group that meets weekly, perhaps a poker or book club. Both experiences will be novel and exciting at the start. The crucial difference is that you will eventually pay little attention to the car as you drive it, but you will always attend to the social interaction to which you committed yourself. By WYSIATI [availability and recency bias], you’re likely to exaggerate the long-term benefits of the car, but you’re not likely to make the same mistake for a social gathering or for inherently attention-demanding activities such as playing tennis or learning to play the cello. The focusing illusion creates a bias in favour of goods and experiences that are initially exciting, even if they will eventually lose their appeal. Time is neglected, causing experiences that will retain their attention value in the long term to be appreciated less than they deserve to be.
So the idea here is that we should spend our money, time and energy in collecting novel experiences rather than just objects. Of course I am not suggesting that you blow up all your savings and go on an expensive world tour.
However, I would like to explore this idea further and see how we can use it to increase our happiness in day to day life.
How to Make Your Life Memorable
Developing routines (like building habits) is good productivity hack and saves a lot of mental energy. However, the kind of routine I am concerned about is where one wakes up at the same time, takes the same commute route, meets the same set of people, spends the day in the same office, eats in the same restaurant, and watches the same TV show.
Some of these activities may be pleasurable (like watching your favourite TV show or commuting to office in your Ferrari) for experiencing-self but there isn’t much for remembering-self.
Life then becomes not just a boring routine but a repetitive stress injury.
Kahneman argues that in our intuitive evaluation of entire lives, peaks and ends (moments that were significantly different from routine) matter but duration does not. So you would fondly remember the exhilarating ride on roller coaster but might forget how long did it last.
So how can we design an environment for ourselves where variations (the stimuli which create everyday experience) increase the quantity of happiness for remembering-self also?
I posit that one should bring in the element of pleasant uncertainty. This deliberate uncertainty increases the odds of bringing in novel experiences and they get registered as a unique memory which can be used by remembering-self to create happiness even during dull hours by mentally flipping through those memories.
Technology has enabled us today to capture any moment instantly in camera which can aid our day-dreaming sessions.
So what kind of activities can create such unique experiences? Especially if you don’t want to spend lot of money. Here are my two cents.
How about doing something whacky which has the potential of creating a totally unexpected and new experience?
Like wearing different coloured sock on each leg? Or parting your hair the other way? Hey! I am just suggesting. By the way I tried the hair trick and it freaked out my wife big time. But guess what? It became a memorable day and she now calls me Mr. Whacky.
Then, consider what Vishal did on his trip to Varanasi earlier this year. He roamed the holy city’s streets wearing the traditional Indian dhoti-kurta and found passers-by amused at his attire. But as he tells me, it was one of his most memorable days in life and he would like to return to Varanasi soon and roam the streets wearing that dress again.
And if you’re an aspiring writer then here is an advice for you – “The best way to become good writer is to live an interesting life.”
A word of caution though. Taking this idea to extreme may backfire too so goes without saying – please use common sense and please don’t break the law! Perhaps this explains the behaviour of those crazy adventure junkies. They are addicted to creating unique moments even if it means frequently putting their life at risk.
Too much wackiness on a consistent basis can end up creating unmanageable mess also, so go easy. Moreover, if you make the wackiness a routine, it would defeat the purpose. Won’t it?
The key to living a memorable life is the pursuit of a memorable life. And the way to do that is to develop a habit of breaking your routine.
The only thing consistent from day to day is the blank piece of paper that we start with.
Every day we get to type a new story on it. So make it a real page turner