Have you wondered what can solve the mismatch between one’s memories and the experiences moment to moment? How is it that we can have recurring moments of enjoyment and satisfaction throughout a year and still look back and feel different about it? When thinking about how happy we are, we tend to forget the difference between feeling comfortable in your life vs. being happy about your life.
Israeli psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, talks about the dichotomy between two types of selves. The experiencing self and the remembering self. The former is the part of us who interprets how he/she feels based on what is happening in the present moment. On the other hand, the latter is the storyteller that explains your life based on the memories that stuck over time. Interestingly enough, the positions between both selves can deviate deeply.
In an experiment, patients went through a colonoscopy, and the pain was graphed during the entire time. Group A had half the pain duration as group B, but group B’s ending wasn’t as painful. Although group B suffered for longer from the experiential self’s perspective, it was ironic that group A kept the worst memory of the experience. The decisive factor was how the event ended.
While revising this framework, I couldn’t avoid wondering why the remembering self could have such a different notion of an experience? It seems like the remembering self can only pick specific samples of how you felt throughout an episode or timeframe to synthesize memories. The highlights that the mind ends up choosing tend to be the changes and the endings of such events.
Additionally, evolutionary psychologists define negative bias as our propensity of humans to give more weight in our minds to things that go wrong than to things that go right. In other words, we tend to give more importance when recalling an event, to the moments where there was a disruption between personal expectations and how reality ended up behaving. This means that we are somehow prompt to build memories based on what went wrong while neglecting what the experiencing self has to say about what happened in the other hundreds of moments where reality actually matched our expectations.
Is it fair that one event counts more than the other hundred? Should you speak about how your 20-year marriage was a complete failure based exclusively on your divorce? I am convinced that getting in the habit of making a mental note or keeping a journal of the number of times the experiencing self was enjoying himself can balance the equation. If you don’t want to feel judge as a person for a single mistake, why should it be any different when thinking about a situation or a time frame? You have to consciously bring to mind everything that serves as counter-evidence to the narrative in your head. Otherwise, the experiencing self’s judgment will be overwritten by the remembering self’s resolution by default.
The best outlook for nurturing a state of happiness comes from balancing the opinions from both the experiential self and the remembering self. In my own experience, it is possible to change how one feels in the moment by not recurring to the default memories our mind has to offer. We can all tap into a more precise judgment when considering a broader sample of experiences that did fulfill our expectations, rather than choosing exclusively from those with adverse outcomes.
The Experiencing Self and the Remembering Self: Implications for Leisure Science https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306072206_The_Experiencing_Self_and_the_Remembering_Self_Implications_for_Leisure_Science
The riddle of experience vs. memory | Daniel Kahneman