Memory on the Menu
I’m sure you’ve heard that memory is an imperfect storage device. Indeed, our memories are constantly being altered by our constantly shifting mental states, tumultuous emotions, the tendency to exaggerate significant details and minimize those we view as unimportant. Alas, trusting our memories as accurate souvenirs from the past is grossly misguided at best. However, it is the distinctly exaggerated, inaccurate, and hazy quality of distant memories that makes them so superior to the recent and vivid ones.
At this argument, one might say, “Is she kidding me? Wouldn’t you rather have the crystal-clear quality and vivid colors of a digital, high definition T.V. as opposed to the infuriatingly unclear images of analog television?” And to this I would say, certainly for evanescent entertainment, such as movies and television shows. But for memories? No way.
Memories which have been dulled with time are superior in the emotional experience they deliver. For instance, let us compare your most recent birthday to one that had taken place several years ago.
Although the distinct images you recall from your most recent birthday may be sharper, clearer, brighter, and more robust in nature, they may also contain minor imperfections that slightly hinder your waves of nostalgia. For instance, because of the freshness of the memory, you are more likely to remember the various mishaps that had occurred on that same day: The sky may have been dismal lint color as opposed to a sapphire blue. Your best friend may not have been able to make it to your party because of the flu. Your wish for one particular present may not have come true. And yet, in spite of all of these things, you still managed to have an incredible birthday worth fondly looking back on. It’s just that because of the immense clarity with which you remember the event, you also remember its faults, thus detracting from the overall experience.
In contrast, let’s discuss a happy birthday you may have had several years ago. Because of the substantial amount of time that has passed since then, the memory is no longer as sharp or as accurate. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In terms of our longstanding memories, we may not always remember the minute details, like what the weather was like, or who was with us, or what we even talked about, but we always remember how we felt. In fact, most of our best memories are driven by the emotions we experienced at the time. Looking back on a dated birthday, you may remember the immense elation you experienced upon snuffing out your birthday candles. Or how about your awe and wonder at a cake with your name printed across its face? What about the feeling of immense self-importance when everyone celebrated a day dedicated to you, and you alone?
These are the emotional experiences we are inundated with whenever we consider happy memories from a distant past. The inevitable and minor inconveniences that occurred on that same day have faded into nonexistence. In essence, we are left with the perfect memory.