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I’ve spent the last 12 months vacillating between wanting to hug a human so much my heart hurts to rejoicing the fact that I rarely need to put on a bra these days.
This is a year of dichotomies, we’re relishing the slow pace, and recovering from the screeching halt whiplash of last March.
I’ve had days when I’ve felt like crying because everything feels dark and heavy (Christmas lights in October helped!), and I have had days filled with absurd moments like when I did a socially distant trade on my front porch for a 12-pack of toilet paper in exchange for yeast packages for baking.
There were serious moments, like helping my husband rapidly pivot when the company he worked for (and income we depended on) suddenly folded, and absolutely hilarious moments like when my mom accidentally swore unmuted in the middle of an online Zoom dance recital for all to hear (#earmuffs).
I know there’s probably no year we’d rather leave in the dust faster than the year of 2020, but since 2020 was the ultimate pattern interrupt, maybe it’s something we need to pay a little closer attention to before we light it on fire and send it off into oblivion.
2020 is/was a walking contradiction, a scary time, and a beautiful time. Stolen slowed-down moments, crazy covid memories, time together in our tiny pods like we’ve never had.
Remember the animals coming back during lockdown? Venice canals clearing? How easily we forget about some of that loveliness.
Our brains have a cognitive trap that skews our memories of specific time periods.
As Nobel Memorial Prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman says, we have two different selves inhabiting our brains: our experiencing self and our remembering self.
It’ll probably come as no surprise that where memory is concerned, our remembering self, the storyteller, is the one who is in charge.
This wouldn’t be an issue for our wellbeing if our remembering self loved to focus and reminisce about all the great things that happened the living room forts we made, takeout picnics we ate, the slow walks with loved ones to get outside our own four walls.
But more often than not, our remembering self is a bit of a drama queen. And boy does she have a wild tale to tell for 2020!
As a matter of cognitive efficiency, our remembering self just uses two factors to sum up our 2020: our peak experience and how it ended. That’s it.
And FYI “peak experience” is defined as the "moment of highest intensity", it doesn’t matter if it was a good or bad peak experience. If it was the moment of highest pain OR the moment of highest pleasure, it was the peak experience.
In the mathematical equation that sums up our happiness, our brains not only confuse experience and memory, they underweight the cumulative total of daily life events and overweight the memories of a few key snippets in time.
Plus, the more dramatic those key events are, the more easily our remembering self is able to skew the whole equation in her favor. And we seem to have drama in PLENTIFUL supply.
photo credit: Gabriel T. Rogers
Think about the best rock concert you’ve ever been to …
The rockstar makes an entrance, the crowd goes absolutely wild, you’re singing along to one of your all-time favorite songs. Midway through the concert, the artist tries out some new material or deep tracks no one knows, the energy dips, you feel just so-so about these new songs, but then the concert picks back up and crescendos with fireworks, pyrotechnics, and an encore medley of your favorites that has you and your Bic lighter app more fired up than you’ve ever been.
Compare that to the artist coming out on stage still fired up with the best pyrotechnics, fireworks, and a medley that you ADORE, but walks off stage without an encore and the last song is the low energy new material you’ve never heard of.
In a moment to moment mathematical comparison of the two shows, you might have had just as much fun rocking out to your peak moment favorites and equal amounts of blah moments during the new stuff, but the fact that the show ended on the low note would have your interpretation of the entire event as just ho-hum.
Same with 2020.
(something new I tried in 2020)
You could do backflips to make any year the most incredible experience of all time (ok I know that's a stretch for 2020 but stay with me!), but if the peak moment of the year sucked and the last few weeks took an even bigger nosedive, all of those slow-living, sweet moments that might have comprised a lot of your year are forgotten about.
So how do we hack our happiness to focus on flipping this equation?
Your phone’s camera roll is one of the easiest and most effective ways to counteract this “peak-end” cognitive trap we so easily fall into. And to identify the meaningful moments of this year that are definitely worth remembering.
Try this idea and use your photos to sum up and savor some of 2020.
My nephew's drive-by 2020 high school graduation. We laughed so hard. One of my favorite moments
Directions: thumb through your camera roll between the dates of January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020 (ok no cheating, don’t just pick every photo from January and February ;-)!. Throw a heart on 7 of your photos using these or similar prompts. Important note: you're not choosing picture-perfect photos, you're choosing ones that will help you savor.
1) Pick one photo of a highlight of 2020
2) Pick one photo of a meaningful moment
3) Pick one photo of a moment with your loved ones
4) Pick one photo of something new that you tried
5) Pick one photo of a moment that makes you feel proud
6) Pick one photo of a moment that makes you feel connected
7) Pick one photo of a moment that just makes you smile
Look back at these 7 photos. Catch yourself noticing moments you probably would’ve forgotten about. Catch yourself laughing out loud as you scroll through your memories. Catch yourself summing up 2020 through something other than your default lens.
Something that made me smile while I was running errands during lockdown.
Write for 5 minutes (total) about why you chose each photo and what you appreciate about the moments you picked.
Bonus points for sharing on social (tag me), creating a collage for phone wallpaper or hanging them up where you can see and savor often.
There are over 600 million moments in a lifetime. Let’s make sure we take a few minutes to remember more than just the moments that kept us up at night this year.
Sum up your year and create a scrapbook of savoring for your soul!
PS The Life Feast closes for enrollment on January 5, 2021, are you coming?
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