Why You Should Treasure Apparently Mundane Moments in Life

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Study tests which memories can make us happy in the future.

People rarely miss a chance to record the highlights of their lives.

Phones, albums and social media sites are full to bursting with holiday snaps, wedding videos, baby photos, and all the rest.

But even the more mundane, everyday experiences can provide unexpected joy down the line, new psychological research finds.

A series of studies, published in the journal Psychological Science, was inspired by the finding that we are surprisingly poor at predicting what will make us feel happy in the future (Zhang et al., 2014).

In one study, 135 students were asked to create a time capsule at the start of the summer which included:

  • a recent conversation,
  • the last social event they’d attended,
  • an extract from a paper they’d written,
  • and three favourite songs.

At the time, they also predicted how they’d feel about these items when they opened the capsule three months later.

Despite being relatively mundane, the students significantly under-estimated how surprised and curious they would be when they opened it.

They also found the capsule much more meaningful to them than they had predicted.

Ting Zhang of Harvard Business School who co-authored the research, said:

“We generally do not think about today’s ordinary moments as experiences that are worthy of being rediscovered in the future.

However, our studies show that we are often wrong: What is ordinary now actually becomes more extraordinary in the future — and more extraordinary than we might expect.”

Another study found that, in comparison, people were pretty accurate at judging the value of more stand-out events, like what they did on Valentine’s Day.

Taken together, the studies are a reminder of how we tend to undervalue the happiness we can get from everyday events.

Zhang continued:

“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.

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.”

This doesn’t mean that we should continuously take pictures of anything and everything, because that would interfere with enjoying the moment, Zhang warned.

Still, it’s worth bearing in mind our tendency to undervalue the pleasure we will get in the future from what seem like everyday moments right now.

Image credit: GabPRR

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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 3 September 2014

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License