Pleasure, Purpose and the Building of One’s Lives
What were your most pleasantly memorable days? If we asked you to recall the days that you derived the most pleasure, enjoyment, delight from – the ones you wish you could simply relive all over again, what memories come to mind? For some, recollections of milestone events in our lives – weddings, the birth of a child, attending our sons’ and daughters’ graduation ceremony might be considered extraordinary experiences that we will not soon forget. Personal achievements also make for some of the most memorable experiences – completing that marathon you’ve trained so hard for over the past two years, or perhaps reaching professional heights in your job. Often accompanying these significant memories are intensely positive emotions. We know from extensive research that emotions are strongly linked to our memories. Emotions encode, embed and help us recall events that matter to us – events that shape who we are, and those who we hope to become. Indeed, emotional events are also more easily recalled than non-emotional ones . Recalling pleasant emotions also elicits and bring to the fore positive memories accompanying those events – hope, love, pride, and contentment with one’s lives.
Extensive research has established that positive, pleasant and pleasurable emotions are essential to well-being and longevity. While the benefits of negative, unpleasant emotions are obvious for short-term survival interests, the benefits of experiencing pleasant emotions are more clearly accrued over an extended duration. Research on positive emotions has shown that we benefit from positive emotions when we experience them both over a longer period of time – and, importantly, when we experience them frequently. Over time, what positive emotions do is help us broaden our perceptions of possibilities and build the necessary psychological resources that enhance our resolve, drive, and capacities to be optimal versions of ourselves. Positive emotions broaden and build us .
Which Emotions Last the Longest?
You might have taken a while to recall the most intensely positive events in your lives. Perhaps unpleasant memories came to mind more readily. Your thoughts and recollections might have brought you back to a time when life was challenging, demanding, or stressful. Most people find remembering loss and grief, injustice and anger, betrayal and disappointment as leaving a more indelible mark on their lives than do positive recollections. The bad is indeed stronger than the good – as some psychologists will say . Indeed, a recent study has also shown that not all memories or emotions last for the same amount of time. Unpleasant memories and emotions linger in our experiences far longer than pleasant ones; their impact on our lives more pronounced and longer-lasting.
In a study by Philippe Verduyn and Saskia Lavrijsen, participants were asked to recall the most recent emotional episodes and report on how long they experienced them. And ranking as the longest-lasting emotion? Sadness. Coming in third and fourth were two other unpleasant emotions – desperation and hatred. The researchers reasoned that sadness prompts us to make meaning of our miserable experience and develop ways to cope with the situation – both of which require time and effort on our part. But the list that Verduyn and Lavrijsen generated from their research also included several positive emotions that the researchers found to be long-lasting. Hope was the second longest-lasting emotion, while enthusiasm and joy came in as the fifth and seventh most enduring emotions. While the top ten longest-lasting emotions were predominantly unpleasant ones, so too were the shortest-lived ones. Four of the bottom five most briefly experienced emotions were unpleasant ones – shame, fear, disgust, and boredom.
Crafting Well-Spent Days
Which emotions do you want to experience more of? Which do you want to more easily recall, recollect, and remember? Realizing that you have some control over your preferred emotional experiences can be beneficial to your long-term happiness, empowering you towards choices and actions that benefit your long-term well-being. The bad may be indeed stronger than the good – but you can tip the scales against this natural bias against your long-term happiness. One approach to doing so is to simply list the positive, pleasant emotions that accompany your life’s strongest, most meaningful purposes. Love the thrill of learning, the delight of understanding and feeling enlightened? Emotions such as interest, inspiration and awe experienced from travel, reading, and exploration of new hobbies might be some ideal ways to spend your leisurely hours. Do relationships and close connections contribute a considerable portion of your happiness to your life? The joy of sharing food and conversations with your friends and family, volunteering compassionately, or reconnecting with old friends might be a great way to make your weekends more memorable. Prefer to feel a greater sense of satisfaction from achievement and accomplishment? How about taking the time off your nine-to-five grind to pursue that passion project you’ve been holding off? Imagine feeling pride, satisfaction and the sense of joy from having mastered a new ability or completing that artwork that you’ve always been keen to express your creative side through.
Your options are only limited by what you can think of and how much you want to commit your time and efforts towards. Setting aside time and committing yourself to savour these ‘well-spent days’ is one way to make your positive emotions and the memories last longer . All this simply requires is devoting your attention towards that momentary experience of positive feelings and choosing to be in that experience. All you need to do, really, is decide on how you’d like to enjoy the next free time you have to yourself. Go on – be a little selfish for your own happiness.