“Kindness causes us to learn, and to forget, many things” (Anne-Sophie Swetchine)
I’ve always been fascinated by memory. How my husband remembers incidents I don’t recall at all, how I’ll remember something that is completely absent in his memory, and how we may both remember an episode from our shared past, but remember it so differently that we question the other’s sanity.
As I age, I wonder why I still recall embarrassing moments from grade school, but don’t remember why I got up from my desk and walked into the kitchen.
Scientists are always sharing new bits of information about memory. So, of course, I sat up and took notice when I saw a new study showing that we are made happier and healthier by recalling our own acts of kindness.
Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, conducted a three-day experiment in which they randomly assigned undergraduates to one of four tasks: 1) performing acts of kindness; 2) recalling acts of kindness they had performed in the past; 3) both performing and recalling acts of kindness; and 4) neither performing nor recalling acts of kindness.
Their findings revealed that study participants in groups 1, 2, and 3 all reported an increase in their well-being: greater life satisfaction and positive feelings, and a decrease in negative feelings. It didn’t matter whether they performed acts of kindness, recalled acts of kindness, or did both—all experienced the same level of enduring and stable happiness and satisfaction.
They concluded that “Individuals who seek to efficiently improve their well-being may be just as successful by remembering kind acts that they have performed in the past as actually doing more such acts in the future.” However, they were also quick to say that it is not sufficient to perform a couple of kind deeds and then sit back and rest on those laurels.
“We do not suggest that people should stop being kind to others. Indeed, happiness seekers should continue to act prosocially towards others to create more memories of these acts.”
I would love to see them expand their research to look at whether remembering acts of kindness others extended toward us holds the same benefit. We already know that acts of kindness are contagious—when someone is kind to us, we tend to be kinder in our next interactions—but does it enhance our health and sense of well-being if we recall a kindness from long past? I am pretty certain it does. If I pause to think about past kindnesses, I am warmed by the memories and feel a distinct urge to replicate the actions.
The lesson here is that we can derive the many benefits of kindness—including lowered blood pressure, reduced inflammation, relief from chronic pain, increased happiness, reduction in stress—by remembering our own kind actions. And we can assure we have plenty to remember by seeking opportunities to extend kindness every chance we get.
Additional Fascinating Factoids About Memory
As long as we’re talking about memory, here are some additional facts that might interest you:
- Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to memory. Sleep helps in the retrieval and storage of long-term memories.
- Walking through a doorway triggers our brains to forget. Psychologist Gabriel Radvansky found that people were two to three times more likely to forget what they were supposed to do after walking through a doorway. (This explains so much!)
- Even thinking about a door messes up our memories. In a follow-up study, Dr. Radvansky found that subjects were less likely to recall information after merely imagining themselves passing through a doorway.
- Good posture improves our memory function. Researchers at San Francisco State University found that standing or sitting up straight makes it easier to recall information, likely because erect posture boosts the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain by up to 40 percent. (Okay, you were right about this one, Mom.)
- Left-handed people have better memories. Apparently, southpaws have larger corpus callosums, which link the brain’s hemispheres and make memories clearer in the mind. As a left-handed person, I am not above claiming this advantage, if only to avenge my 7th grade home-ec teacher’s insistence that I learn to iron right-handed. (A skill I have not employed in this millennium—using either hand.)
- To increase memory function, try closing your eyes. A study in Legal and Criminal Psychology found that when people were asked about a movie they had just seen, they were able to answer correctly 23 percent more when they closed their eyes. It eliminates outside distractions and allows the brain to focus more clearly.
- We retain information better if we read it in a funky font. Psychologists at Princeton University found that when they had students prepare for an exam using study guides written in either a traditional typeface or an unusual font, those whose study guides used unfamiliar fonts performed significantly better. (Does this mean I no longer have to justify my overuse of Papyrus?)
You can find these and many more interesting facts about memory at the following links:
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” (Shannon Adler)