One Memory to Rule Them All

by Joseph Kwon in


What do a Nobel prize-winning psychologist, George Costanza and a Bible verse have in common?

In his TED talk "The riddle of experience vs memory," psychologist Daniel Kanheman tells the story of a man listening to a glorious symphony.

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An exquisite feast for the ears till the very end, when there was an awful screeching. Although most of the performance sounded amazing, the few jarring seconds at the end had a pronounced effect. The negative feelings were what he took away in terms of his experience. Dr. Kanheman explains that we have an experiencing self, who lives in the present and only knows the present and a remembering self, who keeps score and maintains the story of our life. As it turns out, how things end are very important and can dominate the story that is told by our remembering self.

George Constanza implicitly understood that once you've done something impressive, you can only go downhill by sticking around. This was his idea of showmanship, which he takes to the extreme by leaving the room as soon as he gets a great reaction that is not likely to be topped. Never mind social niceties or gracious timing. In other words, go out on a high note!

Ephesians 4:26 says, "Be angry without sinning. Don't go to bed angry." Whether you are religious, atheist or something in between, it's good advice not to go to bed angry. Whenever possible, squash the argument with your friend or loved one before the end of the day. This may take humility, courage, grace or all of the above.

Imagine your anger as a snow ball. Squashing your anger is like pouring a cup of hot water on the snow ball. However, when you go to sleep without resolving the anger, you allow the snow ball to grow as each new offense will add more snow. Left unchecked, the bad feelings grow slowly, but surely as one argument rolls into another. Before you know it, you have a giant snow boulder. Now imagine pouring that same cup of hot water on the boulder.

It's not that all problems can be solved by bedtime. Relationships are complicated and some conflicts may take years to settle or may never be fully resolved. But it's good practice to defuse hurt feelings before you sleep. Perhaps agree to disagree and then reaffirm your importance to each other. Have your last memory of the day be a positive one. Or at least not fueled by rage.

So, what do an award-winning psychologist, George Costanza and a Bible verse have in common? All three recognize that not all memories are equal. In fact, the last memory in a sequence is a tremendously significant one. So...organize your vacations to save the best for last, leave audiences on a high note, and do not go to sleep angry.

Next post next Saturday at 6:30 a.m.