Experiences vs memories

Experiences vs memories

In life, we experience things all the time, yet not all experiences become memories. We can share a common experience with another person, but our memory of the event can be very different. But why is this?

The riddle of experiences vs memories comes from Nobel Prize winner and behavioural economics founder Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman proposes that we have two selves: the one living in the present moment (the experiencing self) and the one that looks back (the remembering self). Both selves influence your decisions and your happiness.

So, the question is, do you live for the moment, or the memories?

Experiences vs memories

The experiencing self:

  • Only knows of the present
  • Fast, intuitive and unconscious thinking
  • Lives IN the moment

The remembering self:

  • Remembers the past
  • Slow, rational and conscious thinking
  • Evaluates and keeps score
  • Thinks ABOUT the moment

Life is a string of moments – they’re short-lived and spontaneous. To be more precise, the psychological present is said to be 2-3 seconds long. And most of these vanish without a second thought.

What is then remembered by the remembering self are the significant moments, the things that stand out, good or bad. And this is what can heavily influence your future decision making.

Let’s take a movie, for example, the actors are great, you’re enjoying the storyline, but then the ending is disappointing and not what you expected.

If you, the experiencing self, were asked during the movie if you were enjoying the film and would recommend it, the answer most probably would have been yes.

However, the remembering self will be left with the memory a sense of dissatisfaction as they leave the cinema. Unlikely to recommend it to a friend.

Our remembering self is the one in charge. It makes decisions for the experiencing self because of memories of past experiences.

So, why do we put so much more weight on memories than we do on experiences?

The remembering self is a storyteller. Our memories tell us the stories of our experiences. And as ever, the most crucial part of the story is how it ends.

To showcase this point, in one study, patient A endured pain during a procedure for a shorter time, with intense pain at the end. However, patient B’s experience lasted longer, with the pain gently subsiding. In a post-procedure survey, the researchers asked how much pain they think they endured. Which patient do you think had a worse experience?

Patient B suffered more, yet, shockingly described the procedure more fondly than patient A.

Happiness is relative

What you experience is very different to what you remember.

“We live and experience many moments, but most of them are not preserved,” Kahneman said. “They are lost forever. Our memory collects certain parts of what happened to us and processes them into a story. We make most of our decisions based on the story told by our memory.”

And it is this that has led to the notion that there isn’t just one concept of happiness, but two. The happiness of the experiencing self – the happiness in living moments as they happen. And, the happiness of the remembering self – the satisfaction with life already lived.

How satisfied someone is with their life is very different from how happy they are living their life.

While the happiness of our experiencing self is often fleeting, our remembering self offers a longer-term feeling of satisfaction determined by how we view our life. The biggest influences are money, goals, and the people around us. And we know a thing or two about those.

Setting life goals to improve your wellbeing

When it comes to your life goals, you need to find the right balance between your emotional wellbeing, your experienced happiness, and your perception of your life, the remembered happiness. That means getting to the root of what purpose your goals are serving.

Our financial planners set out to help you establish your goals and organise your finances. So, you are in the best possible position to do the things you want to do in life.

Believe it or not, financial planning is not all about your finances, and it’s far from boring. It’s about marrying your money with your life goals to make the absolute most of what you’ve got. Having money shouldn’t be a goal. The focus should be on what the money can do for you. And what lifestyle it can provide for you and your family.

When setting your goals, you’ll need to think about the when, why and how. For your wellbeing specifically, the focus needs to be on the why. If you want to retire early, perhaps it’s because you want to spend more time with your loved ones, you want to travel more, or maybe you’ve reached a point in life where your work is no longer satisfying you. The why tells us so much more about you and what you value most in life. And we can make sure you do more of that in the future, which in turn boosts the satisfaction of that remembering self of yours.

To help you on your goal-setting path, we’ll leave you with a thought from Daniel Kahneman:

“Happiness is determined by factors like your health, your family relationships and friendships, and above all by feeling that you are in control of how you spend your time.”

If you have any questions or want to discuss goal setting, please get in touch and speak to one of our trusted financial planners.