Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • But turning forty also means that I have lived half my life, statistically speaking. Life expectancy for men in Denmark is around eighty years and, while I may not believe in life after death, I strongly believe in making the most of life before death. So far, that life for me has yielded 40 years, or 480 months, or 14,610 days. Some days pass us by without leaving a trace—and some happy moments stick with us forever. Our lives are not the days that have passed, but the days we will remember forever. That got me thinking: Which of those 14,610 days do I remember? And why? How can I make more of my days more memorable in the future? How can we retrieve happy memories from the past and create happy memories in the present?

  • Happiness research suggests that people are happier with their lives if they tend to hold a positive, nostalgic view of the past. Nostalgia is a universal and ancient human emotion and, today, academics across the world are studying how it can produce positive feelings, boost our self-esteem and increase our sense of being loved by another. This means that long-term happiness can depend on your ability to form a positive narrative of your life.

  • Our memories are the cornerstones of our identity. They are the glue that allows us to understand and experience being the same person over time. They are our superpower, which allows us to travel in time and sets us free from the limitations of the present moment. They shape who we are and how we act. They influence our mood and help form our dreams for the future.

  • 8 INGREDIENTS FOR HAPPY MEMORIES
    • Harness the power of firsts. Seek out novel experiences and make days extraordinary.
    • Make it multisensory. Go beyond sight. Memories can also have sounds, scents, touch and tastes.
    • Invest attention. Treat your happy moments like you would your date. Pay attention to them!
    • Create meaningful moments. Make meaningful moments memorable moments.
    • Use the emotional highlighter pen. Get the blood flowing.
    • Capture peaks and struggles. Milestones are memorable, but the struggle to reach one is unforgettable.
    • Use stories to stay ahead of the forgetting curve. Share stories. Do you remember the time we . . . ?
    • Outsource memory. Write, photograph, record, collect. Be Marie Kondo’s archenemy.
  • One aspect of the Happy Memory Study we did at the Happiness Research Institute was to explore whether we could impact people’s momentary happiness by getting them to think of a happy memory. We asked people to imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to ten at the top. “Suppose we say that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder do you feel you personally stand at this time?” This is a question that captures a person’s satisfaction with life, their overall happiness—a long-term happiness, where it takes more to improve the level of satisfaction. It is also the question that is used in the World Happiness Report. We also asked people, “To what extent do you feel happy right now, where zero means extremely unhappy and ten means extremely happy?” This is a question which allows for influences such as what day of the week it is, what the weather’s like, current events—or perhaps thoughts about the past. What we found was a small but significant correlation between the number of words the participants had used to describe their happy memory and their happiness right now. The more words people used going down the lane of happy memories, the happier they were in the moment. We cannot be sure that they were happier because they were thinking of a happy memory—it could also be the other way around. If you are in a good mood, you might be more likely to spend more time answering silly questions from scientists—but it is an area with potential for further research.

  • Semantic memory is the ability to remember that the capital of France is Paris. Episodic memory is your ability to remember your trip to Paris. This distinction was first made by Endel Tulving, psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, in 1972. Straight into your semantic memory storage facility—see what I did there? When you retrieve memories from your episodic memory it involves you traveling back in time and re-experiencing them. When you access your memory to find out who was Prime Minister in Britain at the end of the Second World War it is a very different experience. You probably have no idea of when and where you gained that knowledge. It is just something you know. It is impersonal. The memory contains no taste, no smell, no sound. It is lacking the sensory richness your memory of last night’s dinner may hold.

  • Episodic memory covers the personal, unique and concrete experiences we can retrieve from our own past. Semantic memory is timeless knowledge that we share with the world about the world. In addition, episodic memory can be seen as a sixth sense—a sense for the past. It is our ability to travel in time. No need for a DeLorean at 88mph, Marty McFly! For Tulving, it was the time travel—the sense of re-experiencing an event—that was the defining element of episodic memory. Your episodic memory is also often represented in short time slices of an experience with a perspective—your point of view—lined up roughly in order of occurrence. You panfried the fish, the radio was playing Nat King Cole, you sipped your glass of wine, it was cold and dry, you burned your finger on the pan, cursed out loud, your spouse said, “What’s happened?” from the other room. “Nothing,” you said. “Dinner’s ready!” You took the vegetables out of the oven. Left the oven door open, felt the heat, smiled and sat down.

  • One of the common factors among them is that when they are at their lowest, they are not only unable to feel any level of joy but are also unable to remember any point in time where they had experienced joy. As well as being unable to retrieve any happy memories, people who suffer from depression also tend to ruminate on negative events.

  • ccording to Forbes magazine, nostalgia is employed in marketing because “reliving positive memories and beloved icons from the past feels good.” In addition, the article “An Involvement Explanation for Nostalgia Advertising Effects” by Muehling and Pascal published in the Journal of Promotion Management in 2012 concludes that nostalgia in advertising influences how much attention people pay to the advertisement and how positively they view the brand or product being advertised. Consequently, nostalgia is today a natural ingredient in advertising, TV programs, museum exhibitions, fashion, music, interior design and politics. We watch Mad Men and The Americans (a spy series set in the eighties). We buy vintage clothes and furniture and vinyl. We visit antique shops and look at fountain pens brought to Britain by German immigrants in the exhibition “Things We Keep” at the German Historical Institute. All while President Trump promises to make America “Great Again.” Nostalgia. It is delicate but potent.

  • Our satisfaction with life—our happiness—depends in part on whether we have, or create, a positive narrative of our life. When we look back, do we see flashes of flaws and failures, or do we see moments of joy, moments of happiness? So which ingredients should we put into nostalgic-to-be memories? How do we best preserve and retrieve happy moments from places or events where there are no souvenirs? What are happy memories made of and what makes memories remain memories?

  • Ask any older person to recall some of their memories and there’s a good chance they will tell you stories from a period in their life when they were between the ages of fifteen and thirty. This is known as the reminiscence effect, or reminiscence bump (both terms are trickier to work into song lyrics than “glory days’).

  • What about you? What do you remember about being twenty-one? Or from another year? And how do your memories from different decades compare? One theory behind the reminiscence bump is that our teens and early adulthood years are our defining years, our formative years. Our identity and sense of self is developing at that time and some studies suggest that experiences that are linked to who we see ourselves as are more frequently retold in explaining who we are and are therefore remembered better later in life. Another theory is that the period involves a lot of firsts. Our first kiss, our first flat, our first job. As you might recall, the Happy Memory Study we conducted at the Happiness Research Institute found that 23 percent of people’s memories were of novel or extraordinary experiences. Novelty ensures durability when it comes to memory. Several studies show that we are better at remembering the novel and the new, the extraordinary days when we did something different. One study by British researchers Gillian Cohen and Dorothy Faulkner found that 73 percent of vivid memories were either first-time experiences or unique events. Extraordinary and novel experiences are subject to greater elaborative cognitive processing, which leads to better encoding of these memories. That is the power of firsts. Extraordinary days are memorable days.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: ONCE A YEAR, GO SOMEPLACE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN BEFORE. Make plans to visit new places—be it an exotic destination or the park across town.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: CHASE MANGOES. New and memorable experiences also come in the form of food. Make sure you take your taste buds on trips, too. I was sixteen when I first tasted a mango. It was in 1994, I was an exchange student in Australia, and mangoes had not yet been introduced to supermarkets in Denmark, where I grew up. I remember the sweetness, the texture. I remember thinking, Where have you been all my life? Since then, I have been chasing mangoes—believing that there are still great food experiences out there which I have not yet had. I have tried fermented Icelandic shark, and snails in a street market in Morocco. Both made me throw up a little, but I remember those moments quite vividly. My point is that firsts need not come in the form of geography but can also be in the shape of gastronomy. If you want to create a night to remember for your dinner guests, then serving them something they have not tasted before might do the trick (but maybe not fermented shark, if you want them to come again). Ideally, it would be something that is not over and done with in a second, like a shot of licorice vodka at three in the morning. Nobody remembers that—for several reasons. Better to go with something like an artichoke, which takes a bit of an effort to eat, as you have to peel each leaf off, dip it in salted butter then use your teeth to harvest that wonderful flesh. This makes the whole experience longer lasting and multisensory. It might also be the reason why life seems to speed up as we get older. When we’re in our teens, there are a lot of firsts, while firsts at fifty are rarer. The landscape of our youth may also change more rapidly. Compare Hanoi, Paris, Champagne or Baeza to a mash of days at the office. This is also why studies find that people who immigrated from a Spanish-speaking country to the US have their reminiscence bump at different times, depending on how old they were at the time of the move. Moving to another city is a personal temporal landmark, but landmarks also come in the form of universal or collective landmarks—like the Kennedy assassination, or 9/11. In all circumstances, these temporal landmarks of firsts and changes of scene play an important role in organizing autobiographical memory. There is a before and an after. If we want life to slow down, to make moments memorable and our lives unforgettable, we may want to remember to harness the power of firsts. In our daily routines, it’s also an idea to consider how we can turn the ordinary into something more extraordinary in order to stretch the river of time. It may be little things. If you always eat in front of the television, it might make the day feel a little more extraordinary if you gather for a family dinner around a candlelit table—and if you are always eating candlelit dinners, it might be nice to eat dinner during a movie marathon.

  • What may be ordinary and forgettable to you might be extraordinary and memorable to me. So, different people may remember different things about the same event. As a small exercise, try going for a walk with a friend or family member and compare afterwards what you noticed during it. If you have kids, you may also want to remind them of the extraordinary experiences you have shared together—they might not have realized at the time quite how remarkable they were.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: IF YOU ARE GIVING A TALK, TAKE A PINEAPPLE ON STAGE WITH YOU. If you want people to remember you, you need to give them something to remember you by. About ten years ago, I got a scratch on my cornea from a dance-related accident which meant I had to wear an eyepatch for a week. Best. Week. Ever. At the time, I was working for a think tank called Monday Morning on sustainability. The eyepatch not only gave everyone carte blanche to make endless pirate jokes and allowed me to control every meeting I went to (Nobody disagrees with the patch!), it also made me less forgettable. Meik from Monday Morning? Is that the guy . . . ? Yes, that’s the guy with the eyepatch. Maybe we all want to be remembered, to be thought about when we are gone. In The Iliad, Achilles considers the choice between a long and peaceful life and a short life that will bring him everlasting glory. Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of Trojans, my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly. Granted, we still read and talk about Achilles today, but maybe there is an easier way to be remembered than whooping ass at the gates of Troy. So, if you want to be unforgettable, dare to be odd, to stand out. For instance, if I am doing a presentation at a conference, often I stand out easily because people remember “that happiness guy”—but what if I were just one out of twenty happiness researchers? The answer is: bring a pineapple with you on stage. When the conference is over the audience will remember the guy with the pineapple. Of course, you have to inform people why you brought it on stage; otherwise, it would just seem weird. Or weirder than you are going for. There’s a fine line between good weird and never-being-invited-back weird. Bringing a pineapple to a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office falls into the second category. By the way, good luck with trying to eat a pineapple again without remembering this point.

  • Happy memories are . . .
    • “Walking down the main street in the town I grew up in with my mom while eating a lemon Italian ice cream.”
    • “My mom roasting poblano peppers on the stove when I was a child. I loved the smell of it as the peppers’ skin crackled and popped as they roasted in the flames.”
    • “Eating s’mores [melted marshmallows and chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers] with my best friends and my cross-country teammates during my high school senior year—they were the best s’mores I ever had. We were sitting in front of the bonfire in the fall. The New England countryside is absolutely gorgeous. I thought I couldn’t be happier at that moment, and I really feel like that is my happiest moment.”
  • We are all aware of the journey a taste can trigger when it comes to memory. You taste the limoncello and instantly you are transported back to that summer in Italy and can sense the warm evening air on your skin. It is the feeling when past happiness is momentarily restored. We have all experienced tastes, sounds, smells, sights or a touch that sends us back there, a sensation that reminds you that you were once loved, that you were happy.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: CREATE UNIQUE MEMORY TRIGGERS. You remember things by association—so make sure you place something in your experience that can take you back to this exact moment. Even if we have not read about Proust’s narrator’s venture into a stream of consciousness set off by a madeleine dipped in tea, we may harness the power of Proustian moments. The more of your senses—sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch—you can use, the more vividly you can remember; and the more cues you line up, the more likely it is that you can hold on to that memory and retrieve it. Spontaneous memories are typically a result of associations. A detail from the memory is repeated, and that trigger activates the memory. The best triggers are those associations that are linked only to one memory. If I smell coffee, I enjoy the aroma tremendously, but because I have smelled coffee so many times there is no single memory that is likely to be retrieved by me smelling it. On the other hand, if I smell dried seaweed, I will remember a beautiful day in July. I had been spearfishing and had caught three flounders and was sitting on a warm rock, looking out over the sea. My breathing was deep and I felt relaxed, at peace and happy. I wanted to hold on to that moment and store it. So I took a good whiff of a handful of dried seaweed to increase the odds of that happening. So, next time you’re really happy and want to capture the moment, take notice of the input from all your senses. Is there a unique scent, sound, texture or taste? Work that into your long-term memory.

  • When I visit London I usually stay at the same hotel. There are two things that always strike me there. First, whatever room I stay in, there is a copy da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine hanging over the bed. An ermine is a ferret-like animal and this one looks quite ferocious, with red eyes and sharp claws, and I can’t get over the fact that at one point in this hotel’s history there was a meeting where someone said, “You know that painting with the creepy ermine? We should put that painting in every room.” The second thing that strikes me is the scent. Some hotels are perfumed with bespoke fragrances that are an integral part of their brand. One Swiss hotel chain wanted their guests to smell Switzerland so they had a unique fragrance made. Their signature scent has the smell of mountain air with a hint of money. Companies like Air Aroma and ScentAir work with hotels and shops to create these scent-specific locations. One of ScentAir’s clients is the M&M World store at Leicester Square in London. “What they sell comes pre-packaged,” ScentAir UK’s managing director Christopher Pratt said in an interview for the Independent, “so although it looked like the place should smell of chocolate, it didn’t.” It does now. Okay, you get the whiff of the idea. But why does scent matter? It all comes down to creating a unique and multisensory experience that can be converted into memories for the guests or customers. “We’re creating a lasting memory,” explains Carly Fowler from Air Aroma. “Scent has the ability to directly influence how a hotel is perceived and remembered. From the moment guests arrive, they want to feel that their experience is special.” But the thing is, smells don’t have any meaning prior to being associated with an experience. When a scent is experienced with something, that is what they become associated with and represent. We dislike the smell of rubbish because we know that it is the smell of rubbish. Or, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Wait, what is that rotten smell? Okay, who the heck is having sürströmming? (Fermented herring smells so strong it has to be eaten outside.) I bet it’s Uncle Claudius. There is something fishy about that guy.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: EVERY HAPPY MEMORY DESERVES A SOUNDTRACK. What comes to mind when you hear “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, “Bailamos” by Enrique Iglesias or “White Flag” by Dido? They were in the charts in 1995, 1999 and 2004. In 1995, I was working in a cinema and Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, was showing; in 1999, I was in Spain and every bar was “Bailamos” crazy; and in 2004, Dido was my go-to music when I was cycling around Copenhagen. So those are the scenes that occur in my mind’s eye when those songs play. The smell of popcorn, the taste of whisky and the sight of the city on my commute at the time reappear. Music can make us travel in time just as well as any scent. One note and we’re taken back to that time, that place, that mood. You’re right back there, as if you never left. As they say, behind every favorite song there is an untold story.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: CREATE A MEMORY DISH. If you enjoy cooking, you may want to link certain tastes or even dishes to happy memories. This summer, my girlfriend and I created a “memory dish” after spending a wonderful day on the island of Bornholm, a day I wanted to remember. We had a slow breakfast with a side of crosswords and went swimming in the afternoon, alternating between the cool water of the Baltic Sea and warm rocks heated by the sun. Later, gin and tonics joined the party, which may explain why I forget what we had for dinner. But I remember that dessert was cherries eaten straight from the trees in the nearby forest. We watched the light from the sunset by the water and walked back towards my cabin, only to notice that a new light was hovering over the horizon over Gudhjem (literal meaning, “God’s home’), a charming small town on the eastern coast. The town has also given its name to the classic Danish smørrebrød Sol over Gudhjem (literal meaning, “sun over God’s home’). Be careful pronouncing it in Danish—it can lead to irritable vowel syndrome. The new light on the horizon was the moon rising. So, naturally, we called the new dish Moon over God’s Home. It consists of a poached egg on smoked shrimp (a speciality of Bornholm) on toast. When you cut the poached egg on the dark shrimps, you can see the moon rise—and remember a perfect summer’s day.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: THE MEMORY LANE WALKING TOUR. Visit places that can trigger memories of good times. So, we know that being at the place where a certain event happened will make you remember it better. We use our sense of sight to be reminded of a memory. Armed with that fact, it makes good sense—and good fun—to go on a literal walk down memory lane. Last summer, as I was researching this book, my girlfriend and I were visiting my dad, Wolf, and I had asked him to plan a “Tour de Wolf,” a walk around Aarhus, the second-biggest city in Denmark. My dad had lived there in the sixties, when he was working in advertising, and moved back there some years ago. “I want to see where you lived, where you worked and where you got drunk,” I said. That afternoon, we visited the places where he had worked. We walked his walk to work in the morning. We saw the Teater Bodega, where my dad and his colleagues would have dinner and a pint, the streets where the uniformed chauffeurs would wait outside the houses, shining the cars, and the chemist’s where my mother worked when my parents first met. I remembered her telling stories about hating the leeches, and that she had to call her boss Her Apotekeren (“Mr. Pharmacist’). I had heard many of the stories before, but seeing the places where they took place made them come even more to life. And now some of the stories and memories of my father are integrated into the shared memory of a lovely summer afternoon walking around Aarhus. So go for a stroll down memory lane. Either your own or the lane of somebody you love.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: DESCRIBE THE WHOLE SCENE. If you keep a diary, note down impressions from all your senses. When I make deposits in my memory bank, I make sure to deposit the good ones so that, in the future, I’m more likely to make withdrawals of happiness. All our senses can take us back to the past—to a time and a place where we were happy—and they can work as triggers to do just that. So remember to include impressions from all your senses if you are keeping a diary.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: PAY ATTENTION TO WHERE YOU PAY YOUR ATTENTION. An evening or weekend of digital detox may make things more memorable. In the Happy Memory Study we conducted at the Happiness Research Institute, several people mentioned experiences that had occurred when they were without power or an internet connection. One family experienced being without electricity one evening. They brought out candles and spent the evening telling their favorite family stories.

  • Being without our phones or without electricity can make us pay attention. With no phones and no TV, there are fewer sirens luring us in and grabbing our focus and we are more in control of where we place our attention. The Center for Humane Technology in the US has been pushing for realigning technology with humanity’s best interests, advocating technology that protects our minds and design that aligns more with how we want to live. Here are some of their suggestions of how to live more intentionally with your devices:
    • Turn off all notifications
    • Press. Me. Now. The red dots want your attention. Go to settings—remove all notifications.
    • Go greyscale
    • Uh, shiny, bright colors! In the settings, you can adjust the digital candy to look less appetizing.
    • Try keeping your home screen to tools only
    • Reserve your home screen for essential tools such as maps, camera and calendar. Move the attention grabbers off the first page or into folders.
    • Launch other apps by typing it in
    • Search intentionally for the app you want to open instead of having it stare suggestively at you on the home screen.
    • Send audio notes or call instead of texting
    • It is less stressful to say it than to type it. It is also a richer form of communication. The tone of your voice also gives valuable information.
  • As we shall see later, today we have great opportunities to outsource our memory to photographs. But, however convenient snapping pictures throughout our holidays might be, it may also mean that you are not paying attention. If you see something without attention, there is less of a chance that you will remember it.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: TREAT HAPPY MEMORIES AS YOU WOULD YOUR DATE. Pay attention! “The true art of memory,” wrote Samuel Johnson, the British writer who compiled the Dictionary of the English Language in the eighteenth century, “is the art of attention.” Imagine you are out on a first date with someone. You are not just seeing, you are observing. You notice the color of their eyes, the sound of their laugh—maybe even the scent of their perfume when you first said hello. You notice things like, when they get excited about a conversation, they use their hands a lot. You might even pick up on the subtle things like how their voice changes depending on the theme of the conversation, or how they slow dance in their chair if the food is especially good. In other words, gorillas might be dining at the next table but you are paying full attention to your date. This is good. Let the gorillas have their romantic time on their own—you want to remember your happy moment. So harvest the details when you are making memories—the happy memories. Remember the hippo in the director’s chair? You have to give it something to work with. So pay attention to the different elements that can go into the scene. What music is playing in the background? Or, if you were to describe the room in a novel, what would you write? Feed the hippo.

  • Many of us are familiar with the daily grind, with routine: wake up, eat breakfast, commute to work, work, commute home, eat dinner, watch Netflix, go to bed, repeat. It’s easy to lose track of those days. What people remember are the big days in their life: the milestones we pass, the moments where we experience a sense of meaning, a sense of connection with our loved ones, with the world and with life itself. In the Happy Memory Study, 37 percent of the memories we analyzed were meaningful, for example, “the day I got married,” “walking on the beach with my husband on a trip to celebrate our anniversary,” “the birth of my son,” “going to the beach with my grandfather on a Saturday morning,” “a thank-you letter from my daughter,” “having my son (adopted), our first trip, taking him home 200 kilometers on the highway on a snowy winter afternoon.” Our collection of happy memories is packed with life’s “big” moments. One of the most touching memories came from a woman in her forties who thought back more than a decade ago to her grandmother’s memorial service. She was walking hand in hand with her niece on a beach. It was one of those rare but gorgeous winter days. “There I was with my beloved tiny niece, who was the most precious person to me in the world, and I just felt so alive and grateful to have known my granny, and there we were, treading on, my niece and I, the next generations moving forth into the world.” These meaningful moments are also the ones held by the wealthiest 1 percent—the wealthiest of the wealthy—at least in Denmark. Last year, Michael Birkjær, one of my awesome colleagues, was invited to speak to the top earners in Denmark and conducted a small survey among them. Their happiest days were about connecting with people, about loved ones, about making sense of it all.

  • There is no doubt that some of our most meaningful and memorable moments are when we connect with other people. And it does not have to be the big days, the weddings and births. It can also be the connections we form on a daily basis. The tiny moments which may go unnoticed or seem insignificant to others can be those moments that never leave us, those moments when the small things in life turn out to be the big things in life.
    • “The moment my daughter looked up to me to say, “I’m so happy,” for the first time.”
    • “This morning, feeling my husband coming to bed and spooning me from behind, very tightly. Then our dog joining us and licking us both.”
    • “We were four friends playing in the streets in Bogotá, Colombia. Afterwards, when we were tired of playing, we shared one Coke and some bread.”
    • “My colleagues decorated my workspace because they knew I was having a hard time and it would cheer me up.”
  • These thousands of moments shape our common stories. These moments are the atoms of our relationships. The thing you notice when you read or listen to people’s happy memories is how often people play a part in them—many people: grandfathers, nephews, friends, daughters, parents, boyfriends, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, sons, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, husbands and wives. Our loved ones seem to be the ones we remember best and we search to hold happy memories of them. Happy memories of times spent with other people give us comfort. That is why, when we feel lonely, we are more prone to be nostalgic.

  • It could be skinny-dipping in a lake in Finland, playing in the snow in Scotland or hiking up Table Mountain in Cape Town. It could be watching the sun set or watching it rise, or watching the snow fall in the Alps. It could be trekking or surfing or running barefoot in the grass, or sitting on a pebbly beach or on top of Mount Kanchenjunga, watching the world down below. It could be a snowbike ride with our son in Newfoundland or standing on a quiet beach in Pembrokeshire with a friend. It could be horseback riding or dog walking or seeing a blue whale in the Arctic. In short, happy memories are what make life magical and meaningful.

  • Our happy memories are populated by our loved ones and we experience meaning when we connect with others and with the world, but we also experience it when we feel that we are reaching our potential or an important milestone or goal. Happy memories are moments when we became what we dreamed we could be.
    • “Succeeding in a very difficult exam.”
    • “Finishing my first marathon in October 2016.”
    • “My acceptance into university.”
    • “Hitting a perfect forehand in tennis last week.”
  • When you read people’s memories, you can sense their pride. When you read people’s memories, you can hear the echo of their triumphs. When you read people’s memories, you learn about their hopes and their dreams. The mountains they climbed, the marathons they ran, the letters of acceptance they opened and the big deals they closed—these are the memorable moments, the ones that were meaningful to us. They are the young Iraqi man who remembers being eleven and buying a toy with his own money. They are the woman who remembers finally receiving her university degree at the age of thirty-eight. They are the man who started his own company, put in a proposal for a big project with his heart in his mouth and won the project

  • They are the young person who remembers starting testosterone treatment when transitioning to become a man and a grandmother who finally fulfilled her life-long dream of having a motorcycle. These are the important moments that make up our life’s narrative. We remember the defining moments in our lives, the moments that made us who we are, the moments where we became who we hoped we could be. As a happiness researcher, I have observed that happiness is often found when three views align: who we feel we are, who we want to be and how others see us. When our loved ones see us and love us for who we really are, and when we manage to become who we know we can be, that is where we find happiness.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: MAKE AND CELEBRATE MORE MILESTONES. Bring out the notebook, then bring out the bottles. One of my favorite movies, besides Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. If you don’t know it, the movie is based on a novella by Truman Capote and tells the story of a romance between Holly Golightly, gold digger and diamond enthusiast (played by Audrey Hepburn), and Paul Varjak, struggling writer and paid boyfriend (played by George Peppard). One morning, Paul shares with Holly the news that he’s had a story published. She wants to celebrate and asks him to open a bottle of champagne before breakfast. Paul has never had champagne before breakfast before so Holly suggests that they should spend the day doing things they’ve never done before. (Well done, Miss Golightly—straight out of the Power of Firsts playbook.) Later that day, Holly and Paul go to the main branch of the New York Public Library, where Holly has never been, and Paul autographs a copy of his book, Nine Lives. The film is a classic. It is heartwarming. It has Audrey Hepburn in it. And throughout the movie the music of Henry Mancini flows—including the iconic “Moon River.” So what’s not to like? Ever since I first saw the movie I’ve wanted to pull a Paul Varjak, so it’s been a long-term goal for me to sign my own book at the New York Public Library. So, last year, I found my book there, on the corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, and signed it. Now when I watch the movie I’m taken back to that wonderful day in New York and to something that was a meaningful milestone for me.

  • Start planning which milestones you would like to celebrate. They may be big or small, for example walking ten thousand steps each day for a month or finishing renovating the kitchen or finding a new job. Make sure you also note down how you’re going to celebrate them. Will you go out for a nice dinner or allow yourself to stay at home the entire weekend watching your favorite films? Last year, I bought two bottles of bubbly for each employee at the Happiness Research Institute and asked them to write down which milestones they would have to pass in order to open them. So far, we have toasted weddings, finished reports and surpassing our archenemy think tank in terms of followers on social media

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: DO SOMETHING THAT SCARES YOU. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be the first step towards making more memories. As they move in a silent embrace across the floor, her eyes are closed. A subtle smile plays on her face as she rests her hand on his shoulder. Every woman on the floor seems to be wearing that same smile as the twenty couples circle around the empty spot in the middle where the nonexistent band is playing. The music of Carlos Gardel’s Por una cabeza is filtered through the sound of shoes sliding gently on the floor. I grew up in rural Denmark. Men went hunting and fishing—dancing, not so much. In addition, I am a terrible dancer. I genuinely believe that pointy fingers and overbite is a legitimate dance move. Despite all this, a girl I went to university with convinced me to take a tango class. I was completely out of my element. There are no fixed steps in tango. You make it up as you go along—walking in a silent embrace with no plan and no words. How do you communicate without words but with balance and pressure? I needed to stop thinking and start sensing. In my first lesson the instructor placed a tambourine between my chest and hers and put her mouth so close to my ear I could feel her breath. This was an exercise to teach us men to communicate the direction we were going in through our chest and not with our arms. “Press harder, otherwise the tambourine will fall,” the instructor said into my ear. “Harder. Yes, that’s it. Don’t stop. Don’t stop.” It was my first tango lesson—and sparked four years of tango lessons. So, consider what you could do outside your comfort zone and make memories for the future

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: TEN YEARS’ TIME TEST. When choosing what to do, take into account what you are most likely to remember in ten years’ time. For the past twenty years, I’ve gone sailing with one of my friends, Mikkel, and his dad, Arne. We’ve sailed around the Danish islands, into Swedish fjords and sunk a few Irish coffees on the way. We’ve done this for so many years it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the trips from each other. So this year we decided to do something different. We rented a sailboat in the Adriatic Sea and docked at towns such as Trogir, Milna and Hvar. Towns with narrow streets, towers and keeps, built with stones that glow when the sun sets; towns that could work as the set for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. This year, Deny, Arnes’s son-in-law, also joined us. His special pirate skill is knowing exactly when the crew is in need of an Aperol spritz. Approaching Hvar, we dropped anchor in a bay to have lunch and swim. A shoal of small blue fish congregated around the end of our boat. The water was crystal clear and, when we lowered the anchor, we could see it all the way to the bottom of the bay. If you look for it on the map (roughly 2 kilometers west of Hvar), the bay looks like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. So, naturally, we had to name it Jesus’s Bay. The next day, after visiting the castle of Hvar, Mikkel and Deny suggested that we rented a jet ski so that we could go back to Jesus’s Bay for the afternoon. Jet skiing had never appealed to me. I am no fan of speed or machines. I am more a difficult-crosswords-and-long-books kind of daredevil. Indeed, I had planned to spend the afternoon on the boat with a book. However, when I asked myself, “What are you more likely to remember in ten years?” the jet skis seemed to be the stronger contender. An hour later, we were racing back to Jesus’s Bay, gliding on top of the water, bouncing off every wave, circling the small, uninhabited islands we passed on our way. It was a memorable afternoon. “Each time I got close enough,” Mikkel said to me, “I saw a huge grin on your face.” It was indeed the most fun I had had in a long time. We spent the evening drinking rum, listening to Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones, and arguing good-naturedly over whose fault it was that I overturned and fell in the water. It was Mikkel’s. So, once in a while, when planning your day off, make sure you put the options through the Ten Years’ Time test. What will I remember in a decade?

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: EMBARRASSMENT SHTICK. Sharing embarrassing stories can make them lose their power. I still remember my first days at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Denmark vividly. The building is located by the waterfront in central Copenhagen and filled with iconic Danish design classics. I remember walking down the long carpet-clad hallway on the third floor to my office. I remember meeting Sune, one of my new colleagues, for the first time. This was the office for Africa. We chatted for a minute, and I remember his exact words as he said, “I’m sorry, but I think you might have stepped in something.” Indeed I had. A dog turd. A big one. One that seemed to have my shoe in a chokehold. I had smeared it on the carpets in the new office, and on the carpets in the long hall. One hundred meters of humiliation. If you are one of those people who is just walking along and suddenly remembers that embarrassing thing you did years ago, don’t worry, you are not alone. Embarrassment sticks. But you may want to turn it into a shtick. Your thing. Your go-to joke. I’ve found that my embarrassing moments lose some of their power if I take control of them and laugh at them. The story of my first day at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is on page one of the employee manual at the Happiness Research Institute. I want my new colleagues to know that, whatever mistake they might make in their first week, I’ve made worse. In addition, sometimes, when I do a presentation, I will start with the “Danish porn” story, just to let people know that English is not my first language and that if there is anything that is unclear, they should feel free to raise their hand and ask questions. Perhaps you could also consider how you can take some of your embarrassing moments and turn them into entertaining anecdotes—it could be a way of stripping them of their power.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: END ON A HIGH NOTE. Save the best for last. Across different studies, it has been demonstrated that our memory of an event is heavily influenced by the peak and the end. So, if you’re planning on giving several gifts for Christmas or a birthday, make sure you save the best one for last. Also, since remembered utility is an important influence on our future choices, if you want your kids to participate in something again, be sure to end on a high note.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: CONSIDER TAKING THE LONG ROUTE. Make the journey part of the experience. In an era of impatience and instant gratification, one way to make things more memorable is to delay your arrival. If you have spent five hours hiking to the peak, it makes the experience greater than if you took the fifteen-minute cable car up there. For some trips, it may also make sense to take a train instead of a plane. You will get there slower, but you may have a much more enjoyable journey. Trains—the tantra of travel.

  • The weekend effect is detected across the various studies. For many, it is the highlight of the week. People report high levels of happiness on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Some studies show a dip on the Sunday, as people realize the weekend is about to end. The reasons why people experience higher levels of happiness at the weekend include greater autonomy, more relaxation and more connection with others. During the week, there are more things that are beyond our control and we face constraints on our time, with meetings, managers and deadlines. We are forced to spend time with people we do not necessarily connect with. At the weekend, we can, to a greater extent, choose activities that bring us joy and spend time with the ones we love the most. Many of us, of course, have to work at weekends, and people who do not fit into the classic nine-to-five schedule would of course report different results. In conclusion, on average, people are happier during weekends. Thank you, big data, for that nugget of wisdom. However, taking Kahneman’s peak–end theory into account, this might work in our favor. If we end the week on a high note, we may look back on that week more fondly.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: COLLECT OBJECTS THAT ARE A MANIFESTATION OF YOUR STORIES. Make sure your things tell your stories. When I look around my home office, I see paintings, photographs and objects. One painting is of the farm where my grandfather grew up. There was only an outside toilet and, one afternoon, as my grandfather was in there doing his business, he heard Dr. Brenner’s car. Dr. Brenner was the first in the town to acquire a car so, at the roar of the engine, my grandfather knew it was him. Wanting to see the car, my grandfather climbed up to look through the window, but slipped and fell into the latrine. It may not be a great painting, but it does remind me that curiosity will land you in the shit from time to time. I also have a photograph taken between 1912 and 1919 of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado with the rest of the staff at the school where he taught in Baeza. As you may remember from my reminiscence bump, I spent three months in Baeza writing, and the picture was a gift from a teacher there and the editor of a magazine that published a short story of mine. On one of the shelves there is a camera which my grandfather gave to my dad in 1958. My dad was around ten; it was when Khrushchev became leader of the Soviet Union, President Eisenhower established NASA, and Elvis bought Graceland for $100,000. It has a wonderful metallic click when you press down the shutter and reminds me of the passage of time and how we may shape the legacy we leave behind. When I look around, I realize I have not furnished the room with paintings and objects, I have furnished it with stories. Manifestations of stories do not have to be expensive things. If your family has a redemption story about eating raw porridge on a freezing, windy beach, a simple rock from that beach might make your kids think about that fun, crazy experience that brought you closer as a family. But, of course, everything in moderation. No need to go full Andy Warhol on this.

  • One December just before Christmas, I was spending the weekend with some friends at an old cabin. The landscape was covered in snow, which brightened the shortest day of the year. When the sun set, at around four in the afternoon, we would not see it for seventeen hours, and we headed inside to get the fire going. We were all tired from hiking and, in a semicircle around the fireplace in the cabin, people were half asleep, wearing big sweaters and woollen socks. The only sounds you could hear were the stew boiling, the sparks from the fireplace and someone having a sip of their mulled wine. Then one of my friends broke the silence. “Could this be any more hygge?” he asked rhetorically. “Yes,” one of the girls said after a while. “If there was a storm raging outside.” We all nodded. Last year, I shared this story in St Petersburg and, afterwards, a member of the audience said that she could hear the fire crackling. Sometimes, we manage to bring stories to life. To make them so vivid that our listeners experience it with their own senses. We use some of our own personal experiences to do this. When you hear the hygge story, you know from your own personal experience what a crackling fire sounds like, how the smoke from dry wood smells, and how the flames dance between red, yellow and blue, you know how the fire feels, warming your front but leaving your back cold. So you take details from other experiences, from other sources, and add them to the story. The story is now more vivid, it has details about your personal experiences, so you can start to believe that it is your story—your memory. You feel you have witnessed it with your own eyes, but in fact you heard it from someone else and the hippo in the director’s chair just got creative. What great storytellers do is bring the stories to life. Stories well told become experiences, stories so vivid you feel you witness it with your own eyes. What we can learn from this is that we might be able to help our loved ones rebuild a memory that they have lost—and rebuild it in such a manner that they don’t know it is a replica.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: STAY AHEAD OF THE FORGETTING CURVE. Help your kids and loved ones hold on to happy memories by retelling happy anecdotes. Ebbinghaus made another discovery: we can alter the slope of the forgetting curve if we repeat the learned information at particular intervals. It is not just about repetition; there has to be space between the reviews. It will not work if you repeat and review something you want to remember twenty times in an hour. If the fact is already in the front of your mind, there is no work being done to enable you to recall it. You have to give your brain a workout. If the information is retrieved at intervals, then the brain has to reconstruct that memory, and this strengthens it, like you strengthen a muscle by using it. Today, the principle is known as “spaced repetition,” where the material we want to learn is reviewed and repeated after intervals of time that become larger and larger. I think all parents are interested in ensuring that their kids have lasting happy memories—and helping them staying ahead of the forgetting curve by retelling stories of happy experiences might be a tool for that. So when you want to hold on to happy memories and have your kids hold on to happy times, one way could be to talk about them that night, but also the next day, then a week later, a month later, three months later, a year later.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: RENAME PLACES WITH MEMORIES. Combine autobiographical and spatial memory. Spatial memory records information about our environment and spatial orientation and makes us able to navigate around a familiar city. It helps us remember where an object is located and has helped us survive as a species. Nuts are found here, fresh water there. These days it’s “The coffee’s there, and there’s the power socket for my phone.” But the principle is the same. Finding one’s way around is crucial in everyday life and you are likely to be better at it than remembering names at parties. You may be able to use your great spatial memory to your advantage to hold on to happy memories. The idea is simple: rename places. If a certain place was the scene of a happy memory, start referring to that place by the happy memory. Every summer, I go to the island of Bornholm, a beautiful rock island in the Baltic Sea. I have a tiny cabin there and the areas around the cabin have been the scene of many fond memories. Many of them have to do with foraging. There’s the Wild Cherry Forest, Juniper Lane, Elderflower Gorge, Raspberry Fortress, Spearfishing Bay and Skinny-dip Cove. Some of these places have official names. Raspberry Fortress is in fact called Lilleborg and consists of the ruins of a twelfth-century Viking keep, but that name would not remind me of a wonderful afternoon eating raspberries—or where to get raspberries the following summer.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: YOUR OWN PERSONAL GLIMPSES OF HAPPINESS. Consider having a private social media account as a memory bank. Your social media account can be great for a trip down memory lane. Your photos, videos and thoughts in chronological order—a mixed-media memoir of sorts. The trouble is, you might edit out anything that is not suitable for Instagram. The debate on curation versus authenticity is ongoing, as people often find that Instagram is one long feed of picture-perfect curated lives. Personally, I try to balance highlights with the everyday and ask people to note that “Photos posted on my Instagram and Facebook are highlights from my life and not my usual life. Most days are spent spilling coffee, installing software and looking for my keys.” In addition, there are a lot of things that mean a lot to me but are completely irrelevant to people I am connected with online. One solution could be to create a private account for whenever you want to take a stroll down memory lane—a museum for your memories of the everyday. You may find it quite liberating to snap and post photos that are for your eyes only. No need to worry about the right filter, lighting or caption. Instead of being the curator of how other people see you, try to be the curator of how your future self can look back. When your future self would like to take a walk down memory lane, what are the things they would like to see? It means taking pictures of your everyday life. Of everyday objects that might not seem memorable now but will be immensely fun to look at twenty, thirty or forty years from now. The background in some of the pictures from my childhood in the eighties and nineties yields curiosities like rotary-dial phones, enormous computers and deep-pan TVs.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: HAPPY WHIFF LISTS, SOUNDTRACKS, DATA POINTS. Get creative with outsourcing. Outsourcing your memory does not have to be done via photographs. If you have kids, you may also get them to draw a happy memory of something you experienced together. If they have a talent for music or rhymes, they may enjoy writing a song. Or do as my wonderful editor, Emily, does, and create a playlist on Spotify for each month. She has done this for the past few years and enjoys listening back to a random month. Since all our senses can trigger memories, you may want to go Warhol on the scent front and create a happy whiff list. Pair scents with happy memories. One woman I spoke to recently bought a special perfume for her wedding and wore it only on her wedding day. What I have also started to do is to record sounds from moments where I have been happy. I have recordings of the waves hitting the rocks on Bornholm, the wind in the leaves from a tree in former royal hunting grounds north of Copenhagen and the sound of the wind in the wires of sailboats in Split harbour in Croatia. Or you may want to take your lead and inspiration from Alejandro Cencerrado Rubio. He is one of my amazing colleagues at the Happiness Research Institute and works as a data analyst.

  • Alejandro loves big data sets and he is responsible for a lot of the exciting findings that come out of the Happiness Research Institute. In fact, when it comes to finding happiness, I think we are all searching for the same things: we all want to find somebody who looks at us the way Alejandro looks at data. In addition, for more than thirteen years Alejandro has been collecting his own happiness data. Every day, he records a happiness score from 1 to 10. Has this day been a good day? What have I been doing? How happy have I felt? Would I like to repeat this day another day? Here’s his entry from 25 February 2017, a Saturday: Today I’m in one of those days that give meaning to life. I’ve come from being with Mamen, our first date, and I know she’s the girl I’ll be with for a long time. I know it by the way she laughed, by how she looked at me, by how the conversation flowed. I am at home with the rain bumping into the glass, in the loneliness that has been chasing me for so many years, and to think that out there is someone who can get me out of this loneliness makes me feel something special, as if the lonely Alex who has lived here up to now is something from the past. The scenes that remain in my memory, with the candlelight reflecting in her eyes, looking at me, totally focused on them. I couldn’t tell if I spoke loudly or lazily, if someone looked at us, because I only had my mind on the conversation, not believing a girl like that could like me at all, but knowing that her gestures were obvious; what a pity not to be able to transmit emotions like those of today with a few words, but how real and genuine it is, that only a few times in life you can experience something like this, the casual union of two people who understand each other and like each other without doubt. I don’t know how to name what I am feeling, I think I’ll call it illusion, it’s not happiness, because I still don’t know if she likes me, if I’m someone for her, but it’s a promise of happiness, a promise to stop being alone, of not having to look for more. As a detail, it surprises me that photos of landscapes that I don’t usually find very striking, today I look at them with a special sense. I imagine myself there with Mamen, embraced, united, fused, loving. Thunder seems to me to have so much beauty, it is impressive the sense that a single date with a girl that I like and pay attention to gives life. That day was a 6. By the way, Mamen did like Alejandro. They are getting married this year. Combining the data for each day with a description of each day enables him to understand what happens on his happy days. What Alejandro finds is that the best days are about connection—connecting with our loved ones. They’re about friends, family and romantic love. About feeling special. I think one of the coolest things about Alejandro’s data set is that he enables the experiencing self to be heard in the present. How we remember something is one thing, but another thing is how we actually experienced it. For instance, Alejandro might think back to his trip to Indonesia and remember the sandy beaches, but if he goes back and examines the data for those dates, he finds that his experiencing self was troubled by the heat and the mosquitos. If you understand Spanish, you can follow Alejandro’s blog at 11anhosymedio.blogspot.com You may also take inspiration from Alejandro and consider alternative ways of making a diary. It doesn’t have to be data—I’ve seen someone who has recorded a second each day for the past years to create a beautiful video montage.

  • HAPPY MEMORY TIP: USE MEMO SNAPS. Create and use acronyms to help you remember. Singing and rhymes help children to learn the alphabet—and we can add acronyms as mnemonic tools for learning. For instance, to remember the North American Great Lakes of Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Eerie and Superior, the acronym HOMES may be useful. Or, if you want to memorize the names and order of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, you could use a phrase like “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos” or, if you don’t want to leave Pluto out in the planetary cold, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” You can also harness the power of acronyms and use memo snaps when thinking about how to create memories and hold on to them. Memo snaps. Multisensory, Emotional, Meaningful, Outsource, Stories, Novel, Attention, Peak and Struggles—or you can also go with an anagram like Aspen moms, Omen spasm or Mensa poms. Whatever rocks your boat.

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