Our selves: remembering and current
A month or so ago I read a fascinating article that basically explores whether it is our ability to live in the moment or to live in our memories that creates happiness. The article is here, and it’s well worth reading, but I’ll paraphrase a bit. The idea is based on understanding that we are not really one “self” but that we are made up of two selves, one flowing into the other. Our current self is feeding the remembering self as moments pass from experience into memory, and the remembering self is driving the current self as we structure and live our lives in pursuit of new memories worth holding onto.
The article goes on to point out that our sense of self is truly just that, a sense, and that “The person you imagine yourself is really just a narrative, a story. You tell this story to yourself and to others differently depending on the situation, and the story changes over time.” But what is really worth considering, is how we determine whether we are happy based on these stories. The author claims that it is only by satisfying both our current and remembering self that we find happiness that is not an illusion. If we lived our lives working to have enough money to create memories, as our remembering self would have us do, but we don’t spend enough time on those memorable experiences in proportion to our daily work, then are we sacrificing too much to get where we are going? One would think that “living in the moment” is the solution to finding happiness in our daily lives. But consider that as we look back over our story, we do not remember each daily experience as an individual memory, or even in enough detail to make it worth retaining in long term storage. The balance, then, is in creating memories on a regular basis that are enough outside of our normal experience, that we remember them in detail and as reconstructable as possible.
The article sums it up well,
“If you live for the moment, for pure gratification, the moment is all you will ever have. You won’t be able to sit in a rocking chair and tell stories.
But, at the same time, if you think happiness comes at the end of a process, as some achievement or status or possession, you will be miserable both before and after the pursuit.”
And as I read this, I thought, hmm, how does this apply to a belief in life after death? Do we live our lives with the end in mind, or as though the journey itself was the goal? In evaluating my own choices, my mind quickly scanned my own “story” and I was surprised to find that my travels and unique experiences and my memories of family were the main players, while the negative counterparts were relegated to a supporting role. They were there, but they were hard to put on stage.
We hear repeatedly the phrase, “endure to the end”, and we assume that a life of trials will be rewarded with joy in the eternities. But what if we cannot find happiness without a life of memories worth remembering? I don’t think the memories themselves have to be “happy”, but does a life of suffering lend itself to true joy when this life no longer applies? Where does joy come from? It is commonly stated that the only things we take with us from this life are our relationships and the knowledge we acquire. But what of our memories? What will we really remember as the credits roll, and how much of it matters anyway?
What do you think? Do you identify with these two selves? Which self do your daily choices satisfy? Do you live in the moment, or do you live for your vacations? What is happiness to you? Is it dependent more on your beliefs about yourself, or on the actions that make up your life?
And if we really do get to watch a giant re-run in the sky of our lives, do you think we will remember EVERYthing we’ve ever done? How would this affect our eternal “self”?