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”?


Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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10 Responses

  1. I rather doubt the existance of another life, so I try to make the most of this one. My devout cousin lives a life of constant conflict with everyone who doesn’t fall in line with her orders. While listing all her sisters’ offences to me one day, this cousin asked, “Do you think we can live together in happiness in the Celestial Kingdom when there is so much hatred in this life?” I hope she thinks about that and makes some happy memories with her family before it’s too late.

  2. Amy says:

    Interesting article. I like it and think it makes a lot of sense. I think what it’s suggesting and what is true, is that true happiness is somewhere in between. It’s that balance of having the perspective of knowing what is worth waiting and sacrificing for and what is important to enjoy now. In addition to “enduring to the end”, we also hear, “Men are that they might have joy”. So, I do need to save my money to make sure that I can be provided for in the future, but I can’t save every penny of it, because I can’t take it with me when I die, right? It’s balance and I find that most of the time, neither extreme is completely right. So, knowing that, the trick is finding the balance that is right for you and your eternal self.
    About remembering everything I’ve ever done, unfortunately, I have to say for myself, I certainly hope I don’t have to remember everything I’ve done. Not that I’ve done terrible, horrible things, but I have done stupid and insensitive things and I hope I don’t have to relive those. But, maybe the remembering of those is only in what we have learned from those things. What do you think?

  3. Caroline says:

    Thanks for this Corktree,
    I tend to focus on end goal type stuff, but that usually doesn’t live up to expectation, so I’m probably better off living in the moment. I need to do a better job of taking joy in my daily interactions with people I care about.

    This post reminds me of what Claudia Bushman always talks about, “Write, get your stories down. You shape the narrative. Don’t let anyone shape it for you!” I need to do better with that – my memories will be so much richer if I actually take the time to write them down.

    • Corktree says:

      I love that thought too Caroline. I do think we all need to retain authorship of our narratives.

      I’ve also been thinking about how I see myself and how I present myself to others, and how that affects how they see me and my story. In some ways, I’m almost eager to see myself and my life from God’s perspective. I’d like to know how well I communicated my views and intentions through my actions. And I’m curious to see how memories change over time, and how that affects my sense of self.

  4. Jessawhy says:

    Great post.
    I’m not very good at living in the moment, but I’m good at reshaping my memories to be almost all rosy!

    Perhaps that’s the best of both worlds 🙂

  5. Moniker Challenged says:

    Brilliant discussion topic, Corktree. At the moment I don’t have time to discuss, but I’m certainly thinking about it–thanks!

  6. Rita says:

    Thought provoking – thank you!

    We often note with amusement that a member of our extended family almost always has a different or enhanced version of old family stories.

    I also note that when I think back on my earlier self – it’s almost as if I’m picturing a totally different person to my present self. I guess that’s something to do with evolving? I’m trying more and more to live authentically but still find that other peoples perceptions of me differ from what I think of myself to be. For example – many years ago I was stunned when several people commented that I had a certain personality trait and I didn’t see that AT ALL though I’ve come to realize that I probably come across that way. Hmmmm!

  7. EmilyCC says:

    Oh, wouldn’t this make a great Sunday School lesson with a tie in of the Mary/Martha paradigm? What a find, Corktree!

    My husband and sister-in-law strong-armed me into a trip to Europe last year. I left my kids for 12 days and had a wonderful time. I can see how the current self on that trip fuels my remembering self now and helps me to see why I should work on living more in the moment.

  8. Matt says:

    I think a balanced experience is alway the happiest, and by that I don’t mean a drab, “waiting for teh awesome of the CK and just enduring ’til the end” kind of balance. I mean a virtual bi-polar extreme swings kind of balance. In church circles it come to be known by the term “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

    Great thoughts, Corktree. Thank you.

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