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Will 2020 end up as one of the Good Old Days?

The end of each year is a reflection period for many. What were the good and bad times we have experienced in the last 12 months? How did it compare to previous years? What does the year ahead have in store for us and our families? Many of us will find ourselves longing for the Good Old Days. But how do we define the better times?

A recent study asked adults if life was better or worse in their countries today compared to 50 years ago. The answers; 31% of Britons, 41% of Americans, and 46% of French stated it’s worse. Psychologists have stated this is a natural response. We anchor our identity in the past, providing us a sense of stability and predictability.

But how do we each define the Good Old Days? A U.S. poll found those born in the 1930’s and 1940’s thought the best days were in the 1950’s. Those born in the 1960’s and 1970’s believed the 1980’s qualified the Good Old Days. The common thread researchers found was our brains encode more memories during adolescence. When we think about the past, we reference the era with the most memories. But are these memories accurate?

Our brains store memories using a method called consolidation, a process of transferring an experience into long-term storage. When you access that memory, you bring it back into what is called a transitional state. As you move back into consolidation of the memory (storing it in your brain again), you will include other tidbits about the state you were in when you recalled it. If you were happy, sad, or frustrated that could alter the memory as you store it again.

There is also a process of reconsolidation that occurs when you attach a new experience to an old memory. Maybe you recently went downhill skiing with your family on a sunny day on Mount Ripley, and compared with a ski trip to Vale in Colorado. Now your memory may change, maybe the Vale ski runs become longer and snow conditions become better at Ripley in comparison.

Scientists have found that memories we recall most frequently are the least accurate. This is due to the processes of consolidation and reconsolidation where in the process of storing these memories, we change them. Scientists surveyed students returning from vacation and asked them to list what they enjoyed the most and least. The first week back, the lists were identical in length. When surveyed 4 weeks later, the list of things they enjoyed the most was double of what they enjoyed the least. Over time our memories overall turn more positive.

We have all experienced some challenging circumstances in 2020. I have heard many say this will be very memorable year, many state for negative memories, that will last a lifetime. If neurologists research is correct, our memoires of 2020 will become less burdensome as years go by. Now will they become The Good Old Days? Maybe for those born between the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, but only time will tell. One thing for sure, it’s time for all of us to create some new memories in 2021 to attach and enhance memories created in 2020. Happy New Year!

Dr. Steve Patchin is Superintendent of Hancock Public Schools. Programs he has contributed to creating include Mind Trekkers and CareerFEST, helping students explore their talents and associated careers in STEM. His research has focused on increasing development of self-efficacy in individual students.

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