Tag Archives: memory

Telling stories to the remembering self

I’ve been thinking about Kahneman’s remembering self, and how that part of the self needs memories woven into meaningful stories. Joseph Campbell’s monomyth structure offers a structure for telling stories to the remembering self. No matter how bad a particular experience is, you can probably make it into a story of struggle and growth, of confronting temptations and trials, of finding support where you thought you had none, of being in the wilderness then finally finding yourself again.

Here is Joseph Campbell on the temptations that a hero (or heroine) faces:

The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else.

I do find it difficult that the actual experience of life is often so different than how it seems it should be. Telling stories about the bad experiences makes them make sense, turns the difficulty into something desirable, something that leads to learning and growth rather than something to be avoided or denied.

Kahneman on the experiencing self vs. the remembering self

In this TED video, Psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses three problems with current discussions of happiness:

1. The concept of happiness is more complex than we assume.

2. We confuse the experiencing self and the remembering self.

3. The focusing illusion makes us distort the importance of any circumstance that influences happiness.


The two selves

The experiencing self lives in the moment. She doesn’t care about money, so long as she has a baseline amount (which seems to be about $60,000 a year in income). She is happiest when she spends time with people she cares about and pursues goals.

The remembering self keeps the story of our lives. She cares about changes, significant moments, and endings. A rotten ending can destroy the memory of a whole experience, even if it was otherwise okay. The remembering self does care about how much money she has — the more, the better.