“It’s great to reminisce about good memories of my past. It was enjoyable when it was today. So learning to enjoy today has two benefits: it gives me happiness right now, and it becomes a good memory later.”  George Foreman

What will you be remembered for?  When someone mentions your name what will be the first thing on their mind?  When they here a certain song or smell, will they think of you?  When your child thinks of family dinners around the table, what will they recall?

By now we know that our experiences in the world are based on information received through a combination of our senses.  Sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell all impact the memory stored in our brains.

Some memories are as vivid as if they happened a few moments ago, yet others are fleeting wisps of recollection.  While we go about raising our children, they are storing memories that will last them a lifetime.  But what affects the strength and duration of memories?

Earlier today, I was driving home after dropping my children at school and listening to the morning show on the radio. The presenter was speaking about music bands from Ireland.  He mentioned a really old band that his gran loved and played a song from the duo.  I was immediately transported back to my preschool days. I could suddenly see my gran smiling at me and I longed to see her again.  Memories are so powerful. 

An emotion or thought can be triggered by something simple like a melody or a smell.  Memories can transport us back into a time long gone.  Be it a nostalgic thought, a happy and sad memory, our lives were shaped by our experiences.

In an interesting article by the Queensland Brain Institute, the writer explains that different types of memories are stored across different, interconnected brain regions. Memories that relate to events happening to us, as well as general facts and information are found in the hippocampus part of our brain.  These are autobiographical memories like the playdate our children had last week or the walk we took on the beach recently.  And, they are stored here temporarily.

Our memories from hippocampus region will be transferred to the neocortex, most likely when we sleep, and they then become our general knowledge.  The neocortex is also involved in sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning and language.

Our third part that I will explore briefly in this article is the amygdala.  This part will attach emotional significance to our memories. It is of special importance because strong emotional memories (such as those associated with joy, love, hope, shame, or grief) are difficult to forget.  Our emotions are a vital part of who we are.  The amygdala boosts memory encoding by enhancing attention and perception.

I have also seen how emotional events impact my children.  The day we moved to a new city (9 hours drive away), both my children cried.  Just the other night, we were watching videos and laughing at the memories from when we lived in Port Elizabeth.  The emotions those videos evoked in my children 4 years later, were as real to them as the day we moved. Even though they are happy here in Cape Town, they still miss their early childhood home.

A memory definitely becomes more robust if it has a strong emotional substance. This got me thinking…what memories am I creating for my children?  When I’m long gone, will they remember me when they smell cookie dough or curry on the stove.  Will they smile and think of me dancing around the kitchen to “Love Shack by the B52’s”?  

“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future” . Corrie ten Boom


Notes:  The scientific information about the brain came from the following website

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