The Value of Remembering Ordinary Moments

Posted on February 4, 2015

"They(people) choose to forgo opportunities to document experiences in the present," Zhang writes, "only to find themselves wanting to retrieve those records in the future." - Photo: flickr

Quotidian life seems too banal to document. Why write down routine conversations, ones we’ve had a million times and will have a million times more? Isn't it more important to remember extraordinary moments: first steps, graduations, jobs, awards, marriage, retirement, vacations?

Yet people seldom realize how fondly they will look back on days spent mundanely: a day spent reading in the bay window, a picnic in the park with friends. These things may not stick out while they are happening, but revisiting them can be a great pleasure. "Who would call a day spent reading a good day?" writes Annie Dillard. "But a life spent reading - that is a good life."

Ting Zhang is on the eve of getting her doctorate at Harvard Business School, where her focus is the psychology of rediscovery. Most recently, she was the lead author of a four-part study published in Psychological Science. In it, she took 135 university undergraduates from the northeastern United States and had them create time capsules. In these capsules, the students wrote about a range of current experiences: their most recent conversation, their most recent social outing, how they met their roommate, three songs they had just listened to, an inside joke, a photo they had recently taken, a recent Facebook status they had posted, a sentence they wrote for a school essay, and a question they responded to on a final exam.

They then rated how curious and interested they thought they would be about seeing this time capsule in the future.

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Source material from The Atlantic