|Can Thinking About the Past Lead to Greater Satisfaction with Life?
We may often find ourselves thinking about the past. Reconnecting with
the past may partly reflect a wish to re-experience the thoughts and feelings
we once had. The refreshing of old memories may help to alleviate the
feeling of disconnectedness with the past. Reconnecting with the past may
also help us see how the past and present are related. As a result, our lives
may seem less fragmented. (1)
In Haight's (1988) study, each elderly participant was randomly assigned
to one of three conditions. In the friendly-visit condition, the participants
had six one-hour visits (one each week). They discussed topics. Some of
the things that were discussed included the weather and TV shows. In the
life-review condition, the participants had six one-hour visits. They talked
about their past. The interviewers had a form with questions. Some of the
questions on this form included describing the hardest thing they had to face
in their lives and the pleasant things about their adolescence. The
no-treatment group completed only the pretest and posttest questionnaires.
Haight found that the life-review group was higher in posttest life satisfaction
than the friendly-visit group. Haight also found that the life-review group
was higher in posttest life satisfaction than the no-treatment group. (2)
Thinking of the past may partly foster greater life satisfaction because it
makes one's life seem more coherent. Greater perceived coherence in life
may foster greater perceived meaning in life. However, thinking of negative
events in the past might not increase life satisfaction if there is a feeling of
1. Ideas about reconnecting with the past are included in my book, Finding
Meaning (3rd ed.).
2. See Haight's article for other findings.
Bell, B. (2007). Finding meaning, (3rd ed.). Portland, OR: Blue
Haight, B. K. (1988). The therapeutic role of a structured life review
process in homebound elderly subjects. Journal of Gerontology:
Psychological Sciences, 43, 40-44.