Do we remember bad times better than good?

By: Colleen Cancio

Mastering your memories

Traumatic memories such those of war, can recede with conscious effort and therapy.
Traumatic memories such those of war, can recede with conscious effort and therapy.

Some people seem to have an uncanny ability to downplay negative experiences in their lives and magnify the positive ones. We all have that friend who, when life offers lemons, manages to make lemonade. Are these individuals also remembering the good times more than the bad? If so, is this skill a matter of mind over memory? Or is it that some people are hard-wired with a more pessimistic perspective? According to Clausen, the ability to minimize the negative impact of memories takes a learned and conscious effort. This can happen with the help of a skilled clinician.

There are also self-directed techniques for overcoming the stress associated with bad memories, including the use of relaxation techniques and positive mental imagery [source: Palo Alto Medical Foundation]. For instance, when a bad memory pops up, write down what triggered it -- was it a place, smell or sight? Once you know what it is, remind yourself that the worst is over and you have survived, and use deep breathing techniques to get through it [source: University of Alberta]. Over time, the triggers should affect you less intensely.


Now that we know about the close relationship between memory and emotion, it's possible that with a little effort we all may be able strengthen the memories of our good times simply by making a point of reminiscing about them or by focusing on those experiences when they occur. After all, we're not going to remember things -- good or bad -- if we don't bother paying attention to them the first place.

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  • Palo Alto Medical Foundation. "How to Cope with Bad Memories and Traumatic Triggers." (Accessed Sept. 28, 2011)
  • Science Daily. "We Remember Bad Times Better Than Good." Aug 28, 2007. (Accessed Sept. 22, 2011)
  • University of Alberta. "Triggers and Flashbacks." (Sept. 28, 2011)
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "PTSD Symptoms: VA Black Hills Health Care System." (Accessed Sept. 28, 2011)