Old experiences treated as new, different ones

A VHS tape

I wrote an article these days about how new experiences have a thrilling effect in us. They certainly cause us to feel weird, and when the outcome turns out to be good, we not only feel good, but really good. So, yes, that’s more or less the thing with new experiences. Now, old experiences also have some effect on us, and that’s the aim of this article.

When I mentioned new experiences I meant any experience we’re not accustomed to. Since almost any experience will be different to any other, I name them new, different experiences. But when it comes to old experiences I specifically mean anything we experienced years ago, but don’t, anymore. Anything that made us feel good and never had a negative effect can make us feel good again. But why?

The mere recall of a good experience makes us feel good, in some degree. Remembering the tasty diner we had yesterday makes us happy, because we feel the food again. On the other hand, it sometimes makes us hungry, because we feel again the need for such a great diner. Not because we don’t have an equally great diner in front of us (we may or may not, it’s irrelevant), but because we remember that precise diner, and we want to relive that moment.

That drives me to think that “how good was the diner” cannot be measured (and that applies for any experience). Somehow we classify experiences in a way that is not a linear way.

That’s nothing new, as we can’t really say a comedy film is better than an action one by simply comparing both. Same goes for experiences. For some reason we can’t rate experiences in a scale of one to anything. We use a more advanced system for that matter.

Once we experience some event, we automatically rate such experience, and keep some space in memory for it. New experiences feel great in most cases for several reasons, including the fact that there’s no memory of them, so it’s like “new knowledge” to our system. And yes, we like new knowledge (Not as much as just wanting it, though). Now “old experiences” have some space in memory. A tiny space created time ago.

Imagine those memory spaces as lines of glass boxes. With time, boxes not used keep getting stained and somehow they stay in the bottom, as new boxes are put on top. Now, remembering some event, some experience, means to clean the glass a little and see inside (as stained we couldn’t have seen a thing). To relive the experience is to open the box, take the contents, “use them” and finally create a new box to keep the old and new experiences. In short, we like to create those boxes.

So, in a way, to relive old experiences, at least old-enough experiences, is almost like living a new experience, in matters of good feelings. The difference, I think, between a deciding between a new experience and a good old one to relive, is that you don’t really know if the new one will be good enough to make you feel good. You do know, on the other hand, watching that old film you loved 10 years ago will ring you good feelings, and memories of a great experience. We can’t rely on only reliving the past, though.

Photo by Mark Sardella.

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