If you’ve watched How I Met Your Mother, you might be familiar with the countless theories that Barney conjures up. There’s an episode in particular that caught my attention, one that noted a theory of “Graduation Goggles.” If you haven’t seen the show, Marshall, a lawyer is wanting to quit his dreadful job at a corporate law firm. It’s been bringing him down for quite some time, but as soon as he decides he wants to quit, suddenly, he visualizes a reel of positive memories, ones that are quite distorted from what he experienced.
Graduation Goggles, therefore, is when you are harboring negative feelings towards something, but when it is time for it to come to an end, suddenly, you don’t find it so bad anymore. Your memory nearly gets distorted and all you can do is reminisce on what will no longer be.
I’ve spoken a bit about writers and our tendency to romanticize tragedies, but the darkness of the situation remains intact within those memories. Distorted memories, though similar, are often illusions of what was real and true. As I pack up four years of my life in Vancouver into two suitcases, the nostalgia is hitting fairly hard.
Suddenly, all I can think of is the beauty of this place. Gone are the memories of pain, heartache, struggle, depression. Forgetting how living here has felt like one tragedy after another, the beauty remains. But is that so bad? Is it so bad to want to reminisce on the beauty of a place even though the lessons it had to teach you were hard?
The concept of memory distortion in psychology dates back over a hundred years. It is widely known (now) that human memory is not an exact reproduction of our past experiences. Daniel L. Schacter, Scott A. Guerin, and Peggy L. St. Jacques discuss in their findings, the consequences that this can have in our everyday lives. In instances where memory is heavily relied upon such as eyewitness testimonies, errors can contribute to the conviction of innocent people. My guess is that when applied to toxic relationships, distorted memories can also come into play as we continuously revisit the good memories while casting illusions on anything that disrupts them.
But can this “cognitive error” actually serve us as well?
“Verbatim memory is when we can vividly remember something in detail, whereas gist memories are fuzzy representations of a past event. As we age, we rely more on gist and less on verbatim.” What’s concluded from this article, as well as what is suggested by a host of researchers, is that as an individual gets older, they become much more of a “meaning maker.” So it isn’t that our memory necessarily gets worse as we age, but our brains are actually wired to become more biased at finding meaning at a faster and faster rate.
To be frank, if I recalled events in detail, exactly as they occurred, I likely wouldn’t be able to overcome some of the trauma of my own childhood and adolescence. The distortion and the blank spaces personally benefit me in continuing on my life. It’s allowed me to create my own meaning of the experiences I’ve had, and though they are biased, they also continue to help me move forward.
So what if I look back at my time here in Vancouver with nostalgia rather than feelings of pain and betrayal? Is that so harmful to me? To coat this period of my life as one where lessons were learned but also joy was had, I think is a good way to digest it and move forward.