The John Griff column: When a token from the past can be a ticket to joy in the present

How good is your sense of recollection? When you remember things, how easy is it for you to dredge up the ancient past – or, for that matter, a much more recent one? Are we all getting slightly less good at recalling those things which should perhaps stay fresh in our minds? And if so, why is that?
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

The last couple of years have seen, for me at least, perhaps the greatest degree of change that I have ever experienced - certainly the greatest degree that I can recall. The same might be true of others when adding in the effects of the pandemic not only on the population but the global economy too. Personally, I’ve experienced changes in my work, my home, my family and my health. I’ve found myself using the phrase ‘spinning a lot of plates’ recently – and in truth it has felt that way. My use of the phrase was in the context of change management and the processes needed to manage that degree of change – but managing any kind of fundamental change brings a sense of unfamiliarity with it, and too much change can be destabilising – very destabilising. Some people, of course, have a very positive outlook towards change, welcoming it at every turn. That’s fine – but does change for the sake of change achieve anything? I have a friend who appears to change jobs as a senior manager at least once every 18 months or so. He seems to thrive on his apparent lack of foundation personally, but I sometimes have to question whether he’s actually achieving anything for the businesses that he works for – or for himself - beyond seemingly taking the money and running. Maybe he’s aiming to keep one step ahead of something he might have committed his employers to before his past catches up with him - or maybe he actually sees himself as more of a consultant, rather than a long-term stayer. Either way, good luck to him.

Change brings experiences with it – experiences, in turn, make memories. If you’ve seen lots of changes, what happens to the memories that go with them? Do they all stay sharp with you, or do you find or even create triggers in order to help keep those memories undiminished over time? As I get older (and as I’ve been finding out with a recent change of address), I think I’m changing a policy of keeping small artifacts which prompt memories that in turn give me pleasant recollections, to something where the keeping of those artifacts is now quite an important part of the recollection process for me. Why should that be, and if it sounds familiar to you, how many of us do similar things? Should more of us do so in an increasingly loud and short attention span, turbulent world? Is it becoming a higher priority part of the human condition for us to be able to choose to look back while being constantly pestered to look forward?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Clearing out my house recently became a much harder task to complete. A lot of my belongings simply couldn’t go into my new surroundings, so they had to either go into storage, or go altogether. That really challenged me and the closer to the end of the process I got, the harder it became to decide what to do with what might otherwise have appeared to be a piece of a junk, but which for me unlocked the memories of occasions and people from my past. Throwing out that ‘junk’ equated to throwing out part of my history – and part of me with it too. I got the job done in time for completion of the house sale – but the sea container I’ve hired for the foreseeable future hasn’t now got much space left in it!

Small tokens of previous personal activities can make a huge difference to personal wellbeingSmall tokens of previous personal activities can make a huge difference to personal wellbeing
Small tokens of previous personal activities can make a huge difference to personal wellbeing

Over a process of years, I’ve gone from my brain being constantly stimulated by meeting or talking to a huge number of people either face to face or unseen at the far end of a microphone lead, to a world where those interactions are far less frequent. Some of those people were, of themselves, memorable, but not necessarily because they were in the public eye. Some of those people in the public eye were, I assure you, completely unmemorable as individuals once stripped of their public associations. I have a mantra – it is this: ‘Everyone has a story that someone would like to hear.’ I have yet to see this mantra fail and don’t think it ever will. Using a small item to trigger clear recollections of the people I have met in the past – or places I have visited – is becoming increasingly significant to me. And the word ‘clear’ is significant in its own right. That’s because those items bring not only the memories flooding back, but a sense of wellbeing – or of reassurance – too. In todays’ world it is perhaps easy to say that there is less pleasure to be had. I disagree with that, but I do know that from the wealth of experiences that I’ve been fortunate enough to have, small, tangible tokens of those experiences really help to bring things back into focus.

Take the picture this week. The pinecone and small, sea-smoothed pebble you see both fell out of a pocket in my travel bag on Friday last week as I was packing to spend a night in London. Instantly I was transported back to August of last year when Lois’ and I spent a week in Dubrovnik – a new destination for both of us. The pinecone came from a small forest we walked up into to get a better view of the coastline – I found the pebble on the shoreline as we relaxed by the sea. Both are souvenirs which returned specific memories to the front of my mind, and with them moments of pleasure which might have otherwise faded as, I’m sure, much does over time. I’m glad they resurfaced, to make me stop and consider a happy period.

Of course, the temptation is to put this all down to age, taking the foot off the gas and maybe even a creeping, uncomfortable acceptance that memories do indeed fade with time. But perhaps with the strategies which many care professionals are now successfully using routinely to support the elderly in later life, more of us should be using them earlier in life too. One person’s junk might indeed be another person’s treasure – but it could also be the route to an appreciation of their wellbeing.

Related topics: