For years, I’ve been conscientiously maintaining our photo albums. I use them as a kind of family diary, to capture little family jokes or funny incidences as well as the usual round of birthday party, Christmas morning, and vacation scenes.
I performed this task with a fair amount of grumbling—no one cared, no one helped, no one appreciated what a big job it was, no one ever cooperated when I wanted to take pictures, the Big Man wouldn’t even help write captions, blah, blah.
As part of the Happiness Project, however, I’ve admonished myself to do such tasks (sending out our annual Valentine’s cards, buying baby gifts for friends, paying bills) without expecting appreciation. I should do them for myself. This sounds like a selfish approach, but in fact, it’s less selfish, because it means I don’t wait for praise or recognition.
Nevertheless, the whole elaborate photo album process had begun to seem a bit futile, as the fat albums sat neglected on the shelves.
But at last all that hard work is paying off. For the last several days, the Big Girl and even the Little Girl have been poring over the albums, going through each one several times (the Little Girl has been wreaking some damage, but nothing that can’t be fixed). The Big Girl loves to see pictures of herself as young as the Little Girl, and to see herself wearing the adorable outfits that the Little Girl is wearing now. The Little Girl shrieks with excitement each time she spots a familiar face.
Advice often given to a parent—and it’s just as useful for a spouse—is to be a storehouse for happy memories for the family.
Research has shown that depressed people have as many nice experiences as other people, but they don’t remember them as well. And even for people who aren’t depressed, thinking back on happy times elevates mood.
Observing and preserving memories is one of the most satisfying ways of bringing order to life. Both the process of preparing the albums (though I did complain) and looking back at them were deeply gratifying.
Looking back at photographs is always fun; it’s fascinating to see the appearances of children (and myself! the Big Man always looks the same) change over time.
Also, it scares me to realize just how little of my own past I remember.
Looking at the photographs helps keep my memories more active, as I recall the little details that seemed unforgettable, but fade so quickly: how the Big Man used to make rice pudding all the time, and how he used to swim for exercise; how tiny the Big Girl was when she was born (four pounds, four ounces) and how she used to love to see people pretend to cry; and how the Little Girl loves to show off her belly button, and how she looked before any of her teeth grew in.
How wistful I was when I no longer had my sweet toothless baby! It makes me happy that, at least, I still have the photos.