How does our memory affect our choices? - Chapter 36

When people are about to die, their loved ones rush to them for one last moment, before death sets in. Why do we care so much about that final moment? Why is it so important that a movie ends with people arriving in time, while the length of the life was not taken in consideration? It hardly matters learning that they actually had several days together instead of 5 minutes, but someone being too late would be a big deal to you. Stories are about memorable moments and important events, not about the passing of time. In a story, duration neglect is normal and the ends often defines whether it’s a good or bad story.

Caring for someone usually means being concerned for the quality of his/her story, not for his/her feelings. We also deeply care for the narrative of our own life story.

Psychologist Diener examined whether the peak-end rule and duration neglect govern the evaluation of an entire life. The results demonstrated that both did. Doubling the duration of the life of the fictitious woman had no effect on the judgments of her total happiness nor on the desirability of her life. In addition, a less-more effect was found: adding ‘slightly happy’ years to a really happy life caused a drop in evaluations of total happiness: they made the whole life worse.

Consider you are making vacation plans. Would you go for the beautiful place you enjoyed with your family last summer or visit a whole new location, enriching your memory store? The tourism industry helps people collecting memories and constructing stories. The goal of storing memories shapes the vacation plans and the experience of it. The word ‘memorable’ is frequently used to describe the highlights of the vacation. The remembering self is the one that chooses vacations. A study shows that the final evaluation of a vacation entirely determines the intentions for future breaks, although that did not accurately reflect the quality of the whole experience (as described in a diary). We choose by memory when we decide whether we repeat an experience or not. Eliminating memories is likely to significantly reduce the value of the experience.

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