The video below of a TED talk given by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman is a must-watch for all memoir writers. In this talk Kahneman, psychologist and inventor of the field of behavioral economics, describes how hard it is to study happiness.

A moment in time lasts about three seconds. The average person has over 600 million of these and remembers only a tiny fraction of them. This person can be called the “experiencing self.” What memoirists attempt, it seems to me, is to use the “remembering self,” which makes memories out of beginnings, peak moments, and endings, to recapture enough of the experiencing self so that some of those millions of erased moments can come back–and we get to live twice. Both selves are made stronger by a good memoir. Do you buy this thesis? What is your response to the fascinating video below?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Amber Lea Starfire on April 15, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Shirley, this is certainly a thought-provoking video. Thanks for sharing it with us. I am going to share your blog (and my related thoughts, of course) in my Blogtalk post tomorrow, April 15th, on

  2. Kathleen Friesen on April 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    For sake of discussion, let’s say the distinction between the experiencing and remembering self is true. Then the question becomes how does the memoir writer support the remembering self? The first things that come to mind are journal writing at the end of each day, keeping a calendar that includes more than meeting times, and photographs or videos of experience. (I appreciate the family photos that include not only names, but the date and event written on the back.) A further consideration is that current research demonstrates that 7 to 8 hours of sleep or 20 to 30 minute naps consolidate and integrate memories.

  3. shirleyhs on April 16, 2011 at 12:17 am

    Such a helpful response, Kathleen. Thank you! Do you do memoir writing workshops, by any chance? Sounds like you have lots of experience thinking about memory. I like the practical suggestions. Thanks for sharing them here.

    • Kathleen Friesen on April 16, 2011 at 2:51 am

      No memoir workshops yet! I’ve been giving workshops on Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) for the past two years. In short, IPNB is the intersection of neurobiology and organization psychology. IPNB is one intersection between my various degrees (biology, cellular pathology, and organization development) and interests. The way we learn, store and recall memories, and create “maps of the world” are part of this discipline. The impact of learning and memory on our relationships and interactions in organizations is real, and, for me, fascinating. Your insights and the resources you share here always stimulate my thinking. Thank you!

      • shirleyhs on April 16, 2011 at 3:19 am

        Such a great field to study. Thanks for sharing. Now I understand better where your insights come from–and I look forward to more in the future!

  4. GutsyWriter on April 16, 2011 at 5:04 am

    This is a fabulous video, and I’ll be honest, I only watched 1/3 as I have to go to bed. What I liked was that happiness quote about the importance of whether we’re happy about our life or happy in our life. Also the endings of our stories being so important. I shall watch the rest, but wanted to comment. Haven’t heard from you in ages. Hope all is well.

    • shirleyhs on April 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      Life is great, Sonia, both in my life and about my life. 🙂 And I am wishing you the same. Glad you watched some of this. I watched it twice and am sure you will find even more in it when you have a longer time.

  5. Johanna on April 28, 2011 at 3:29 am

    I buy it. For one thing, in retrieving and focusing on memories, we move them from the short term memory areas of the brain into those areas of the brain that store long term memories. In so doing this opens the door to contrasting and comparing, evaluating and understanding our lives. As each of our experiences encompasses only a few seconds of time, we often need the bank of memory to give us the retrospective wholeness we need to place those experiences into a context of meaningfulness. Also, out of memory comes the ability to re-experience the scent of a wild rose, or the terror of some hurt that still requires healing. And beyond all that rises the splendor of the mystery of each life in its total and grand design , the grit of our lives in which God writes His eternal Love Story. By virtue of our memory we have the accumulated wisdom to choose our experiences, and vet our beliefs, and our memoirs become the voices of our souls.

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