What Makes Something Memorable?

When you make a plan, the hope is that it turns out to be memorable. If, for example, you go on a vacation, you might plan a trip to a museum, or a zoo, or to go to a charming cafe. The hope is that you will make a memory that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

However, in reality, you can’t manufacture memorable moments. If you think back to those times in your life that mean the most to you, those moments you recall are often unexpected. They might be good or they might be bad, but the times that stick with you are things you didn’t expect.

For example, for many people a wedding day is a memorable time in their lives. And while the wedding itself is planned and organized, the instances that often are most memorable are unplanned: something that went wrong, or something someone said to you, or a funny spontaneous moment.

But being unplanned is not enough to make something memorable. I might stub my toe walking around my home, but that isn’t a memorable event even though it was unexpected. It also needs to be unusual or noteworthy in some way.

So what are the elements that make an occurrence memorable? While you can’t plan spontaneity, are there things you can do to make a memory more likely to happen? Can you discern a pattern from examining your most significant memories?

What makes something memorable?

Related questions: What is your favorite experience? Are memories more likely to be bad than good? What makes you the happiest? How many of your memories are false? What was the best time in your life?

4 thoughts on “What Makes Something Memorable?”

  1. I asked Dave this question.
    He said smells.
    Like the smell of pine reminds him of his brothers bird “Hooker”.
    Now this bird would sit in the Christmas tree every year and hop from one branch to another.
    Then other happy Christmas memories follow. Chocolate oatmeal candy cookies. The family dice game.
    Other smells trigger memories of things. Like ammonia and pine, reminds him of a freshly waxed floor.
    Personally, when I smell Lilac, I think of spring time and mothers day.
    Our sense of smell is one of the most important, sensitive, of the five we have. It can be a trigger for many different types of memories, good and bad.
    Many people love the smell of fresh cut grass. I hate it and I don’t know why.

  2. First, I agree with Cori and Dave. Memories are quite vividly attached to smells. For example, when I catch the scent of lavender, I remember the fun Rebecca and I had while traveling in Maui a few years back. Recollections are attached to the other senses as well. Again for Rebecca and I, the good taste of a ripe apricot brings us back to travel in France.

    Some sensory flashbacks are direct, like those I provided above. But other times you may not be aware of why a certain sensory trigger conjures up the thoughts it does. But it always does — kind of spooky.

    Second, I think emotions bring back memories. Sure, memories trigger emotions themselves. But I’m thinking of the other way around. Like when happiness or sadness can compound themselves. Soon your brain is awash in memories fitting the mood.

    And third, I think there are muscle memories. A certain posture, pace of breathing, or pain in the body can often bring up other times when your muscles reacted to stimuli similarly.

    So then, what makes things memorable? A strong emotion connected to an event or time period, preferably backed up by a strong body and sensory experience.

    In keeping with this, one of my most memorable experiences — often conjured up while kneeling next to my raised beds these days — were the growing and harvesting of my first heirloom vegetables … in 2013, I believe. Gardening overall makes me happy; but I hit a whole new level of happiness and pride in that garden experience. There were the sights of many colors in my garden (from sunflowers to cabbage to tomatoes). Then there were the smells of the garden after a rain; tomato leaves and healthy soil are a very potent mix. When gardening, I would often hear bees buzzing by me to find their next batch of pollen. There’s the feel of warm, damp soil on the skin. And then there were the tastes … oh, the tastes. I remember that summer so well!

  3. Michael I like the way you went so far as to include all five of the senses that you have in one great experience of your gardening.

  4. You really nailed it Cori and Michael. Memory is completely attached to our senses, and the strongest, most vivid memories are the ones that involve multiple senses. So, How can we make experiences more memorable? By making a conscience effort to involve all of our senses relative to the experience.

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