If you want to take a selfie to record a happy moment, you'll probably reach for your phone at that awesome concert you've been dying to see or on a memorable night out with an old friend. You'd never think to snap a shot of you sipping a cup of tea on some random Tuesday or having a quick chat with an acquaintance. But maybe, if you really want to see yourself at your peak of well being, you should start taking way more boring pictures.

What's Worthy of Recording

According to a new series of studies published in Psychological Science, recalling exactly these sort of mundane moments makes us happy. The research, lead by Harvard Business School's Ting Zhang, delved into the question of how expectations of enjoyment and actual emotions lined up by asking 135 college students to create a time capsule at the beginning of the summer. These capsules included ordinary aspects of the students' lives, such as songs they were listening to, a section of a paper they had written, and a recollection of an everyday conversation.

The students weren't very optimistic that these mundane details of day-to-day life would bring them much joy when they later opened the capsule, but when it came time to actually take a stroll down memory lane, peeking back at their lives of several months before turned out to be quite moving. The students were much more interested in the seemingly ordinary details of their lives than they had expected.

Savoring the Everyday

Another study in the series looked at how much happiness we lose by not taking the time to recall and savor the seemingly boring details of our day-to-day lives. It found that volunteers significantly underestimated how much joy they'd get out of a recollection of an average day with their partner (and how interested they'd be in recalling the details a few months down the line). They wrongly expected a memory of a special Valentine's Day to make them much happier.

These results suggest you might want to alter your selfie-taking behavior, but they also point to a simpler change that could pay dividends--you should probably pay more attention to the everyday details that most of us frequently let flow by without much notice.

"People find a lot of joy in rediscovering a music playlist from months ago or an old joke with a neighbor, even though those things did not seem particularly meaningful in the moment," Zhang commented. "The studies highlight the importance of not taking the present for granted and documenting the mundane moments of daily life to give our future selves the joy of rediscovering them."

One final word of caution for the selfie and social media mad: don't take this as a license to pull out your phone even more frequently. Excessive self recording isn't good either, and Zhang points out that trying to capture a moment oftens interferes with enjoying it. Choose your moments carefully and savor them; don't obsessively document.

Do you spend enough time recalling and treasuring the everyday details of your life?

Published on: Sep 9, 2014