It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: Connect with your past.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of my newer happiness-project resolutions is to “Connect with my past.” I’ve been trying to reach out to people, and to visit places, that were important to me in previous incarnations.

The Big Man and I are the same — we tend to lose touch with our friends from the past. We have plenty of friends in the present, and we love seeing old friends, but we aren’t good about keeping in contact.

That’s one reason I love Facebook and other internet tools that make it easier not only to keep in touch with people, but to keep track of them. Now it’s so much easier to keep tabs on people as they move, switch jobs, etc.

A few months ago, to “Connect with my past,” I called one of my best friends from high school. It’s a long story, but I hadn’t talked to her for more than ten years. It took me a while to track her down, but thanks to a clue from a fellow Kansas Citian whom I ran into in an airport, and a lot of Google persistence, I found her. It was so much fun to talk to her – to awaken the part of my brain connected to her, and also to feel that I’d sewn up a dangling loose thread of a relationship.

Today, I went to a lunch given by my law school alumni association. Although I’d never attended one of these lunches before, my resolution to “Connect with my past” inspired me to go. The speaker was someone I knew from my clerkship past (she clerked for Justice Souter when I clerked for Justice O’Connor), so I saw a chance to “Connect with my past” in two ways: my law school past and my clerkship past.

My experiences in law school and as a lawyer were extremely intense, extremely happy, and extremely interesting – plus, the Big Man and I met in law school, so that puts a rosy glow over that period. But now that I’m a writer, and not a lawyer, I feel disconnected to the lawyerly part of my life.

Going to the lunch, seeing some people I knew, hearing news of other friends, hearing about what’s happening at the law school…it was very satisfying.

I’ve been surprised by how happy this kind of activity makes me. Is it because it boosts my sense of connection to other people — a key to happiness? Or because it heightens my sense of having a continuous self? Or because it brings back happy memories, which is an important contributor to happiness? Probably all of these.

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any studies or scientific discussion of this aspect of happiness-building, and I haven’t read any advice of this nature in popular sources. Nevertheless, connecting with my past has really made me happier.

So, go to a reunion, attend an event, call or email an old friend, drive by a former haunt, look through a photo album, re-visit the restaurant you used to love, listen to some music that reminds you of a long-ago period of your life…or what else? What are some other ways to connect with our pasts?

I love tips, and Gimundo has a great list of tips, via Productivity Café, about how to prod yourself into being on time.

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I have my own happiness project, and as part of it I used the internet to track down the perfume I wore when I first started University. Smell is an important trigger of memories, and every time I wear it I feel such a strong connection with that carefree person I was back then.

  • Found your site through The Hero Workshop and been reading for a while but had to comment this time.
    I have found that in keeping in touch with good friends from the past, I’m much happier, more carefree almost. A friend explained it best when she described it as feeling “young”.
    I agree with the above commenter, as well. Smell is a huge reminder of past times for me. I smell coconut shampoo and am instantly reminded of the summer I met my husband. And it makes me nostalgic and fall in love all over again.
    Keep up the good work. You’ve started many thought-provoking nights for me.

  • Lover

    The book that made me much happier few years ago, and I use it since then is “The messenger ” by Klaus Johele. You can download it free here:

  • Ah, smell! I wear Tea Rose when I want to remember myself in college. The friend that I mentioned — that I lost touch with — wore Ysatis and Champagne, I still think of her whenever I smell them. Paper-white narcissus, gingerbread…zoikes, the list never ends. That is a GREAT suggestion — to induce your own Proustian moments by seeking out different smells (and tastes) that recall the past.

  • Suzyn

    Gretchen – I’ve been reading your blog for about a month now, and I really enjoy it. I wonder if there’s a connection between how happy connecting with your past makes you and how content you are with your present.
    For many years, I studiously avoided alumni functions. I even asked my husband to quickly dispose of the alumni magazine when it arrived. I went to a fairly prestigious college, but while my classmates were going on to grad school, early PhDs, professorships, and other illustrious pursuits, I struggled to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do. The damned alumni magazine just reminded me of all the time I’d “wasted.” I thought that maybe now that I have a book coming out next year, I’d brave the next reunion, but part of me says “Yeah, but it’s just an anthology that you edited – wait ’til you write an entire book.”
    Do you feel the same way when you see former law school buddies who are now senior partners? Or has your happiness project helped you to see past the comparisons?
    By the way, I’m finding the Oprah/Eckhart Tolle webcasts really helpful in finding contentment with the present. Have you checked them out?

  • I find that listening to music that carries good memories of past experiences helps lift my mood. I use the star rating on iTunes to rate my songs by mood ( ), so any time I want a boost, I just turn on my “4’s and 5’s” smart playlist and I’m as happy as can be.
    It seems like no matter how much I listen to a song, there’s no way to associate it with anything other than what was going on in my life when it was first in heavy rotation. When my music collection is bumming me out, I try to “give my life a new soundtrack” by buying some new music.

  • Wow, Suzyn’s insight is a good one. I recently attended a wedding where I saw high school friends I haven’t seen since then. It was a joy to reconnect with them at the time, but as soon as I came home I sunk into a funk, feeling like I’d fallen so far behind.

  • ArabellaStrange

    You know, I’ve been wondering why I so greatly enjoy working as an alum advisor with the semi-local collegiate chapter of my sorority, and I think this is the answer.