The memory jar: Tips and tricks for a happier 2022

AJ Walker, Design Editor

When my family found out that we had tested positive for COVID a week before the end of the year — putting an end to my holiday celebration and my winter break plans — I was ready to write 2021 off as yet another miserable year. From the Capitol insurrection to the Omicron variant, a multitude of disheartening global issues and intense personal hardships dominated my memories of the year. So, when looking ahead to 2022, my growing pessimism alongside internet memes that declared 2022 as “2020, too” led me to discount 2022 as just another year being tacked onto a string of bad years before it had even started.

My pessimistic outlook of 2021 was challenged, however, when a friend texted me on New Year’s Eve with some of our best moments from 2021, my favorite being our impromptu snowy picnic in the dead of winter, which we spent snacking on McDonald’s nuggets and fries. Over the course of the year, she had written her happiest memories on Post-It notes and put them in a “Happy Memories Jar” to be opened at the end of the year. These memories ranged from the most unforgettable events of the year to seemingly everyday occurrences — the everyday occurrences that so many of us tend to overlook. 

Reading through my friend’s post-its gave me a boost of positivity and motivated me to think back on my year. While I’m sure there were many small moments that I missed due to the unfortunate circumstances, I realized that I could generate a number of joyful memories that made my 2021 special and could have certainly filled up my own “Happy Memories Jar.” The key was to bypass the overwhelming negativity of the past two years and engage in deeper introspection to allow the positive memories to emerge. 

While I wouldn’t consider myself a pessimist, I found it easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the negative events of the past year. A quick Google search into why it took so much more effort to remember all of the positive moments of 2021 led me to an article from the National Institute of Health about the “negativity bias,” a psychological theory which asserts that humans have the tendency to register negative emotions or events with more ease than positive ones. As a result, the unfavorable moments of 2020 and 2021 are more likely to shape our perspective of the past two years and keep us from more readily accessing the happier moments that we’ve experienced. 

Now I’m not someone who typically makes New Year’s resolutions — I gave up on them after 10-minute workouts on January 1 didn’t yield immediate results — but my friend’s “Happy Memories Jar” has inspired me to give them another go. This year, I am challenging myself to combat my negativity bias as best I can, and I encourage all of you to do the same, starting with the creation of a “Happy Memories Jar” for 2022. 

While I can’t take credit for the idea, my favorite thing about the jar is that it is a concrete, actionable step that we can all take to bring positivity into our lives. Whether you create a physical jar, keep a journal, or make a notes app list, the act of writing down the positive moments of the year — big or small — will guarantee that you can look back and remember the moments that made the year special.

In addition to the “Happy Memories Jar,” I have also created a notes app list titled “Things I’m Grateful For” that I update daily. Similar to the “Happy Memories Jar,” it’s not only for big, life-changing occurrences; it also allows me to take note of the simple things in life that I enjoy. For example, my first entry on January 1, 2022 was “laughter,” something that I truly value in my day to day life. By December 31, I hope to have a list of 365 things to be grateful for as I reflect on my year. 

I also embarked on a new journey to create Spotify playlists for each month of the year where I can keep track of new songs I discover and those I have on repeat. Spotify Wrapped is great and all, but I like the idea of creating a musical time capsule that I can revisit at the end of the year and truly make my own. Even if music isn’t your thing, I encourage you to do this with books, TV shows, movies, or whatever suits you best. It will be a great way to remember your year through a medium that is meaningful to you. 

Like any other year, 2022 is bound to have its ups and downs. However, when I look back on this year come December, I hope to remember it as more than something miserable. Committing to overcome the negativity bias is not about having the perfect year or even having a year that has more positive memories than negative ones. Instead, it’s about realizing that the negative moments don’t have to define our lives and about giving time to remember the positive moments that shape our lives as well. So here’s to 2022 and the happy memories that I will soon create.