Happiness and memory: some sociological reflections

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    This article seeks to consider, in an exploratory fashion, the relationship between happiness and memory. Both of these areas of investigation are relative newcomers to sociology, and have rarely, if at all, been studied in tandem. The article draws upon data from qualitative interviews with British adults that formed part of an empirical study of people's experiences and perceptions of happiness. In doing so, it suggests that people identify their memories and reflections on the past as sources of happiness in two interrelated ways. Firstly, people - particularly those of an older generation - make sense of life in the past as happier than that of the present. This is the case with regard to society in general as well as to their personal lives specifically. The 'past-situated social identities' of older people are considered in relation to this. Secondly, adults of a range of ages understand reminiscing about the past as something from which happiness or pleasure could be gained. Life course transitions, and the way in which adults make sense of and live through these, are key in the way in which people express nostalgia for, or idealization of the past. Reconnecting with the past can be regarded as a 'technology of the self', or a technique that people perform on their own minds, in order to enable themselves to feel happier. The article ends with a consideration of the implications of this for the ways in which happiness is theorized sociologically.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-9
    Number of pages9
    JournalSociological Research Online
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014


    • happiness
    • memory
    • the past


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