It’s safe to say that it was the single greatest experience of my life….(after getting married and having a child, of course).
Two weeks ago, with my right hand visibly shaking, I gently pushed a wooden golf tee into that hallowed and historic ground; the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club.
Playing Augusta National any time of year is special. But playing it as “a tradition unlike any other” (The Masters) draws near is the dream of every golfer.
A visit to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club for The Masters is widely known as the toughest ticket in sports to obtain. Scalpers can fetch north of $10K for one badge.
If acquiring a Tournament badge is difficult, getting an invitation to actually play the Augusta National Golf Club is downright impossible-for any sum of money. That is, unless you’re tight with members Condaleeza Rice or Bill Gates or Lou Holtz.
Not only did I get to play Augusta National but I got to enjoy the round with a lifelong best friend. It was an experience I will never forget and, more importantly, it did not disappoint.
The whole experience got me thinking about life’s experiences and memories.
See, life’s greatest moments leave us with nothing but a memory. And, it’s human nature that we have an affinity for some memories over others.
So, what’s is the single greatest memory of your life?
-your first kiss in sixth grade?
-the day(s) you got married?
-a memorable sporting event?
Now the harder question: which was better, the experience; or the memory of the experience?
The experience might be fleeting but the memory lasts a lifetime. And, our brain gets to replay that experience millions of times. And, it can exaggerate the experience with an inherent bias towards happiness or pleasure.
Fifty People, One Question is a simple project: the crew goes to a city, asks fifty people the same question and films their responses. The results are funny, moving and sometimes tear-inducing.
The crew recently visited Chicago, Illinois, asking the question: “What’s your favorite memory?” Click here to watch.
See, memories are extremely personal since no two people experience things in the same way. And, everyone’s recollection of events are different. For example, how many times have you revisited a memory or an experience with an old friend…only to find that they don’t even remember that thing happening. Or they don’t recall the experience in the same way.
The best memories come from bad ideas done with friends.
In his popular TED Talk Daniel Kahneman, Nobel prize winner and behavioral economics founder, starts to peel back the layers of this seemingly simple question.
Kahneman opines that there are “two selves”. That is, there is an “experiencing” self and a “remembering” self. The experiencing self is wired for the present moment. It’s the live version of events. The remembering self is wired for looking back on an experience. It’s the mental, video replay of your life’s events. These two selves are rarely in agreement. And, they perceive happiness very differently.
Some memories never leave your bones. Like salt in the sea; they become a part of you and you carry them.
While I was enjoying this epic, bucket list (#1) experience, I was aware that I was creating a memory that would be permanently etched in my bones forever. I made sure to slow down, to look around and to be mindful and present for the four hours on such hallowed, historic ground.
-I parred the 12th and recalled in 2016 that Jordan Speith rinsed several balls in Ray’s Creek on Sunday and blew the tournament lead with a quadruple bogey. Click here to watch.
-I stood in the middle of the legendary 15th fairway and recalled how defending champ Sergio Garcia dunked five golf balls, to card a 13. Click here to watch.
In my research, I found this great quote from Dr. Seuss. After the past few weeks, I thought the good Doctor could use some support. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any quotes from the tuber formerly known as Mr. Potatohead.
Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
I think the good doctor nailed it. We’ve all had hundreds of experiences that seemed meaningless at the time. But, years later we can recall them with incredible specificity. Like the time I saw Raising Arizona in the movie theater. I thought it was stupid. Thirty years later I’m still quoting H.I. McDunnough like it’s my job. (Click here to watch)
We all have an affinity for one over the other; either the experiences or the memories. In his TED Talk, Daniel Kahneman makes a compelling argument. He asks, “if you could take a free vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Then, Kahneman adds a caveat? “What if I told you that at the end of the trip each guest would receive a dose of an amnesiac? You’d still be tanned and rested, but you’d have no idea where you went or what you did. Would you still choose the same vacation?”
Your answer says a lot about which you prefer, experiences or memories.
The most beautiful things in life are not things. They’re people and places and memories and pictures. They’re feelings and moments and smiles and laughter.
I think I’m a memory guy. It stems from a bit of advice I received from my friend, Rob Schanen, back in 2007.
He told me that his mission is to fill his life with experiences and memories, not fancy things to impress people. In his mind, those family experiences would someday be way more priceless than the stuff he could acquire. I was touched by that advice. I decided that “creating memories” would be my mission, as well. Those memories are small, daily deposits into my happiness bucket.
In full disclosure, over the last year of house arrest I’ve made frequent withdrawals from that bucket.
Those withdrawals filled a void in the otherwise malaise of rabid political discourse and gloomy virus predictions.
Similarly, Amanda Boyarshinov once wrote:
The best gifts in the world are not in the material objects one can buy from the store, but in the memories we make with the people we love.
But a mission to “create memories” can add a great deal of pressure to life. How can I be certain, with limited time, that I”m creating the right memories?
I decided to work backwards. To envision what it might look like to experience ten, memorable family vacations. Then we started traveling with Backroads, a California-based active vacation company. We are in the process of booking Bicycle trip number ten. I replay the mental video reels from our trips nearly every day. I wouldn’t take $5,000,000 in Bitcoin for those experiences or the memories.
One of the interesting things I’ve learned is that you cannot always pick what you will value or recall. Sometimes the best memories are those things that are totally unplanned. Like getting caught in a torrential rain and hail storm deep in a Costa Rican rainforest to photograph Sloths. Turns out it rains a lot in a rainforest. Who knew? But the memory of a two-hour hike in a massive rainstorm is priceless.
One of the traps of relying on our memories for happiness stems from the fight or flight mechanism. We are hardwired to recall negative experiences over positive experiences. In our caveperson days, it was essential for survival.
So an incredible vacation can be colored by your return flight being canceled. Or a great movie can be spoiled by a weak ending. Our minds are fickle mistresses.
It’s odd, but people are incredibly hesitant to name their favorite memories. As if the pressure is just too much. Or that someone might judge their favorite memory to be too trivial. But, here’s the great news. Your favorite memory is fungible. You can have a favorite memory today that could immediately be replaced by the recollection of better memory tomorrow.
The definition of happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, and/or contentment. And, isn’t that the point of life? Memories are not measurable or profitable. They can’t be traded.
They are of no value to anyone but the owner. But they can bring us tremendous joy and contentment.
I can’t imagine anything more effective at changing your mindset-and eliciting feelings of happiness than recalling our favorite life experiences.
See, thanks to the magic of cognitive association we can trick our minds into recalling memories. It’s as simple as putting small reminders in your path. I assure you that a plastic golf ball marker from Augusta National will forever elicit feelings of joy and happiness. It literally flips the switch on my neural pathways.
Can You Buy Happiness?
There are many claims that happiness can be achieved through money, yet many challenge that theory. Count me in that camp. I’d rather have a plethora of plastic golf ball markers and family photos that can instantly transport me back in time.
So, as you come out of your Corona house-arrest, take some time to think about what you’ll do when the face mask is finally removed. Will you go back to seeking material objects that offer temporal happiness? Or will you seek to create experiences that etch indelible memories on your soul?
I hope you’ll consider the latter. And, that you’ll remember this story when that epic piano music cues up the start of Spring. And, we all get to experience “a tradition unlike any other”-one more time.
So, what about you? What is the single greatest memory of your life? Leave me a comment below with your favorite memory. I guarantee you’ll hear back from me. And, if you liked this story could you please share it with your friends & family?
And that, my friends, is where the story ends.
Previously Published on tomgreene.com
Featured photo: Public Domain
internal images courtesy of author