I sing you two versions of today’s song; one in the genre of jazz, and the other in the style of a ballad. The reason I have done this is to illustrate how one can be happier through choice. My song today is ‘Where or When’. This song originated in the 1937 musical ‘Babes in Arms’ which became the 1939 film version of the same name. The film starred Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.
We often hear the question that commences “Where were you when………..?” Can you remember where you were when President J.F Kennedy was shot in Dallas? Or when you heard the news that Elvis Presley or Marylin Monroe had died, or John Lennon was killed?” Or some other momentous event? Have you ever wondered why or how such details remain with you a lifetime yet, you may still need to refer to a diary to recall the precise date of your son or brother’s birthday, or God forbid, your own wedding anniversary?
In this memory conundrum lies the essence of emotional attachment and the process that leads to being able to remember precise details surrounding a specific event. Have you ever wondered how a person can more easily unburden their most sacred of secrets and the most intimate of personal details to a stranger easier than to a partner, a family member, or even the closest of friends? The answer lies in the process of ‘emotional distancing‘ and ‘disassociation’. Unburdening with a complete stranger represents an opportunity for the person to ‘emotionally offload’ in a relatively safe way, with less likelihood of any unpleasant comeback.
We remember details best when we associate those details with specific emotions that we feel strongly about. Somebody in old age who has Alzheimer’s can sometimes recollect the details of an event/occasion fifty years earlier in their life when they were very sad/happy/excited/frightened, and yet be unable to recall their daughter’s name or what they ate for breakfast an hour earlier. Having events ‘emotionally associated’ with specific feelings is a sure way to ensure that the mind never forgets them.
If, for example, one date within any month of the year holds a bad experience for you (ie when a loved one tragically died and when you felt so unhappy, so lost, and alone) the best way to get away from the memory of that event is to get away from the ‘associated feelings’ which accompanied that event. We best achieve this by arranging our time differently than that minute/hour/day in a more advantageous way (in a way that produces a positive feeling inside us instead of the original bad feeling). We can do something that is more likely to give us some pleasure. We can be with someone instead of being on our own with nothing but our own sad thoughts to occupy us. That is why a good friend would make a point of doing something nice for you on such a sad anniversary. That is why they would do something which essentially ‘takes you away from yourself’, or ‘takes you out of yourself’ or ‘makes you forget your sad self’ etc., etc. The bottom line is that we do something nice that ‘neutralises’ the original bad feeling which will automatically reoccur in our body at the appointed hour if we just let things happen and do nothing at all.
One contra-indication to the above paragraph is that following the bereavement of a loved one, it is healthy and natural to hurt, to pain, and to feel a sense of loss near to the event. Not to feel bad at such a time is neither natural nor healthy. The closer to the sad event we are, the worse it is, and the more natural and healthier it is ‘to feel bad’. When we do not try to avoid our grief and we process it at the time of the sad event, we get over our sad feelings earlier and seem more able to get on with our lives quicker instead of living in our emotional past. All repression leads to worse emotional consequences, and all emotional expression is invariably healthier for the bereaved individual long term.
When I met my wife, Sheila, she had been widowed for several years. We got married and continued living in the same house where she had spent the previous years when married to her first husband, Anton. Her first husband died young and she found him in one of the small rooms upstairs before calling an ambulance. Sadly, Anton died shortly after.
When Sheila and I first got together, although we lived in her house, she wisely allowed me to make it as much mine as was possible. Sheila was born in England but has a Chinese background. She was born in the Chinese year of the Monkey and I was born in the Chinese year of the Horse. I knew that the small room upstairs at one side of the house held ‘a sad emotional association for her’, so I renamed the room the ‘Horse Room’ and I filled it with all manner of horse images in the form of paintings, china, bronzes, etc. In short, I gave the room an emotional rebirth by giving it a happy association in the mind of Sheila. When I also die, and Sheila enters that room, hopefully, she will be more likely to think of it as being Bill’s ‘Horse Room’ as opposed to the unhappier associated memory of being ‘the room where I found Anton close to death’. Happier associations with the room immediately neutralised the previous unhappy associations, and even giving the room a name significantly altered emotional dynamics.
The room had its ‘negative associated emotions’ initially neutralised with ‘happier associated emotions’, and then, when it was Christened with the title ‘Horse Room’, it instantly stopped being ‘any old room’ and was endowed it with a positive ‘specialness’ identified by its very own name.
Incidentally, this is an appropriate time to remind the reader that all people feel better when others talking to them use their Christian name in a warm tone. It makes them feel special hearing their name!
Helping exaggerated hurtful emotions to return closer to a healthier position of normality involves the process of us putting two opposites together, to help to distance, defuse, and disassociate. Whenever we want to make ourselves less unhappy, less depressed, less worried, less focussed upon whatever emotionally disturbs us, we do it through the process of ‘emotionally distancing’ our mind and body from the previous unhappy event. We defuse our sad emotions by combining them with happy emotions. We disassociate our emotive self by changing the associative factors of the sad and unhappy event/place/person/ time etc. for happier ones. In short, we can remove an emotionally disturbing event from our memory bank by changing the event and replacing the original hurtful memory with a happier one. Therefore, the healthiest thing any bereaved person can do on the anniversary of a loved one is to ‘focus upon happier times together’. Our memory bank will never forget about sadder associated feelings of the bereaved person, but once you begin to recall happier memories, your mind will not automatically reproduce sad feelings by bringing sad images involuntarily into your focus of thought. We should never forget that it is impossible for the body to think about, feel about or do two opposite things at the same time! This piece of knowledge is the most powerful mental/body/psychological/physiological weapon we possess in our ‘armoury of change’.
The above process shows you ‘how’ to change the effect of any strong emotion, by changing the event in your mind and body, but only you know ‘where’ that event occurred and ‘when’ it occurred to you. The event is part of your life, and while you cannot change the event ever having happened to you, by the process described to you in this post, you can change the unhealthy association and any exaggerated emotional consequences the event precipitated.
Today, I have sung you two versions of the same song by changing the ‘associated emotions’ of that song. Because I have chosen to sing each version of the same song using ‘opposing aspects’ such as pace, volume, and emotion, it could be said that I have provided you with ‘two different experiences’ and I have subsequently sung you ‘two different songs. One thing I know for certain is that each of you will enjoy one version better than the other (when placed side-by-side).
Love and peace