Grief stirs sadness. Remembering drives happiness. Here’s how.
Losing a Loved One is hard, but the experience is often more wrenching for a reason that has nothing to do with sadness or even sorrow: being absolutely powerless. Even when we know death is imminent, even when realize it could happen anytime, the inability to stop the process is wholly unsettling.
Yet there’s an antidote for this kind of unease and pain. There’s healing power in doing whatever we can to regain a sense of control, no matter how small each step may seem.
Being proactive about remembering Loved Ones is key to healing after loss. Research shows the more we incorporate memories into our lives, the more we’re able to embrace all that’s good and fulfilling in our present. This is because as we allow our gratitude to grow (for all we had), our appreciation rises for what we have. This is the transformative power of nostalgic-thinking. Nostalgia boosts of sense of being connected to those around us. It increases our interest in being engaged with activities and our surroundings. This uptick in well-being is at the core of what scientists are studying at University of Southampton in England. (To learn more on this exciting and unexpected connection, watch “How to Harness Loss to Drive Happiness,” my Google Author Talk.)
What all of this means, as odd as it sounds, is we need to make a plan for happiness after loss. This advice is similar to the guidance American newspaper writer Elsie Robinson offered readers back in 1934: Adults can’t wait for happiness to happen to them. Adults must plan for happiness. But how?
When it comes to finding joy after loss, we simply need the right tools.
One strategy is to set aside a few minutes each day (or maybe just a few minutes every week) to grieve and reflect. In my book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, I call this strategy “Give Memories 100%.” It may include carving out a moment to linger over photographs or re-read old letters. It may involve playing your Loved One’s favorite music or eating their favorite meal. It could also mean creating a sentimental Keepsake out of a piece of clothing, a handwritten birthday card, even a fingerprint. Devoting uninterrupted time to remembering is healing. It gives emotions their due. We are able to move forward without guilt or reservation because no emotion is given short shrift. It also restores our sense of agency. We get back what loss ripped away: a much-needed sense of control.
While nobody has the capacity to avoid loss, we all have the ability to manage the power vacuum it undoubtedly creates. And the only way to regain that control, as Elsie Robinson urged readers nearly a century ago, is to make a plan.