What I’m about to tell you about photos could literally rock your world
By Jennifer Wise
All of us take photos. We don’t think much about it, or them. We have memories associated with the photos we take. Ho-hum.
THINK: What if there’s a lot more to it than that? What if you are sitting on an untapped source of happiness and life-altering skills?
Every two minutes, we take the same number of photos as were taken in the entire nineteenth century.1 Every day, we post 350 million photos on Facebook and 40 million photos on Instagram.2
It’s the age of digital photography!
Amazing. We take the photos. But then what? If they stay in digital form, how do you attach your memories to them?
Think about the last time you took a photo and the moment in time you were capturing. What made it special or funny or sad or important or memorable? You’re not going to remember all the details of that photo or the memories associated with it as you do today, with the same clarity, five years from now. In ten years the memories will be much dimmer, maybe even gone.
Photos are great, but without their stories, they lose the majority of their value. What I’m about to tell you may actually rock your world!
Psychological Scientist Linda Henkel said that because we have so many photos(digital and even our print copies) and therefore they’re so hard to manage and organize, many people don’t look at their photos any more. They don’t reminisce. They take the pictures and forget about them. Her concern is mine: Simply amassing photos isn’t worth anything. We need to not only have access to the photos but to actually interact with them in order for them to mean something to us.3
Here’s something else to think about. We all know that reading to kids is important and that children who are read get benefits that last a lifetime. What about reading or hearing family stories? Elaine Reese, writing for The Atlantic, reported that several studies about family storytelling indicate that when parents tell children family stories, the children are better able to tell rich narratives themselves and are better able to understand the thoughts and emotions of others. She reports that adolescents who are familiar with family heritage have not only better coping skills and “more robust identities,” but also have lower rates of depression and anxiety.4
But adults also benefit from photos and memories. Heather Walker, in her guest post on Kristen Duke’s photography website Capturing Joy, not only theorizes that recalling memories make you happier, but also refers to studies which show that remembering happy moments can actually increase your happiness in the present moment.5
Wow! A recipe for happiness: If you want to be happy, spend some time focusing on happy memories.
The fact is, we need our photos. Life at its best is at least a little hard. We naturally take photos of happy times. When I go on vacation, I don’t come home with photos of the meltdown my (hungry, sleep-deprived 4-year old who couldn’t be reasoned with), had in front of the restaurant. I come home with photos of him riding a ferry for the first time. I come home with photos of my normally stoic son with the most genuine, beautiful smile you’ll ever see as he got surprised by a big wave at Cape Cod. I come home with a photo of my daughter playing with her baby cousin. With these photos, I’m actually documenting the beginning of a life-long relationship. I, and everyone in the photos, need to remember those moments because they connect us, help us feel a sense of belonging, and they make us happy. I would even venture to say that even when we do take pictures of non-happy moments (e.g. getting stitches, or at a funeral) there are lessons to learn and moments to appreciate. None of these moments are the same, none of these photos are the same, without the recorded memories–the stories.
Did you know that our brains actually crave stories? Rachel Gillette, in her article on fastcompany pointed to a Nielsen study that indicated that customers want to gather information by making a personal connection. They want a story, not just information. Our brains are much more engaged when we hear storytelling than just facts.6 I read this article with deep interest, because if people prefer stories when they make decisions about buying cereal, they must certainly prefer stories when they look through their own photos!
Ms. Gillette explains what happens in our brains when we read data and when we read a story. The language parts of our brain light up when we read data because our brains work to decode the meaning. However, when we read a story, the language parts of our brains light up, but something else amazing happens: any other part of our brain that we would be using if we were actually experiencing what we are reading about, lights up, too. Ms. Gillette goes on to say that it’s much easier for us to remember stories than facts because our brains don’t really differentiate that much between reading a story and actual events.6
That’s literally about preserving your memories!
A friend of mine visited me the other day. We go way back but have lived about a thousand miles away for the last twelve years or so.We even went overseas together when our husbands took jobs with the same company. When she was here he other day, we started reminiscing about some of our more interesting (and hilarious, let’s be honest) experiences overseas. She wanted to look at my photo books, and as we talked, she commented several times at how impressed she was with my memory of those things. I kept telling her it’s not my brain that’s impressive–I only remember these things because I’ve put them in a scrapbook and I write the stories of the photos every time. She’s right though, I remember things a lot better because of this.
Clearly, there is something to be said for printing photos and documenting their stories. It’s irreplaceable. It means something. It can even be therapeutic. I even have a friend who uses simple scrapbooking in her work as a therapist. Truthfully, this reaches out and touches a lot of thers as well. It can be priceless to your children, your grandchildren.I sometimes have people talk to me about photos and tell me, “Oh, I don’t have time for that.” It about kills me! I want to grab them by the lapels and say, “You can’t afford to not have time for that. You have one shot at this. Nobody else can record your memories or the moments in your baby’s life. Who else has your photos and your memories? If you don’t do this, who could?”
If you are thinking you don’t have time, I don’t want to have to grab you by the lapels. Or beg — So here are some tips for preserving your photos and their memories:
Print your photos. Printed photos, when stored properly, can last up to 200 years.7 This doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not you are a “scrapbooker.” Do you have photos? Then this means you. You may enjoy printing them and doing some paper scrapbooking with them. My personal preference is to “skip to the end” and print digital photos in a digital book or scrap page. Do whatever works for you–something you will realistically do. Make sure anything that touches your photo is acid-free and lignin-free (Lignin is found in wood pulp and is the substance that exacerbates acidity). Make sure your photos get a high-quality home, too.
Document your photos. Tell their stories. Who is in the photo? Where was it taken? When? Why was it taken? What was the date? What was happening before the photo was taken (or after)? What are your memories of the moment? Don’t worry about whether or not what you write is “perfect.” You don’t have to be an author to write down your memories and what’s important to you.
Back up your photos digitally. Don’t be one of the 38% of camera owners who lose their photos (irretrievably!).8 Use a flash drive or a high-quality CD or an external hard drive. Just remember that technology changes, so you may have to move them to something new in the future. Keep in mind, too, that digital photo storage is indeed a backup. You can view the photos digitally, sure, but you don’t get their stories that way. Printing your photos allows you to interact with them and experience increased happiness and make connections. Digital storage is important (it’s like insuring your photos), but it’s secondary.
Some people find it easier to work with others. You could work with a family member to print and document your photos, or you could get together with a friend who needs to do the same thing.
Set aside time. Like anything, you probably won’t “find time” to work on photos and their memories. You make I personally calendar it so I make sure it gets done regularly. My memories are a lot fresher if I do it regularly. I’m actually kind of an addict, so I know I would do it even if I didn’t calendar it, but setting aside dedicated time is still helpful.
Organize photos in a way that works for your brain. I organize chronologically because it makes sense to me. I have a friend who prefers organizing by event. Try one of those, or go with something else that works for you.
Don’t be overwhelmed. Many people find it hard to start because they have so many pictures. Start small. Choose one thing–the recent vacation, the wedding, last year–and just do that for now. Don’t worry about what still needs to be done. Focus on just what you’re working on at the time, and don’t think about the next thing until it’s time.
See? Photos can rock your world, really! Your photos and their stories are much more powerful than you think. Inspiration like this can change the way you take photos. It should.
- The Globe and Mail
- Association of Personal Photo Organizers, Facebook group
- The Atlantic
- Kristen Duke Photography
- Fast Company
- Your Digital Life
- U.K. Daily Mail
The Advice Sisters are delighted to welcome Jennifer Wise as a guest contributor to advicesisters.com
Jennifer Wise has been a memory-keeper for as long as she can remember. She has worked as a memory-keeping consultant since 2005. She also works full-time as the CEO of a family of two teens, a tween, and a husband. She is an introvert with the alter ego of a stand-up comic and enjoys traveling, recipe-collecting, and good friends. She blogs at www.lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com where she provides memory-keeping ideas and tips, as well as memory-keeping solutions for varying needs. Youc an also visit Jennifer on YouTube.