Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has coined a few terms to distinguish between the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self.” He believes that what we remember resonates more strongly than what we experience. Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun, borrows this perspective to explain the discrepancy between parental discontent about the day-to-day drudgery of taking care of children and the indescribable joy and rewards of raising children. She writes, “It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.”
I was thinking about how true this is as I was remembering my eldest daughter’s wedding. Standing underneath the chuppah with my husband, listening to the rabbi talk about marriage, and seeing my daughter’s radiant happiness and the love in my son-in-law’s eyes was truly a joyous experience. At other times, I think about the horrendous drama, conflict, tears, and frustration that preceded this perfect event; however, the happiness is what is remembered. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman reminds us that our remembering selves are who we are, even though our experiencing selves do our actual living.
As you watch your children grow into adulthood, it is wonderful and fascinating to see how their basic temperaments do not change radically over time and how they find professions and relationships that complement and contain aspects of their personalities. Some of the traits are troubling, while others are remarkable and surprising. For me, parenting has always been so much about the discovery and the becoming—each child creating his or her own narrative to experience and remember.
Have you seen the relationship between the experiencing self and the remembering self in your own life and parenting?
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