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When Good Memories Make You Feel Bad

It was strange. I’d just passed a place here in town where I have lots of good memories, but then I started to feel bad. In a matter of seconds, I went from something that made me smile to an emotion that surprised me—sadness.


Whether you lead a family, a business, or a church, your memories play an essential part in your mental health and your day-to-day emotional well-being.



Memories don’t necessarily make or break you, but they certainly can affect your present mood or future attitude in a positive or negative way.


Let’s say, for example, a year ago today your dad passed away. Hopefully, you’d flash back to some good memories, but the fact that he is gone might make you sad now and depressed about a future without him.


Or perhaps this coming week marks an anniversary for your business or church. Again, as you reflect on your past, certain things fill you with joy. However, some of those extraordinary experiences might leave your heart heavy as you worry whether or not they are repeatable.


When we remember good events and experiences from our past, it’s easy to compare those encounters with our present reality. We can’t help but wonder:


  • Are things as good now?


  • Will my life, our company, or the church I pastor have as many positive experiences in our future?


  • What if the best days are behind us?


Sometimes, the reason good memories are painful is that you are comparing your past to your present and your current situation is worse. That’s why old guys (like me) get nostalgic and depressed when they talk too much about the good old days.


So, what can you do when a good memory hurts?



First, choose to be thankful.


  • Be thankful for what you’ve learned.


  • Be thankful for the ways your past (even the ugly parts) have shaped and molded you into someone stronger and wiser.


  • Be thankful for all the past moments of joy you have experienced that you probably didn’t deserve.



  • Be thankful for the fact that nothing in your past, present, or future can ever separate you from the love of God.


  • Thankfulness is an important key to overcoming sadness.


Second, choose to be fully present in the now.


  • It’s okay to remember. You don’t need a memory wipe to be happy. However, too often we miss the good in the moment because we waste time comparing present realities to the past. Comparison rarely helps, so be present, and live more in the now.


  • Keep this in mind: the past wasn’t probably as good as you remember. You and I have filters that sometimes skew our memory. It’s better to make today the best today possible.



Third, choose to be mindful that life is a journey.


  • Every journey includes the good and the not-so-good. Every path involves unexpected twists and detours. It’s called life, and it’s normal. Stop expecting easy, and you won’t be so thrown off when the valleys come—and they will come.


  • Okay, maybe things aren’t physically, emotionally, or relationally great right now. Perhaps yesterday was better than today, but today is not the end of your journey. Accept what is and keep moving forward.


You might have noticed that I used above the word “choose” several times. You must understand that much of your life comes down to what you choose to focus on or not.


I know, you can’t always choose your circumstances, but you can choose your attitude. You can’t always choose the settings and surroundings of your life, but you can choose where you’ll fix your attention.


You can’t choose your memories, but you can choose to take a good memory that makes you sad and not be derailed by it. You can choose not to get stuck in the past.


Trust me; God is working in your present, and He still has a good plan for your future. So it might be better to look back less and up more.



Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true,

whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,

whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable

—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—

think about such things.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Kurt Bubna

Kurt W. Bubna has published seven books, is an internationally recognized blogger, conference and retreat speaker, as well as an experienced life and leadership coach. Bubna has over forty years of experience working with individuals, teams, and a wide variety of business and non-profit organizations.