Doing the housework or chatting with a work colleague over lunch are unlikely to be events you go out of your way to capture as a memory. But a new study suggests such everyday experiences that we overlook may bring us pleasure in the future.

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Everyday experiences – such as chatting with friends – can bring us unexpected joy when we rediscover them in the future, according to researchers.

According to the research team, led by Ting Zhang of Harvard Business School at Harvard University in Boston, MA, past studies have indicated that our predictions of how we will feel about a certain experience and how much of it we will remember are often wrong.

Zhang and colleagues note that these errors in predictions may explain why we tend to ignore the more mundane moments in life, but strive to document what we deem to be the more exciting moments, whether through pictures, mementos or journals.

For this latest study, recently published in the journal Psychological Science, the team conducted a series of experiments to further investigate how we underestimate the joy day-to-day experiences may bring us through memories.

In one experiment, the team asked 135 college students to create time capsules at the start of the summer.

The students were required to write about recent experiences they had, such as a recent conversation, the last social event they went to and three songs they were currently listening to. They also included a passage from a final study paper they wrote.

They were then asked to predict how meaningful and interesting they would find each experience when they read about it later and how curious and surprised they would be.

On opening the time capsules 3 months later, the team found that the students greatly underestimated their curiosity and interest in these mundane memories.

Similar findings were found in an online experiment, in which the researchers say participants were “particularly likely to underestimate the pleasure of rediscovering ordinary, mundane experiences, as opposed to extraordinary experiences.”

Zhang and colleagues hypothesize that these findings may be because we have high expectations of extraordinary experiences but low expectations of everyday experiences, leading us to undervalue these ordinary events.

Another experiment revealed that by undervaluing mundane events, we may be missing out on the pleasure generated by rediscovering them.

The team found that participants underestimated the joy they would get from reading about a “typical” experience with their partner, but they were accurate in predicting how much pleasure they would get from reading about an experience with their partner on Valentine’s Day – a more extraordinary day.

Zhang says:

We generally do not think about today’s ordinary moments as experiences that are worthy of being rediscovered in the future. However, our studies show that we are often wrong. What is ordinary now actually becomes more extraordinary in the future, and more extraordinary than we might expect.”

Results of another experiment supported the view that we tend to overlook everyday experiences in favor of documenting what we believe to be more fun events. Participants were given a choice to write about a recent conversation they had or watch a talk show interview.

Only 27% of participants chose to write about a recent conversation, but given the choice of which event they would prefer to revisit 1 month later, 58% of participants chose the conversation.

The team found that these participants greatly overestimated how much of the conversation they would remember, however. The more an individual thought they would remember of their conversation, the more they were likely to underestimate how interested they would be in reading the accounts of their conversation.

But the team notes that in order to generate the feelings these conversations triggered at the time and remember the circumstances that surrounded them, the participants only needed to read a few sentences.

Commenting on their overall findings, Zhang says:

People find a lot of joy in rediscovering a music playlist from months ago or an old joke with a neighbor, even though those things did not seem particularly meaningful in the moment.

The studies highlight the importance of not taking the present for granted and documenting the mundane moments of daily life to give our future selves the joy of rediscovering them.”

Zhang stresses, however, that we should not document everything we do, as it could interfere with the present experience. For example, he notes that trying to get the perfect picture of a meal you have been served in a restaurant could detract from enjoying the food.

He concludes that further research is warranted to determine the “tipping point” between enjoying a present experience and recording a present experience to trigger future enjoyment.

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting nostalgic feelings about the past may increase optimism for the future.