Recording The Ordinary

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 31 2015 @ 11:02am

Cody Delistraty finds value in it:

Why write down routine conversations, ones we’ve had a million times and will have a million times more? Isn’t it more important to remember extraordinary moments: first steps, graduations, jobs, awards, marriage, retirement, vacations? Yet people seldom realize how fondly they will look back on days spent mundanely: a day spent reading in the bay window, a picnic in the park with friends. These things may not stick out while they are happening, but revisiting them can be a great pleasure.

Ting Zhang’s research backs this up: 

Asked to write down what they were doing on an ordinary day (a few days before Valentine’s Day) and then on an extraordinary day (on Valentine’s Day), participants had more pleasure reading their entry about the ordinary day three months later than their entry about the extraordinary day. The ordinary experience had also been more difficult to remember than the extraordinary one and so its rediscovery felt fresher.

Still, most people Zhang asked didn’t feel like recording their day. Given a choice between writing about their day for five minutes or watching a talk show host interview an author for an equal amount of time, only 27 percent of people chose to document their day and only 28 percent of people—regardless of whether they chose to write or not—thought that they would care later about what they were doing that day. Three months later, 58 percent of people said they regretted choosing the talk show clip over journaling. They were bad at estimating how much they’d value the present once it became the past.

“They choose to forgo opportunities to document experiences in the present,” Zhang writes, “only to find themselves wanting to retrieve those records in the future.”