Happy Memories Have the Power to Turn Off Stress

We are often told to think "happy thoughts," or to "stay positive" but according to a new study those are far more than just aphorisms. A recent study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour confirms that recalling positive memories actually has the power to de-stress us. We're here for that.

The study lays it all out pretty clearly, "Recalling happy memories elicits positive feelings and enhances one's wellbeing, suggesting a potential adaptive function in using this strategy for coping with stress." Clear as day.

The way the study was conducted was as follows: 134 volunteers were asked to submerge their hands into ice water. After that the volunteers were split into two groups, with half of them being asked to think about a positive memory, and half being asked to perform a rote task they knew how to do. Unexpectedly, those who thought about a happy memory felt better after this whole episode. But beyond that, those who thought about happy memories also had a rise in the stress-reducer cortisol. "Thinking about happy memories, then, went right to the heart of the physiological stress response," the study found.

A second study was then performed to monitor brain scans, via MRI, while volunteers thought about positive and negative memories. The findings? "Recollecting good, but not neutral, memories was associated with increased activity in prefrontal brain regions associated with emotion regulation and cognitive control – the same regions suppressed by acute stress – as well as in corticostriatal regions associated with the processing of reward."

The moral of the story: Happy thoughts actually lead to staying positive. We knew that already, but it's nice to have a vote of confidence from science.