If you could save one object from a house fire, what would you save? When British psychologists Gregory Jones and Maryanne Martin posed this question to study participants in the 2000s, the answer was clear: people consistently chose objects that evoke memories. I know exactly what I'd pick. I'd like to tell you more about that, and then explore the idea that we can consciously chose to imbue objects with remembrance and meaning.
When I was a junior in high school, my best friend died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. One day she was there, joking with me and singing in a choir concert, and a few days later, she was gone. I wasn’t prepared for the tsunami of emotions that followed (how could you be?). Nor did I understand at the time how the grief would unfurl over years, the pain and confusion of loss punctuating my life at unexpected intervals.
A few days after her passing, as friends and loved ones began to sift through the physical remnants of her existence, her mother discovered a note that she had written to me the week before. My friend had rediscovered a silly necklace we made as a good luck charm, with fluorescent plastic beads and a smiley face ring from a vending machine, and as she put it, “Ever since I found it (which was like three minutes ago) all of these memories of the two of us have been running through my mind.” From winning debate tournaments (we were partners), to pulling pranks on friends, to accepting and loving each other at our low points, she emphasized how much she enjoyed growing and learning together over the years and how important our friendship was to her. The necklace had jogged those memories for her, and now, in combination with her kind and tender letter, both are potent reminders of the depth of love and joy we brought into one another’s life.
Fate and circumstance gave the letter and necklace meaning and value that are priceless to me. But when researching for this post, I discovered something interesting: scientific studies show that we can intentionally map memories and reminders onto objects (see Cari Romm’s article How to Turn Any Random Object into a Memory Cue). Further, the more visible and novel the object, the greater the effects on remembrance can be. That got me thinking about my rings going out into the world, and the hopes I have for them. There are so many special reasons why people buy rings, but what if we also chose to turn them into reminders of our life's intentions?
If you'd like to explore this idea further, here’s an approach based on memory cue methods: take a few minutes to think about characteristics you’d like to embody more fully. Is it generosity? Vulnerability? Confidence? Joy? Presence? Self Acceptance? Now look at a ring you wear regularly, and imagine those qualities radiating from the ring. Give yourself some time to really feel deep down that the ring is a special talisman for these characteristics. Make a point to say to yourself that when you see your ring, you'll remember what it represents. It might be helpful to repeat this part from time to time. Now that you've deepened these associations, any time your eyes rest upon your ring, you'll be more likely to recall what it symbolizes and allow yourself to express those qualities more freely.
I followed these steps with my engagement ring, which I wear all the time. It already holds significance regarding my love and commitment towards my wife, but I'm excited to add even more meaning to it. When I paused to reflect on what I'd like to embody more deeply, I decided I would like to trust the process of life unfolding and release the unnecessary tension in my body. I would also like to enjoy the present moment. Next, I looked at my ring and gave her these qualities: trust, relaxation, presence, joy, and encouraged myself to remember to feel these things more fully when I saw it. I'll have to report back on long term results, but I can say with certainty that my ring has taken on a new light, and has indeed served as a wonderful reminder of my intentions so far. I think she likes her new mission too.
So, how about you, what one object would you save? And are you interested in turning your ring into a talisman for your intentions? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. And if the idea of crafting a ring with your goals and intentions in mind from the start appeals to you, let’s talk.