6 tips for using mementos to keep happy memories vivid

There are four stages of reveling in a moment of happiness, as you:

-- anticipate with pleasure,
-- savor the moment as you experience it,
-- express your happiness to yourself or others, and
-- reflect on a happy memory.

One important way to cultivate #4 is to keep mementos that help you recall happy memories. Here are some tips for using mementos to keep happy memories vivid:

1. Be Selective. Remember, the more mementos you keep, the less meaningful each one will be. Also, the bigger the collection, the more trouble it is to store and to look through. Choose wisely, and get rid of practically all of your potential mementos. When selecting a memento, choose something small and sturdy over something fragile or bulky.

If you frame a wonderful piece of artwork that your son did in kindergarten, you can enjoy it. If you keep every piece of artwork your son did from pre-school through second grade in a huge box in the basement, you'll never look through it.

A few items = precious mementos. A huge mass of objects = overwhelming clutter.

2. Keep a one-sentence journal. For two years, I've been keeping a journal in which I write one sentence every night. I'd never be able to keep a proper journal, but I can write one sentence. It's amazing to me how fun it is to read, and how much it does help me remember the past.

3. Photo albums. Although it's tempting to keep taking pictures and loading them onto the computer, I still think it's worth taking the extra, burdensome steps of turning some into actual photographs and pasting them in an album, or using an online service to make a digital album. A physical object feels more permanent and precious than a slideshow on a computer screen.

4. Collage. Every few years, my mother-in-law makes a family collage. These framed collages line their hallway, and are a beautiful, absorbing kind of visual diary. She records every major family milestone and captures a period of family life.

5. File box. For the Big Man and me, and for each of our girls, I've bought a fancy file box (the kind of box used to transport files). I have a file for each year, and I add keepsakes like the girls' birth announcements, their birthday invitations, school photos, my sister's wedding invitation, our family Valentine's Day cards, the Big Man's new business card after he switched jobs, the handmade Mother's Day card I got from the Big Girl, etc. This is a painless way to keep keepsake documents in good order. And what a great thing to give the girls when they grow up!

6. Transformation. I read about one woman who turned her children's favorite little toys into Christmas ornaments by using gardening wire, and another woman who made a quilt out of patches taken from all her favorite college t-shirts, and another woman who made decorative bed pillows out of her wedding dress. These transformations are a way to hang on to precious memories in a new way. Remember, you don't need to have the entire memento intact (the dress, the t-shirt), but only enough to cue your memories.

What other strategies to people use? I'm always looking for new ways to keep mementos organized, attractive, and accessible. And compact! Living in New York City forces you to get rid of a lot of stuff, fast.

* Shameless plug: Mothers' Day is May 9 -- please consider giving the gift of The Happiness Project! Remember that old saying, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

I should have thought of this sooner, but if you'd like a personalized, signed bookplate to put in the book -- for a gift or for yourself -- just email me the name of the recipient and the address to which I should mail the bookplate, and I'll send it right off. Feel free to ask for as many as you like. My email is grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]