Aging Well Partners
- Oct 26
- 4 min
POWERFUL EMOTIONS & WELLBEING TIED TO PICTURES
A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND MEMORIES
I’ve always been an avid hobbyist photographer. It started with watching my dad meticulously shoot my sisters and I on vacation each year. He used a light meter, all his settings on his camera were manual, and he even developed his own film in a makeshift darkroom he’d created in our basement. There were many eye-roll worthy moments as we impatiently waited for my dad to snap the damn picture; but wow, could that man capture a moment in time.
There is this picture of us in Arizona in front of a small herd of buffalo, with just a wire fence separating us; and the expressions on our faces he caught was sheer teenage angst on a vacation they didn’t want to be on. My sisters and I now laugh hysterically when we see this picture. Our outfits, our hair, our faces just capture that time in our life perfectly. It’s one of my best memories and I honestly can’t remember another thing about that vacation; but I will always remember my sisters and I in front of the buffalo. The power of one photo to elicit that much happiness and joy years later is the true power of a picture.
Looking at old pictures boosts our mood and research reports that people find looking at old photos more relaxing than meditating. Even when you’re in a bad mood seeing a picture from the past produces a rush of feelings, hopefully one of joy; but it can also trigger negative emotions. As a bonus, it can help us reframe the past. We hated taking that picture, but for decades it’s been one of our best memories, probably because we reframed the moment for what it was…a meaningful family vacation. A picture can stir up regret, hope, sorrow, joy, peace, grief, love, and sometimes just gratitude of a past time we were lucky to have; and didn’t fully grasp until the picture reminded us of what we had or experienced.
SEEK NEW OUTCOMES
Photos also have the power to motivate us to change or seek a different outcome. Many times, over the last two years since my mother’s death, I’ve look at this one picture taken the last month of her life. It’s a compelling portrait of her that draws me back time again. I tell myself I can have a different outcome and can age differently. At moments it has triggered regret of maybe there was something else I could have done, but deep down I know there wasn’t, but the picture is powerful. The photo inspires me to create a significantly different path to my own aging journey, and I feel confident that one day when I reframe that picture, it will tell me something different. I look forward to that day.
IMPACT TO OUR WELLBEING
Emotionally charged pictures speak more directly to us than words. Research has highlighted looking back at photos has a significant impact on our wellbeing and can significantly improve our mood. It also enables people to perceive the world from different perspectives and appreciate the most diverse scenarios and situations captured in a frozen moment. Cognitive neuroscience shows memorable emotional images evoke a greater amygdala response.
How to Enjoy and Preserve Your Photos:
• Print photos out and display them in your home. Hardcopies of photos create a peaceful space in your home, and you’ll benefit from the sense of comfort they bring, as you experience them daily. Viewing these happy moments also reduces cortisol and adrenalin, which are the hormones responsible for anxiety.
• Photo albums are a valuable tool in soothing agitation in people living with dementia. Paging through a family album can bring them back to a peaceful time and redirect their emotional stress and anxiety.
• Go through an old photo album with a child or teen to transport them to another time. In addition, it strengthens emotional bonds, and gives you a chance to share your family’s heritage with the younger generation. Great family stories can be re-told from one picture. Think of the buffalo!
• Siblings fighting over who gets to keep the one and only childhood photo album? Use your phone! Today’s phones have such remarkable cameras that often you’ll get a better-quality picture of that old photo with your smart phone than the aging photo in the book; and the things you can do in editing mode, amazing!
• Need help organizing, editing, and reproducing old photos? Seek out one of the many companies that specialize in preserving old photos. What a great gift to present a family member with on a birthday or other special day, than a complete history of their family all neatly wrapped up in a book.
NO WORDS NEEDED
Pictures have the amazing ability to convey information more effectively than words. I would say that pictures can sometimes provoke such deep emotions that no words could ever conjure. The next time you snap a picture, think about how one day someone could see it and laugh, cry, hope, wish, have regret, or better yet, it might inspire someone to do something great. Age well.
Jacqui Clark is a Certified Senior Advisor™ (CSA™), consultant with Living Coastal Senior Resources, and co-founder of Aging Well Partners. She is an industry leading living-and-aging well expert, and a respected communications specialist. She’s lived in San Diego for 35 years, much of that in Carlsbad where she and her husband live with their two daughters. Find Jacqui at www.agingwellpartners.com