How happy memories save and prolong lives

Robert Labayen

Posted at Aug 05 2019 12:13 PM

Do you sometimes dwell too much on an unhappy situation or do you set an unpleasant memory on auto rewind ?

During World War II, the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were reduced to skin and bones. Thousands died around them every day . They were killed by mass murder, disease or hunger. Corpses were jampacked on train coaches. It was almost impossible to stay alive and to keep one’s sanity.

One of the survivors was Viktor Frankl, a neurologist and psychiatrist. In the book "Man’s Search for Meaning," he described the captives’ emotional and behavioral response to the unsurvivable conditions.

Some of them stopped thinking of a future. Those who had better chances of survival responded differently.

They filled their minds with happy memories. They reminisced blissful moments with family and friends. Frankl wrote that they found relief even in memories of mundane things like turning on the light switch in their own homes.

Moments of love made a difference. They felt better when talking to a loved one, most of the time even only in their mind.

Humor was a great survival mechanism for them. During their half- hour lunch breaks, they joked, sang and had little performances. They imagined a future outside the camp, in which they would have hilariously forgotten how to live normally.

The survivors narrated that the happy movies in their mind were the things that the prison guards couldn’t take away from them.

Frankl also related that despite their miserable conditions, they still lived up to their high moral standards. For example, they would give bread to those in greater need even though they were hungry, too.

Some prisoners believed in their hearts that there was still hope of freedom and that they would dedicate themselves to a purpose. Those who lived for a meaning were the most resilient in the death camps.

The marooned crew led by Sir Ernest Shackleton has its great story of survival, too. In his own book, "South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition," he recounted that humor and songs helped them survive over two years of freezing climate, darkness, hunger and thirst somewhere near the no-man’s continent of Antartica.

The movie World Trade Center depicted the true story of New York police officers John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno. Trapped in the rubble of the ill-fated towers, they were able to live by talking about their families.

When St. Paul and Silas were in prison, they spent the time praising the Lord until an earthquake came to break open the jail walls.

Bong Arjonillo, my brother in Couples for Christ, recommended his antidote to a sleepless night: think of five things to be grateful for.

So, when you’re sad and blue, let those colorful memories make the sun shine through!


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About the Author:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.