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Why happy childhood memories are good for your health

The i logo The i 06/11/2018 Tom Bawden

a close up of a person holding a baby © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd People with fond memories of their childhood tend to be healthier - not just in young adulthood but throughout their lives, a new study finds.

Researchers have found that happy childhood recollections, particularly involving parents, make a person less likely to be depressed or suffer chronic illnesses in their adult lives.

They suggest the happy memories help reduce stress and make people feel more positive generally, making them more buoyant. This makes it easier for them maintain a healthy lifestyle involving regular exercise and good food.

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Positive effect

Researchers have found that happy childhood recollections, particularly involving parents, make a person less likely to be depressed or suffer chronic illnesses in their adult lives. © Getty Researchers have found that happy childhood recollections, particularly involving parents, make a person less likely to be depressed or suffer chronic illnesses in their adult lives. "We found that good memories seem to have a positive effect on health and well-being, possibly through the ways that they reduce stress or help us maintain healthy choices in life," said lead author of the study, William Chopik, of Michigan State University.

"We thought the effects would fade over time but these memories still predicted better physical and mental health when people were in middle age and older adulthood," he added.

Even 50 years or more after childhood the memories were continued to exert a powerful influence, Dr Chopik said.

"We know that memory plays a huge part in how we make sense of the world- how we organise our past experiences and how we judge how we should act in the future. As a result, there are a lot of different ways that our memories of the past can guide us," he added.

Health Psychology

The findings are detailed in the journal Health Psychology, published by the American Psychology Association.

The researchers used data from two nationally representative groups involving 22,000 participants.

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The first study followed adults in their mid-40s for 18 years and the second followed adults 50 and over for six years. The surveys included questions about perceptions of parental affection, overall health, chronic conditions and depressive symptoms.

Participants in both groups who reported remembering higher levels of affection from their mothers in early childhood experienced better physical health and fewer depressive symptoms later in life. Those who reported memories with more support from their fathers also experienced fewer depressive symptoms.

Mothers have more influence

The research found a stronger association in people who reported a more loving relationship with their mothers, but that might change as fathers play an increasing role in their children's upbringing, the researchers said.

"The increased influence of the mothers may reflect the broader cultural circumstances of the time when the participants were raised because mothers were most likely the primary caregivers," said Robin Edelstein, of University of Michigan, who also worked on the study.

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"With shifting cultural norms about the role of fathers in caregiving, it is possible that results from future studies of people born in more recent years will focus more on relationships with their fathers," he said.

The researchers want to focus their future studies in this area more closely on childhood memories in older adults with chronic conditions because the research shed less light on this issue than it did on general health and depression - although a less powerful link was still found between memories and chronic illness.

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