Negotiating the ‘Triggers’ of Place: The Importance of Positive Memories

April 21, 2024

Negotiating the ‘Triggers’ of Place: The Importance of Positive Memories

May 29, 2023

Chip’s Thought: When I read Chuck’s guest post, my mind went very visual which is a sign of good writing. Hope you enjoy this one.

The Greenhouse of the Mind. Charles R. Wolfe photo.


Are you feeling triggered by a place? 

I may not be an expert in environmental psychology, but I’ve thought and written a lot about how certain places can deeply affect our emotions. They can bring back memories that are closely tied to our identities and our met (or unmet) goals. They can amplify feelings of significance or frustration.

These memories-the negative ones in particular — are the stuff of self-help books, therapy, and online support groups. After all, it’s crucial to understand and address trauma for healing.

But places trigger positive memories, as well.

Just as a place can remind us of darker times, it can bring back memories that give our lives positive meaning and direction. These aren’t solely fragments of the past; they play a role in our worldviews and where we fit in.

A Case in Point

On an evening walk last Sunday, I noticed an otherwise familiar greenhouse and garden that suddenly appeared more than ordinary. A spotlight sparkled, glass reflected, and soil stood out. Immediately, I felt compelled to capture the photograph, above.

This was, literally, the basis for a brighter rather than darker memory, about resurgent, growth-centric places. Without the benefit of grounded research, I’m sure the symbolic light drove several social media “likes.”

It didn’t end there.

All week, I found myself thinking about the nearby greenhouse and memories of other places with similar nuance. These were complex memories of who, what, when, where, and how; I thought about locations and people that played big roles amid local examples, and, in particular, illuminated views.

The Greenhouses of Memory, Stockholm and Kew Gardens (Holiday). Charles R. Wolfe photos

I remembered the Spheres in downtown Seattle, and an early tour with an Amazon friend. I recalled visits to the Volunteer Park Conservatory with several people over many years.

But my greenhouse memories were international, too. They extended to places where I lived nearby, like the Tropical (Palm) House and Temperate House in Kew Gardens, London (particularly during my daughter’s visit one year) and Victoria House and larger greenhouse in the Bergianska Trädgården in North Stockholm.

Positive Triggers

“This reminds me of” moments are more than passing waves of nostalgia. They provide comfort in recalling memories and showing how life experiences remain consistent.

No wonder there’s a wider trend in architecture that is rediscovering classical forms and beauty — aka New Traditionalism — and stressing how ancient civilizations were skilled at crafting designs that evoke positive emotions and familiarity.

Reviving past styles to invoke awe and wonder is nothing new. Revival styles account for how some cities look and provide keys to our recollections. In a more applied example, at Bergianska Trädgården near Victoria House, there’s also a late Victorian “folly” grotto inspired by those in the United Kingdom, Follies reflected a wonderment for nature and recalled Renaissance-style embraces of nature and creativity.

An Idea

To sum up, we can all benefit from intentionally jarring, positive memories of places. These positive memories don’t cost more than negative ones. They can boost our mood and enrich our lives.

                                  A delightful lit greenhouse via Substack AI

So here’s an idea. Discover your own magically lit “greenhouse,” a location that brings on a gestalt moment, followed by reflective days. Talk about it, write about it. Explore why reminiscing makes you feel good because you will feel triggered — in a good way.

There are many places–in your daily environments–where you can practice finding positive triggers.  But maybe a getaway or retreat will work best. The iconic Findhorn Foundation recently stopped their workshops and external programming after many years. But from road trips to the likes of structured coursework (such as the programming of the innovative Modern Elder Academy in Baja California or Santa Fe), jumpstarts still await.

In times like these who wouldn’t benefit from a bit more positivity about places where plants and people grow?

-Chuck

Chuck R. Wolfe is a recent Living and Working on Purpose MEA online alum, a recovering lawyer, and now an author,  photographer, and part-time academic who writes about cities and places (you can learn more in his three books and his most recent project is the Substack).

Go deeper with a workshop, in person or online.

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