This is You Won’t Regret It, a new weekly column featuring recommendations, tips, and unsolicited advice from the Mashable culture team.
Making playlists is a lot like journaling.
I used to journal religiously — every night for almost ten years, I’d pick up a pen and fill dozens of notebooks with a recap of my day. I burned through almost 20 notebooks and countless rainbow gel pens over the years, meticulously documenting what I did, what I wore, and what annoyed me during my journaling phase.
But once I got to college, my daily journaling fell apart because maintaining a routine was nearly impossible. Between classes, homework, papers, extracurriculars, and a social life, it was difficult to find time to eat a real meal, let alone recap my day at night.
I did, however, always have my phone and earbuds on me — whether sitting on the train or studying for an exam, I was probably listening to music. Making playlists became my new form of journaling. For me, listening to music evokes stronger memories than looking at photos. Lo-Fang’s “Animal Urges” will almost always bring me back to frantically flipping through flash cards the night before an art history final, and hearing the opening bars of YACHT’s “Shangri-La” instantly reminds me of holding a steaming cup of peach green tea while waiting on a chilly train platform in late November.
It’s a common phenomenon — you hear a song for the first time in a while, and bam, you’re hit with a wave of where you were, how you felt, and what you were doing the last time you listened to that song.
Making playlists that remind you of a certain memory is such a trip
— maalab (@KarlMaalab) August 13, 2018
It always amazes me how certain songs can trigger such vivid memories. Where you were, what you were doing, who you were with.
— Caesar Chukwuma (@iamcaez) August 10, 2018
tonight a song came on and i grinned but i had to hit next bc sometimes you just aren’t ready for the memory that comes with it
— taylor edwards (@TayPay3) August 6, 2018
Music’s ability to prompt such vivid memories has been incredibly useful for me. When I don’t have time to journal while traveling, I make a playlist of the songs that I listened to during the trip.
When I drove cross country, I made a playlist of the songs I listened to while driving from stop to stop. A year later, I’ll listen to The Shins’ “New Slang” and almost smell the sweet iced coffee I had for breakfast in New Mexico.
There’s actually science backing up why music triggers such visceral memories — a 2013 study at the University of Newcastle in Australia found that pop music helped patients with severe brain injuries remember pieces of their past. The study played the most popular songs from the patients’ life, and asked participants about whether they liked it and what they remembered. The study was the first of its kind to look into how music-evoked autobiographic memories (MEAM) affects people with brain injuries.
According to Psychology Today, “Songs that evoked a memory were noted as being more familiar and more well liked than songs that did not trigger a MEAM.”
A UC Davis study mapped the brain while participants listened to music and found that familiar music activates regions of the brain linked to emotion and memory. Petr Janata, the study’s author said, “a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that stays playing in our head.”
“It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye,” Janata said in a press release. “Now we can see the association between those two things — the music and the memories.”
A more recent study from McGill University tested responses to four different moods of music, and concluded that “happy” samples of music triggered the fastest memory recall.
The photos I took and posted on Instagram help me remember the sights I saw, but they don’t trigger the same visceral memories that listening to my travel playlists do. So if you’re ever traveling and don’t have time to actually keep a journal, try making a playlist.