This concept, coined by Eduard von Hartmann, denotes a psychical mechanism which brings it about that, when reviewing all that has occurred in a life, memory tends always to place in a more favourable light the negative experiences of the past:
“Consider first how, in our memories, unpleasant impressions tend quickly to fade and be blotted out while the more pleasant ones linger on, so that even an event or an adventure which proved, in reality, to be profoundly negative in its consequences glows in our memory in the most delightful colours (juvat meminisse malorum); this being the case, it must follow that an individual’s memory, looking back and summing up, must come to a much more favourable conclusion about the quantity of joy and pleasure contained in this individual’s life than could ever be come to by a mind observing and adding up, its functions unobscured by these “spectacles of reminiscence”, the amount of pleasure and unpleasure actually experienced by this individual in his or her life. Whatever reminiscence is not yet able to provide in the way of covering up the suffering that has actually already been experienced will certainly be provided, as regards the suffering that will most likely really be experienced in the future, by the instinct of hope…; thus, the balance drawn up as regards the past will tend to be involuntarily falsified in the case of all younger people by drawing into this balance the idea of a future which has been purged, through hope, of all the principal causes of suffering undergone in the past, without thereby taking into account those additional causes of suffering that may have since been added. In other words, it is not one’s own life as it really was, and will be, that is used to draw up the balance between the total quantity of pleasure and the total quantity of pain in one’s existence but rather one’s life as it appears, to the uncritical eye, in the beautifying mirror of reminiscence and wreathed in the deceptive perfume of hope. It is no wonder, then, when a result appears to be yielded which is little enough in accordance with reality. – Consider, then, also the fact that the foolish vanity of human beings extends so far that they would not only rather seem good than really be good but also rather seem happy than really be happy, so that each of us takes care to hide that which makes us suffer most and thereby shows off a prosperity, a contentment and a happiness which he does not, in reality, possess.” (Eduard v. Hartmann, Philosophie des Unbewussten. Zweiter Teil: Metaphysik des Unbewussten)
Long after Hartmann certain psychological experiments performed by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman have confirmed that the effects of such “spectacles of reminiscence” are indeed as real as Hartmann claimed them to be. The proofs thereby provided of the real existence of this psychical mechanism lend support to antinatalism inasmuch as they tend to undermine the cogency of that contentment with existence which we find expressed everywhere and to reveal this latter as mere deceit and self-deceit.