Martin Rosenberg, PhD
It’s 8:30 a.m. at the café. An espresso magically appeared. The moon is overhead. The sun is rising over the Sierra Madres and the Banderas Bay ocean is shimmering. Such beauty opens a floodgate of memories. Relationships, food, music, and travel vie for our mental attention. Sights, people, smells and emotions invade our senses.
When we connect our past to the present moment it can be enriching. These going back mental images and thoughts evoke feelings of “wishing for the good old days.” Is nostalgia always good? Why do we compare the past to our present? Should we create new memories?
We can bring them up for airing as if they happened yesterday. Our memory is amazing as it opens pages to a closed book. The past is inviolate and not subject to change.
How could I not want to recapture my childhood thrills of being at Coney Island, Brooklyn, N.Y.? The Cyclone roller coaster, parachute jump, steeplechase carousel and Nathan’s hotdogs smothered in mustard and relish. There was bizarre entertainment and games of skill to win a stuffed toy teddy bear.
I went back some time ago, and wish I hadn’t. Closed rides, shuttered game stands and gang graffiti greeted my return. Going back physically is not a good experience. When memories are that sweet, leave them be. Coney Island today is in the developer’s hands. A new, cleansed of history, urban landscape including a few historic rides have risen. There’s no going back.
Reliving good times is a universal human trait. When the going gets challenging and we are anxious, as when considering retirement and moving to a new country, we are likely to desire a peaceful past moment.
Re-connecting to our past can have a positive effect. I am the same person today as when I played in a baseball league, souped-up my GTO to outrace the Fords, or lost in a tennis final at summer camp.
What has changed are the filters through which we see our world. We only know what we experience. Therefore even our memories shift in our lifetime. I can avoid dwelling on a present disappointment by mentally visiting a wonderful past memory. Give it a try when you want to change a negative thought or get re-energized.
Erica Hepper, lecturer at the UK’s University of Surrey, proposes that “Nostalgia is much more than mere reminiscing, it’s a feeling. It often feels bittersweet-mostly happy and comforting, but with a tinge of sadness that whatever we’re remembering is lost in some way.”
If nostalgia is a happy moment it also makes us physically stronger and optimistic. Research has shown that we can make nostalgia work for us.
Another practical tool which is easily accessed, and that brings continuity to the bumps in our busy lives.
The origin of the term nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos
which means “to return home”; and algia, which means “to ache”.
In the 1600s the word was connected to mental illness and erroneously called a disease. Being a little homesick is hardly a cause for therapy.
A study published in Memory and Cognition reported that nostalgia from the ages 12 to 22 tend to be the years we rekindle. Our image of ourselves is strongly developing in those years.
As we approach holidays, sentimental remembrances emerge. Loved ones, family reunions, singing and gift-giving connect us to our past though distance and loss may have occurred. Warm feelings are contagious to those around us. Hospitality and generosity often result when we visit fond memories. As the holiday lights and decorations go up around beautiful Puerto Vallarta, it is a reminder to share our abundance with others.
While revisiting the past I reminded myself not to get lost in closed history at the expense of the present. New experiences are essential to refresh our thinking, beliefs and creative energy. There are wonderful nostalgia building opportunities to move onto new experiences.
Take some measured risks, try a new restaurant every week, see a film that stretches the imagination, or go hear the Michael Jackson musical tribute show at Act 2 stages,. Tastes, sounds, and images ignite our passions and energize us. Also we are putting new nostalgia in the memory bank.
Going back to places and the memories produced is old news. Take that historical tour through documentaries on YouTube, old photo albums and in your dreams.