Not everything we have done in life evokes warm memories but some things do. We all have fond memories of times, places, people or events in our lives. When we stop and think about them it is almost as if we get transported back in time and we can feel like we are there.
Apart from the obvious, one of the other reasons so many people have had a visceral reaction to the Rolf Harris case is that it has destroyed their memories of someone they thought they knew. Of course those of us who have never met the man do not actually know him, we only know a public image or persona.
Music is often the trigger for us to wander back in time. Many people have songs that are reminiscent of first dates, first kiss or matrimony. The term for reflecting fondly on the past is nostalgia and it is getting a revival.
Witness the number of tours by “aging” rockers. Even the Monty Python crew has done a series of performances in London, which recreate their original sketches. The movie “A Hard Day’s Night” is being rereleased on DVD and in the cinema (at least in the UK). It may well make more money second time round as people seek to reminisce and revisit an earlier time.
Work has been done at the University of Southampton on the effects of nostalgia on our moods. Perhaps not surprisingly they found that people who spend some time reminiscing about happy times or events tended to feel less depressed and lonely.
Something interesting is the origin of the term. A Swiss doctor first coined it in the 17th century. It was supposed to explain the physical and mental afflictions of soldiers who were longing to go home. The word comes from the Greek nostos for home and algos for pain
Wanting to return home when in battle would seem to be fairly normal to me even today, let alone in the late 1600’s.
This is not about living in the past. It is about using positive memories to help us feel better or to help us cope with situations. For example when loved ones die, grief can be tempered by reminiscing on good times spent together. It is also not about believing the past was necessarily better – a “those were the days” approach.
Other experiments have been done using music to trigger positive memories. In patients with dementia playing Beatles music had a positive effect on anxiety, depression and anger. Now obviously the music chosen has to be part of the persons’ past but you get the overall gist.
On facebook there are many nostalgic pages. Lost Perth and Lost WAFL (about footy from days gone by) have meaning to me as some of the photos I recognize from my own childhood and teens. There are other “Lost” pages about other cities and events of the past.
Looking at some of the photos that we recognize can make us feel good. It is as simple as that. For me this came as a surprise as I am not one for looking back. However this is contingent on the memories being fond ones.
But if our treasured memories or beliefs are shattered it can cut deeply.
We cannot go backwards in life and the past can look better from today than what it was at the time. We cannot dwell on or live in the past. We can however enjoy memories and reflect on good times. Equally we also need to leave things that belong in the past, in the past rather than carry them.
A bit of nostalgia costs nothing and as it turns out may be very good for us.