As with most writers, my inspiration comes to me 24/7 from a variety of sources. I note them on a scrap of paper, my smartphone, or laptop. Even though I may not be writing as many blogs, because of other interests sometimes I just get an itch to delve into a subject. Today I opened an email from Margaret Manning at http://sixtyandme.com/start/ about nostalgia. When I retired I had more time to think about things than I did while work took up my time. My brain doesn’t give me a rest. I found that my interest in genealogy also made me think of old friends and want to reconnect with them. This year is my 50-year high school reunion, so I’ll get a chance to find out what they’ve been up to in life.
Last year we had a 77th birthday party for a friend. The theme was 77 Sunset Strip, an old detective show that I secretly watched as a kid in reruns when I was supposed to be in bed. I fell in love with the debonair Jeff Spencer, Roger Smith. He was my first real star crush. I gave my friend a copy of the first season for her birthday and bought another season for myself. Last December when I was recuperating from surgery, I watched my videos and even ordered another season. Then one night when I couldn’t sleep, I discovered they were replaying the series on MeTV at 3 am, so every night I record it and in the morning I relive life in the late 50s and early 60s with my favorite private investigator. Then one day, I saw Roger Smith had died. That was a bittersweet moment. He’d been sick and certainly lost his dashing good looks like we all do, but to me, he was still the handsome leading man from my youth. Watching him solve mysteries brings back fond memories of the time before my life became complicated.
Old memories have a way of bringing back emotions both good and bad. In the 1700s “Nostalgia was originally described as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause” by Johannes Hoffer, the Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1688. Military physicians speculated that its prevalence among Swiss mercenaries abroad was due to earlier damage to the soldiers’ ear drums and brain cells by the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Alps…In the 19th and 20th centuries nostalgia was variously classified as an “immigrant psychosis,” a form of “melancholia” and a “mentally repressive compulsive disorder” among other pathologies.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/science/what-is-nostalgia-good-for-quite-a-bit-research-shows.html?pagewanted=all
Hepper, Ritchie, Sedikides, and Wildschut (2012, Emotion) describe nostalgia as a complex emotion that involves past-oriented cognition and a mixed affective signature. The emotion is often triggered by encountering a familiar smell, sound, or keepsake, by engaging in conversations or by feeling lonely. We remember and think about a memory, typically a fond one that is personally meaningful. We view the memory through rose-colored glasses so we often feel emotional. Usually, we feel happy, but with a sense of loss and longing that can sometimes be bittersweet.
Photo via Visual hunt
Nostalgia confers psychological benefits such as, feeling a stronger sense of belonging, affiliation, or sociality and often indicates higher levels of self-esteem and positive mood. Nostalgic engagement carried out habitually and excessively, however, may not be beneficial to all. It goes without saying that there’s a difference between being nostalgic and only remembering the past as Alzheimer’s patients do, but maybe they remember past enjoyable events because it makes them happy.
Why are some memories from our past so vibrant and enduring? Researchers have posited that there’s a Lifespan Retrieval Stage. Those at the University of Leeds proposed this explanation. “The years highlighted by the reminiscence bump coincide with “the emergence of a stable and enduring self.” They specified the period between 12 to 22 years of age. In other research, I found that ages 15 to 30 were identified as the time when more memories are encoded that are linked to our social identity. It makes sense that the memories which contribute to this process become important throughout our life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of our self-image. They became part of it.
It’s not surprising single Baby Boomers surround themselves with things that bring back special memories like pictures, souvenirs, and keepsakes. Our generation has also started to record their life stories or memoirs in online templates or fill-in books like The Book of Me.
Some Baby Boomers make their own soundtrack, songs in their life that they remember from when they were the happiest and most content. The Nostalgia Machine website plays songs from your “favorite music year” while another app, Sundial, replays the songs you were listening to exactly a year ago. For photographic memories, The Timehop app and Facebook’s On This Day feature show you photos and social-media updates from a given date in history. The Museum of Endangered Sounds website plays the sounds of discontinued products.
Music spurs an emotional reaction. “Brain imaging studies show that our favorite songs stimulate the brain’s pleasure circuit, which releases an influx of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. The more we like a song, the more we get treated to neurochemical bliss.” We are most susceptible during our pubescent years when our hormones are raging. We want to remember our teenage adventures even if some of them were embarrassing.
In my case, taste tends to bring back good memories. This has its pros and cons. It makes it difficult for me to pass up a Dairy Queen even though I’ve been on a diet most of my life. I think I’ve even passed on my love of sweets to my son since we both like Peeps and Twizzlers. Both hold fond memories from my youth like the search for Easter Baskets with Peeps nestled inside and eating Twizzlers in the library with his father in college. I do blame my mother more for his Peep addiction since she stuffed one in his formerly sugar-free little body when he was 5 months old. Oldtimecandy.com can find your favorite candy. Martha Stewart’s and other recipe websites can give you recipes for your old snacks and other comfort foods. http://www.marthastewart.com/1119136/12-nostalgic-foods-you-havent-had-childhood
The sense of smell has the closest link to memory. Studies have shown that people can remember a scent with 65% accuracy after 1 year while visual memory dips to 50% after only a few months. To this day the smell of Brut cologne, yes you can still buy it, bring back memories of my old high school boyfriend. One last tip – Don’t get nostalgic about old loves. Leave them in the past. There’s often a good reason they’re there in the first place.
So keep remembering the things that made you happy in the past, but keep making new memories, because memories are something no one can take away from you.
Continue the adventure!