Nostalgia: a feeling we love to hate and hate to love, and one that seems to have the mystical powers of acting as a personal time machine.
For example, you hear that Backstreet Boys song, and suddenly you’re transported back to the more simple times of elementary school, where you’re coloring all over your notebooks and eating mounds of chicken nuggets (well, maybe these are activities you continue to pursue even today). You stumble across a photo of you and a friend with whom you’ve lost touch, and scenes of your fun times together surge to the front of your brain and play out like a movie reel. You laugh hysterically with friends over memories of how strange you all were in high school, and you wonder how you transformed into who you are today (possibly still just as weird, but at least you own it).
There’s something mysterious about how nostalgia works, mustering up dormant memories you weren’t even sure you were still holding. It’s that lack of permanence that jerks itself into realization that gives nostalgia its bittersweet taste; it’s the fact that everything around us is constantly changing. It’s that desperate grip we have to make time just stop for a second, so things can just stay how they are for a bit. It’s that yearning to go back to times we were certain of and where we were happy. It’s that eeriness that time is ticking before our eyes, but also the excitement that the moments that are happening right here and right now could become sweet memories one day. Darn it, I’m getting all sentimental just thinking about it.
Those chills that nostalgia brings up can be pretty wild, and when you think about all the time in between your past and now, it’s suddenly apparent how much progress you’ve made and how many memories are made in a day, a month, a year, a decade… and a lifetime. It’s pretty remarkable to look back on these times and sense that you’re not the person you once were when those memories were being written.
When you can take the time to sink into the pool of nostalgia, and let all of those memories roll over you in a wave, it turns out that you’re actually doing yourself a huge favor.
TED says that studies have shown that remembering meaningful and rewarding experiences can limit stress, anxiety and loneliness and help increase self-esteem and feelings of social belonging. It can even cause people to be more charitable and kind.
In addition, Scientific American reports that experiments have shown that when subjects sunk into reveries by listening to nostalgic songs or by reminiscing on old times, they reported a higher sense of connection to their identities, and thus, a heightened sense of self and purpose in life.
The New York Times says that having these types of experiences also increased subjects’ likeliness to agree that they feel “loved” and that “life is worth living.”
It turns out that connecting with the past adds texture to the meanings of our lives. Not only does this increase life satisfaction, but it provides hope. Knowing that you made it through hard times in the past, and having a sense of self-continuity that you’re still that same, strong person, proves to you that you can take on future bumps in the road.
Something I find myself doing at multiple points in the day is to stop for a second, look around, and remind myself about where I am in my life, that this is the youngest I’ll ever be and these times are the ones I’ll be aching for when I’m older. Doing this reminds me to be so grateful for the “now,” because these moments we’re living in the present are only going to happen once!
The film strips of our lives will continue to reel on, and even though times will have slipped beneath us and live in the past, we should still revisit them often. We should keep in mind that some of the best times of our lives are still waiting for us to catch up to them.
Photo credits: www.theflexiblechef.com