Nostalgia: It’s Good for You!

Last spring, I graduated from college and found myself, diploma in hand, thrust into an unfamiliar world. I felt disoriented without a magical meal plan that guaranteed regular feedings or the overwhelming piles of homework that occupied my time. What good would a double major in history and sociology do me now? In this new world brimming with unwanted responsibilities, I began to reflect on my experiences. I “waxed nostalgic”—a phrase that once was associated with heartsickness, suffering in the present because of the desire to return to times past. I yearned for my childhood, for a time when my biggest concern was picking an outfit to wear on the first day of school.

Almost a year later, the shock has dulled, and I find myself delighted with my new “grownup” job at The Strong. As it turns out, the real world isn’t actually so bad and cafeteria dining is overrated. But this much I know: I will never stop reminiscing about years past. My job focuses on the America at Play: Play Stories Video Contest that the National Museum of Play launched in early March, and it has prompted much personal nostalgia. Memories have surfaced that were long abandoned, stuffed away to make room for thoughts of credit card bills and other  less enjoyable subjects. When my thoughts turned to games of Spud with the neighborhood kids, impromptu performances in the backyard, playing in the snow, and the never-ending entertainment that Barbie provided, the smile on my face expressed something far from heartsickness.

I’m not alone in savoring my memories. Since I started in this position, the dinner table has become a forum for reminiscing, and I’ve discovered a lot about my friends and family. I’ve learned about how my mother occupied herself for hours with a two-by-two inch pad of paper and a pencil when she was growing up and about the mischief my grandfather caused with his friends on Halloween. Between stories and fits of laughter, it occurred to me: waxing nostalgic can’t be all bad. Otherwise, we wouldn’t love to remember.

I’ve come to my own conclusions about the benefits of nostalgia. It allows us to briefly escape reality, to reflect on a time when life was all about LEGO bricks and bike rides. We reconnect to our former, carefree selves, and preserve favorite memories and pastimes. As it turns out, researchers have delved into this subject as well. Some contend that, as the etymology of the word suggests, bouts of nostalgia are potentially detrimental, keeping people trapped in the past. Others, however, have countered this assertion. One researcher declares, “Most of our days are often filled with routine activities that aren’t particularly significant…. Nostalgia is a way for us to tap into the past experiences that we have that are quite meaningful—to remind us that our lives are worthwhile, that we are people of value, that we are happy and that life has some sense of purpose or meaning.”

So, here’s to remembering all that was carefree and simple. We are always moving forward and leaving the past further behind; let’s make sure that we don’t discard moments of unadulterated joy and fun in the process.

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