Memories of a childhood Christmas when the world was beautiful, wonderful and perfect. Memories of the glory days of youth. We all have our “Penny Lane” back there beneath the blue suburban skies. Anyone can get caught up in nostalgia and it can often be very pleasant, a warm reminiscence of days gone by – but it can also be a painful yearning for an impossibly perfect past that we can never get back to or recreate. Nostalgia takes the past out of context and removes the rough edges from the “good old days” and it can lead to catastrophic mistakes when our decisions are based solely on some golden memory. Like when you try to give that old relationship one more try because you have conveniently remembered only the good times.
Despite the dangers of historical revisionism and fixation on the past, recent research confirms the positive side of nostalgia. Social Psychologist Dr. Constantine Sedikides conducted a series of studies on nostalgia and concluded that it helps alleviate loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Sedikides points out that nostalgia works best when we do not compare the “flawless” past with the “disastrous” present. Nostalgia is also effective at bringing couples closer together, if used appropriately. Reminiscence focused on shared problem solving and positive relationship moments tends to make happy couples feel happier and closer. Not surprisingly, distressed couples tend to feel sad when remembering the good old days.
Remembering the past is good. Obsessing about the past is bad. You can’t change it, so why ruin the present regretting it or wanting it back? Despite the obvious dangers of this type of “historic attachment” it remains a potent and bittersweet cocktail. It is best not to linger on what was and what might have been… but there’s so many great, haunting songs dedicated to doing just that.
“WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS”
“Faded photographs, covered now with lines and creases.
Ticket torn in half. Memories in bits and pieces.
Traces of love long ago that didn’t work out right…
Ribbons from her hair. Souvenirs of days together.
The ring she used to wear. Pages from an old love letter…”