Friday, July 07, 2006

Sweet, sweet memories

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My mother recently gave me a brooch that I had bought for her on holiday when I was about six years old. A somewhat tacky looking article (truth be known), consisting of diamond shaped bits of coloured glass, surrounded by hearts constructed out of fake pearl. Immediately, I was transported back through the years. It cost me 2/6 in the old money. I thought it was wildly expensive, I thought it was a gem on a parallel with the crown jewels. I thought I'd given my mother the earth. Even writing about that now, I still can experience the joy and excitement I felt at that moment.

This all came to mind after reading about research from University of Southhampton in the UK. Psychologist Tim Wildschut and his colleagues have found nostalgic memories, such as I experienced, to be a potent mood booster. They found that people who write about good memories are more cheerful compared to people who write about everyday events, report higher self-esteem and feel more positively about their personal relationships. These findings reinforce earlier studies which also show the protective psychological benefits of nostalgia.

Does mentally revisiting times, places, events, interactions really help? In an earlier post on rumination, a kind of mental chewing of the cud, I highlighted its role in the influencing the onset, severity and duration of depression. Isn't nostalgia a variation on the same thing and, therefore, potentially unhelpful?

A critical difference lies in thought content.

Ruminating about unpleasant events can have negative effects, potentially placing the individual at risk of retraumatisation. Rumination can increase an existent bias towards negative thinking, including distorted interpretations of life events, more negative self-evaluations, a sense of loss of control and more pessimistic predictions about the future. Ruminators often fail to generate solutions to problems and, even when they do, they often express low confidence in their solutions and fail to act on them.

However, with pleasant events, rumination can have a positive impact. Dr. Sonja Lyubormirsky of the University of California, one of the leading researchers on rumination, says this makes perfect sense.

"You don't want to get past a positive experience.
There's a magic and mystery in positive events, so analysing
them lifts the veil and makes wondrous events more ordinary."

Read more about the positive effects of nostalgia and strategies for incorporating good memories into your life here.


Sarebear said...

Oh! That's a really cool flip side to the rumination coin. I've read that post on an earlier date.

I oughtta start prescribing myself some nostalgia, then (but given how screwed-up childhoods, and/or the lack of memory of most of a childhood, are often present in people w/mental illness . . . it might be harder to dig up some nostalgia.)

Okay, to end on a positive note let's see if I can think of something.

I don't know if they ever had these in Australia (I'd love some Violet Crumble up here . . . .), but growing up, one of my favorite things every Christmas was a Lifesavers Storybook. It was basically a thick cardboard holder shaped and presented like a book, and you open it up and both sides are packed with a variety of rolls in different flavor combinations.

MMMMMm Yum. Sweet memory (hee hee!)

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Just like you wrote, it all has to do with the content. Great Great post. Why don't you send it to Grand Rounds again?


TheCleaningWoman said...
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TC said...

Neat article. And a LifeSavers Book! I used to get one of those every Christmas!

healthpsych said...

Hi Sarebear,

Yes, as you say, it might be hard for some to come up with some nostalgia in terms of their childhood. However, as you demonstrated, nostalgia can have an infinite number of sources - even a tv show. I'm getting overindulged with that as they remake programs I watched as a kid... Wacky Races is one that comes to mind.

And violet crumble...sweet memory indeed! Can't you get that where you are?

Hi Deborah,

Thanks for the kind comments and for the encouragement. I'll trust your judgement and send it off :)

Hi TC,

Thanks for dropping by. I'm not sure what a Lifesavers Storybook is but it sure seems popular!

Alison said...

This is great stuff, healthpsych, thanks for an interesting post.

Sarebear said...

Nope! No Violet Crumble here (I s'pose I could do an internet search, but I'm not sure anyone sells it in the U.S.)

I only heard of it and had it when my parents were in Australia for two years. YUM yummy Yum yum!

And THIS is a Lifesaver Storybook. It doesn't show the rolls inside, but each side of it is packed with lifesavers rolls!

I just walked down memory lane ALOT, doing a search for a pic; guess alot of people have memories of this!

Oh yeah, and I also found an awesome CANDY BLOG (Deb, ya gotta check out all the chocolate stuff . . . .)

Apparently there's a Gummi Lifesaver version of the Lifesaver book! YUM.

woops. Got lost in the nostalgia, there, but this week that's a GOOD thing.

Thanks for the reminder of things fondly remembered . . . I'm gonna go blog this stuff.

healthpsych said...

Hi Alison,

Thanks for dropping by.

Hi Sarebear,

The lights were on but no one was home! (referring to me). Now I know. Lifesavers are what we (in Britain) call Polos! Lost in translation! :)

I discovered Violet Crumbles here too - far better than Crunchies.

jumpinginpuddles said...

but what if you cant get the good memories to come ? Are you then lost in helplessness

healthpsych said...

No, JIP. And nostalgia doesn't necessarily mean anything related to childhood. I am nostalgic for things totally unrelated family/childhood...things like Yorkie Bars..(see? MORE chocolate)..

Anonymous said...

I have this sweet memory about when my dad would mow the lawn when I was a kid. My friends and I would line up behind him and march because it was our parade. My dad would march too. So cute :).
I also remember when I used to brush my dads hair and put clips in it. The fact that he would let me do this is always kind of funny and even more so when I remember him going to the store to buy cigarettes WITH the clips in his hair! I had a good dad and lots of those nice memories. Thanks for a great post.

beethoven writes said...


came across your page through rachel's blog. gosh, what a good article in relation to 7/7 and all that.

being an eternal optimist, i would recommend it as a positive way of thinking to anyone!



prescription drugs said...

Maybe I have to work out a habit to think about past to become a little happier

Anonymous said...

Great stuff! I do think nostalgic memories are indeed essentially positive, although I don't thing they are the same.. I mean nostalgic and positive memories are 2 different things. What's your oppinion on that?