“The Amiga is dead, get over it, stop living in the past”, the heathens scoff.
Nostalgia, for several centuries, was considered a mental disorder, and the term itself stems from the translation of the Greek word nostosalgos, meaning a ‘return to pain’, evoking all the anguish associated with melancholia. It was coined by a 17th-century physician to describe the neuroticisms displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. They were likely preoccupied with the notion that being anywhere else was preferable to living on the precipice of terminal peril. Crazy!
Faced with the overwhelming anxiety of life’s trials and tribulations, it has even been equated with the desire to metaphorically shrink back into the womb as a coping mechanism.
According to Alan R. Hirsch, nostalgia is “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory – not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.”
I’m sure we’ve all at some point wondered if the nay-saying doom-mongers are right. After all, it can’t be beneficial to your state of mind to ruminate that the best years of your life are in the past. Is an obsession with bygone eras impeding our ability to enjoy the present and make optimistic plans for the future? Can an appreciation of yesteryear compliment a piquancy for life in general?
It turns out that the subject is a popular one for psychologists and much research into the phenomenon has already been conducted. The general consensus is that wistful reminiscing in moderation serves a utilitarian function, and should be incorporated into our lives to help us make sense of them. In fact, it’s hard to imagine being able to purposely tune out our pasts to stay focused on the present, beyond the scope of transitory, therapeutic mindfulness that is.
Dr Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University in particular believes that nostalgia can be a positive force in that it’s “good psychological medicine”. His studies suggest that recalling the past boosts mood and self-esteem, strengthens social cohesion, and makes life feel more 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 have good relationships, that we are happy and that life has some sense of purpose or meaning.”
Of course, you can have too much of a good thing, and indulging in anything to excess can constitute detrimental, pathological behaviour. If you treat nostalgia as an antidepressant to counter loneliness and you’re not simultaneously cultivating and relishing the fodder of tomorrow’s rose-tinted trips down memory lane, you’re getting the balance all wrong. You’re damning yourself to the throes of stagnation.
The key to capitalising on the abundant benefits of nostalgia appears to lie in approaching it from the right perspective. ‘Flow’ experiences should be conceived of as having a lifelong enrichment effect, not as an ephemeral burst of euphoria to be yearned after for years to come. If they are absorbed into our psyche, they make us who we are today, not who we once were.
Can I tempt anyone to a cable car ride? I’ll hold your hand if you get scared.
“Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function … It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.”
Reminiscing knows no boundaries. It occurs all over the world, amongst all cultures, and you’re never too young or too old to engage in it. Fairly recently, it has also been shown to be particularly useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s sufferers, whereby it allows them to remain connected to their former selves and family for as long as possible, greatly augmenting their quality of life.
“Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety … It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.”
Constantine Sedikides, Professor of Social and Personality Psychology, University of Southampton
Picture courtesy of Paul Anthony Wilson
So next time a friend or colleague mocks you for wasting your life with retro gaming, you’ll be able to point out that – on the contrary – it’s making you a more rounded, well-balanced human being… and it’s cheaper than central heating!
Perhaps it was the cold that drove me to seek out the comforting womb of a theme park in Scarborough that I enjoyed visiting on family holidays as a child. Nothing could prepare me for what had become of Mr Marvel’s twenty years on. Aside from seeming so small and insignificant perched on the edge of a slither of wonky land alongside the coastline, it now looks like a forgotten war zone, ravaged by neglect and the passage of time. The souvenirs left by camping vagrants and drunk kids do nothing to restore the family fun day ambience.
Anyone fancy a Marvellous medicinal spa? According to the brochure the natural local spring water has been enriched with rejuvenating minerals. If only I’d remembered my trunks.
The wild animals have all been re-homed (I hope!), the go-karts, helter-skelter and other rides and climbing apparatus disassembled, and the circus stadium razed to the ground. The dilapidated cable car stations are all that remains to indicate that these hallowed grounds were at one time a major tourist attraction chock full with excitable, candy floss fuelled sprogs.
I suppose the takeaway life lesson is, if you don’t keep a watchful eye on the future, adapt and move with it, sooner or later someone will come along and vandalise your fibreglass dinosaurs. Go about your business, sleep and put the kids through school, and when you least expect it, they’ll be stealthily condemned as a health hazard by a pen-pushing bureaucrat and be unceremoniously dismantled. Gone forever. Still, we’ll always have Flamingoland… won’t we?
…or is the ‘moral’ of the story, just when you think you’re watching a camper-van heist movie, all vampire breaks loose?