I have yet to see the Barbie movie, but it’s definitely on my list.
Leaving the theatre last week after seeing Oppenheimer, I was greeted by a pink wave of women queued up for their trip down memory lane, and I wanted in. Immediately I was taken back to the “good ol’ days” of my childhood where possibilities were rosy like Barbie’s world. Feelings and emotions are what nostalgia is made of, and it turns out, we all have an inherent thirst for it.
As far as mind-blowing tropes go, nostalgia is the motherlode. It stimulates the amygdala, the emotional seat of our brains. Nostalgia takes us places, sort of like “recycling with benefits,” where we are in control. For some of us it may feel comfortable to snuggle up with, yet, for others, the recollections come with a twinge of sadness for what once was.
However nostalgia arrives, it gives us an opportunity, an opening of self-reflection, to bring us back to ourselves. Or does it really?
Studies show that we actually persuade our autobiographical memory to help us feel better. Dan Schacter, Professor of psychology at Harvard University, who wrote “The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers,” explains it this way. “Most of us prefer reminiscing about positive experiences, which gives us ‘preferential access’ to our memories. Positive memory bias keeps us from rehashing and retrieving negative experiences. And this tendency is particularly pronounced when we feel discomfort in the present. That’s when our imagination penetrates the original memory and modifies the content.”
Hmmm… Come to think of it, if I dig deeper into my earlier relationship with my Barbie I recall feeling kind of weird undressing a doll that looked more like my mom than me. I cut her ponytail off so her bald spot was like a beacon when we went adventuring with her strapped onto my bike. And keeping track of her accessories was futile – she was always one shoe short. But, in my mind Barbie transports me back to a time when I viewed my world full of wonder and promise, so that’s where my “rosy retrospection” takes me.
Nostalgia has evolved over time, just like us. It’s been rehabilitated as predominantly positive, but it began as a neurological disease mirroring depression, first coined in 1934 by Swiss medical student Johannes Hofer who studied the anxieties of Swiss Mercenaries during the Hundred Years War of the Late Middle Ages. Nowadays we see nostalgia as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past. Cultures across continents identify with the feeling, and thanks to tv and film nostalgia is the latest “go to” for uplifting, warm and fuzzy. Just look at the list of re-make blockbusters — Top Gun Maverick, A Star is Born, Batman, West Side Story, etc.
Nostalgia is clearly something we all have in common. I love how it connects us to ourselves and to one another because it originates from our own meaningful experiences. To me, nostalgia is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to pitch a tent there. As a temporary escape it can give us a much needed breather that can sustain us through tough times, (like Covid), but it can turn negative if we get stuck ruminating on the past.
Knowing how it works awakens me to the power of my mind in the present moment… Isn’t it wondrous to know that we can all experience a sort of mental time travel that grants us a sense of familiarity and belonging?
Research published in National Geographic Science found that nostalgia increases our sense of well-being, boosts our inspiration and creativity, and makes us feel more youthful, alert, optimistic, and energetic, even encouraging us to take risks and pursue our goals.
It’s all about the lens you’re looking through. As an essential part of the human experience, nostalgia offers a helpful reminder of who we were always meant to be — our authentic selves, loved simply for who we are.
Seems like nostalgia is whatever we make it, and we can tap into it whenever we desire. Which reminds me, do you remember the commercial from the 70s? = “Calgon, take me away.” It sort of popped into my head when I was trying to come up with a title for this conversation.
Guess we never know where our sense of nostalgia will take us…