Let Yourself Get Nostalgic


I’ve always been a sentimental person. I have boxes and scrapbooks full of old letters, ticket stubs, photos, and other mementos. Even when I was a child and didn’t have much of a past to speak of, I’d look back on good times and wish I could relive them.

Because I have the tendency to think about the past more often than I do the present or the future, I’ve made an effort to curb my habit of reminiscing so much. I’ve done a lot of work to clear out old baggage that was holding me back, especially where school is concerned, going so far as to burn my old report cards and SAT scores in the fireplace, and I don’t want to dwell too much on the events of the past.

However, when I noticed Facebook’s new “On This Day” feature, I couldn’t help but take a look. Facebook will pull your activity from that date in previous years and tell you whom you became friends with, what people shared with you, and what you shared with them. This week Facebook told me that two years ago, Darren and I were waiting to find out whether we were having a boy or girl. Reading the predictions was fun (as it so happened, I was one of the many who guessed wrong) and took me back to that moment of anticipation before we knew we would have a son.

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The warm and fuzzy feeling that I got from reminiscing reminded me that nostalgia isn’t so bad, even for those of us who have to make a special effort to live in the moment. In fact, I did a bit of reading on the subject and learned that research has shown nostalgia to be good for us. This is from a Huffington Post article on “The Incredible Powers of Nostalgia”:

A lot can be said for nostalgia’s benefits. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Memory, Routledge and his colleagues showed that nostalgizing helps people relate their past experiences to their present lives in order to make greater meaning of it all. The result can boost their mood and reduce stress. “Nostalgia increases feelings of social connectedness to others,” he says. “Nostalgia makes people feel loved and valued and increases perceptions of social support when people are lonely.”

“When we experience nostalgia,” Hepper* explains, “we tend to feel happier, have higher self-esteem, feel closer to loved ones and feel that life has more meaning. And on a physical level, nostalgia literally makes us feel warmer.” In addition, in an August 2013 study published by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Hepper and her colleagues showed that nostalgia can produce increased optimism about the future.

And consider this: Your nostalgia can affect those around you. Hepper says after nostalgizing, people donate more generously to charity. And sharing a nostalgic conversation with a friend, family member or romantic partner makes you more supportive and considerate, and less argumentative.

*Erica Hepper, Ph.D., a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey in England.

The other day I saw these benefits in action when looking at photos of my son. I was simply backing up the photos from my phone to cloud storage, but each image I clicked reminded me of a happy moment with him. Given that parenting a toddler has been a high-energy challenge, looking at sweet baby smiles and big milestones — first solid foods! first steps! — made me feel more connected to my little wild man.

Listening to my favorite music from back in the day also makes me nostalgic. I have a Spotify playlist called “High School Mix Tape” that is full of Counting Crows, Stone Temple Pilots, Dave Matthews Band, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Whenever I hear hip-hop jams on the radio from what Darren refers to as my “clubbin’ days” in San Francisco, I feel like I’m back on the dance floor with my girlfriends.

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There’s a great Slate piece on why we’re so nostalgic for the music we loved as teenagers. It says that between ages 12 and 22, our brains are developing so quickly and are so awash with emotion and growth hormones that “the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good.” That explains why I will always be a sucker for *NSYNC.

I’ve found that reminiscing helps me understand who I am now by connecting with the person I used to be. When I hear songs that remind me of awkward middle school dances or high school heartbreak, I feel glad to be where I am today.

Now that I understand the benefits of nostalgia, I’ve decided to embrace my sentimental ways. I enabled Facebook notifications for “On This Day,” and I’m enjoying visiting with my past on a daily basis. I don’t let myself get stuck there, but I remember that moment in time fondly and think about how it led me to this one.

A Few Ways to Get Nostalgic with Reschool Yourself:

  • Take a memory walk around the places that mean something to you.
  • Look at the “Remember This?” photos that I took when I returned to the classroom.
  • Listen to a playlist of your favorite music from when you were a kid. I’m partial to “Summer Hits of the 90s” on Pandora. Make your own playlist on Spotify, or let Retrojam make one for each of your school years.
  • Post old photos on social media for Throwback Thursday. Bonus points for the embarrassing ones that show off your new perm or a mouth full of braces.
  • If you’re a child of the 80s, follow Hillary Buckholtz’s I’m Remembering Tumblr and enjoy seeing My Little Pony lunchboxes and troll dolls again.

Leave a comment: What makes you nostalgic? 

Interview: Roger Fishman, Author of What I Know

Even if they’re not always recognized for it, children and senior citizens are some of the wisest people you’ll meet. Children still have a fresh perspective on life, and seniors have seen it all and tend to give sound advice.

Author Roger Fishman decided to collect the wisdom from both sides of the age spectrum, interviewing 10-year-olds and 100-year-olds from around the country, for a book called What I Know. He wrote down their thoughts on the universal aspects of life, such as change, integrity, and longevity. The small gift book was released online and in stores just last month.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Roger, who is authentic, inspiring, and passionate about life. The book, he says, is about “The importance of human relationships, the importance of human connection, and leading an authentic life with yourself and with others.”


Reschooling Tool #19: Touch the Past and Let it Go

I spent last evening sitting on the living room floor of my childhood home, letting go of hundreds of pages of old letters. This is something that I never thought I could do.

For most of my life, I have been exceptionally sentimental. I suppose it comes with the writer’s temperament, because you’re always collecting experiences to capture in words. And once you write about them, there they stay, preserved forever. Romanticizing and immortalizing the past makes it harder to let go.

Darren‘s mom, Jill, pointed out to me that Catholics may be especially likely to hang onto physical representations of the past. Much of the Catholic ritual centers on sacred objects: the Communion wafer, the priest’s vestments, or relics from the Holy Land. Unlike the Buddhists, whose monks may travel around with only a robe and rice bowl, Catholics bundle up much of their meaning in things. Do the math: Cradle Catholic + romantic writer = memory packrat.


Reschooling With Poetry: Field Trip, 1988

This is one of several poems I’ve come across lately about childhood, school, and growing up.

I’ve always written more prose than poetry, and most of my poems are from my teen years, when I was having trouble accepting that I was growing up. The poems are filled with nostalgia for a simpler past and often have a tinge of melodrama, since I use strong language when I’m passionate about something. This one was modeled on a Sharon Olds poem, inspired by a photo of myself at age seven on a school field trip to a local bird preserve. Remember that I was 17 when I wrote it, so please forgive any hints of cheesiness.


Reschooling with Poetry: Fern Hill

This is one of several poems I’ve come across lately about childhood, school, and growing up.

I read “Fern Hill” for the first time in high school English. It captured my nostalgia for what I remember as a fairly idyllic childhood, which gave me a bit of a Peter Pan complex. Why grow up if being a kid is this magical? I’m sure it wasn’t actually quite so perfect for any of us, but like many, I tend to romanticize the past. I especially love the last line of this poem.

Fern Hill
By Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.


Mulling Over Memories & Spiced Wine

I’ve taken a breather from blogging in the past few days to let my fall reschooling sink in. It feels good to take a few days of real vacation, probably the first that I’ve let myself have since August. When alone, I work myself into the ground, but when I’m with friends, they thankfully wrench me away from my workaholism. And whenever my sister Gill comes to town, as she did this weekend, then the wild rumpus starts.

During the holidays, I’ll be blogging sporadically. Gill and her fiance, Brian, are in Sonoma this week, and Darren arrives tomorrow. This means there will be lots of carousing and posing for ridiculous photos, but not as much writing. Next week I’ll be buckling down and gearing up to spend the spring in Jackson, so I hope to get rid of the piles of CDs and bags of yellow pads that seem ready to swallow me whole.

I’m still mulling over and making sense of my time in the classrooms. The final step of revisiting the past will be processing “personal artifacts”: old photos, home movies, and keepsakes. Perhaps most importantly, I’ll read the writing that I’ve saved from my school days, such as newspaper editorials, humor pieces, journal entries, personal statements from my college applications, and the short autobiography I wrote my senior year of high school. My teenage writing is rife with school stress and nostalgia for a carefree childhood, and it helps me understand the powerful influence school had on who I became.

I spent so many years wishing that I could just be a kid again. Now that I’ve taken the opportunity to relive my childhood in many ways, I’m finally ready to let it go.

Returning to High School 10 Years Later

I’m spending this week and half of next at St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma. Having gone to public schools through 8th grade, I chose to attend St. Vincent — a private, Catholic school — rather than the big Sonoma high school for a few reasons. The most significant was that Katie, a girl I’d become close friends with through our youth group, planned to go to St. Vincent and encouraged me to apply as well. Being very shy and insecure at the time, I thought that a more personalized environment would suit me well. I had gotten a little lost in the crowd of around 800 students at Altimira Middle School (there are only around 500 now), and I felt connected to very few of them. Though attending SV meant a 30-minute commute and a work-study commitment to help offset my tuition, I decided that the opportunity for a change would be worth the effort. I carpooled to and from Petaluma every day with several other students from Sonoma until I could drive myself.


Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet

Although I’m in high school now, I’ll still be catching up on a couple of middle school posts.

It felt appropriate to close my time in middle school on Halloween. I always loved celebrating holidays in school, because everyone spent the day sugared up and in a good mood, and we didn’t get any work done in class. This week, on top of that, parent-teacher conferences had shortened Friday’s classes to 30 minutes each.


Library Magic

A weekly pilgrimage to the library with my mom and sister was one of the staples of my childhood. I’d sit on the yellow carpet and pull books off the shelf one by one, putting into my book bag the ones that piqued my interest. The novelty of nearly unlimited, free books never wore off, and it hasn’t to this day. My mom always said that she “felt rich” coming home with a bag full of library books.