Those were the days - Mary Hopkin
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Why we stare at fire


Nostalgia has been referred to as 'a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone'. We all feel it, that sudden heart sensation, a bittersweet emotion where we experience a sad yet a pleasant feeling, almost a 'warm glow' as we recall distant but treasured memories. It gives us a yearning for the past, a strong sentimental connection to the past.

Nostalgia takes the rough edges off memories from the good old days, it provides us with a positive view of the past, even an idealized view - but why? Does this in turn help give us a greater sense of meaning and continuity to our lives?

It's a powerful emotion accompanied with positive vivid memories, yet it's not very well understood in the scientific community. What is it's purpose? Is it an evolutionary tool the brain uses to help keep us going, to help get us thru this 'thing' called life, perhaps even sometimes to distract us from the reality of the present by remembering the happy past.

It's a mental pick-me-up, a reminder of good times, tranquil times, halcyon days of our past. And the good times don't even have to be our own, you can look back at bygone eras and have that same yearning to have been there, lived thru it.

Perhaps happy memories are not so readily available to us as we busy ourselves with life and we embrace these nostalagic memories when we return to or get reminded of these past events and places, when any cues of the happy past spring to mind.

Perhaps it is a fear of our individual futures that gives us that gratifying feeling of Nostalgia. Our future is in the hands of fate and this uncertainty can lead to trepidation. When we focus on our past, the happy days of our past (hopefully everyone has at least some of them) we feel more secure and comfortable.

Nostalgia 'takes us to a place where we ache to go again'. But does it create an unhealthy distortion of reality, perhaps unfairly highlighting our lives today as being unfulfilling compared to a previous period in our lives. Is it healthy or harmfull to us?

The past can be a brighter place than the present or the future (for many people anyway). The saying 'the good old days' didn't come out of thin air I guess.

As Simon and Garfunkel said in 'Bookends Theme';

"A time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences"