Sunday, July 16, 2006


"Nostalgia is just a mild form of depression."

A good friend sent me an email yesterday that contained this quote she had heard while listening to a documentary journalist on the CBC and she asked me if I agree or not. Hmmmm.....given that the both of us have just experienced the epitome of walking down memory lane last month while attending our Kawabi reunion, it was an morsel to ruminate over....... and of course, I did. Gladly.

Prior to her question, I had always considered nostalgia in a positive light. A daydream of good things from one's past. A longing to revisit a special moment in time that produces an uplifting memory thought. Nostalgia seemed synonymous with sentimentality......... a tonic for the blues, not the blues. A little bouquet of forget-me-nots wrapped in a piece of tissue. How could that be considered a mild form of depression?

Ah........but that's just surface thinkin' . Turns out there's a history and a story behind the origin of the word......... The word nostalgia was originally derived by a medical student, Johannes Hofer, in 1678. Nostros means returning home. Algos means pain and longing. He used it to refer to a "pain a sick person feels because he wishes to return to his native land and fears never to see it again." Once coined, it was used as a medical term to describe un maladie du pays (country sickness), which sounds very much like a mild form of depression or homesickness. It became an ongoing reference to a mental illness often associated with soldiers right up to the American Civil War.

Eventually, nostalgia wasn't considered a disease but rather a stage of the process that led to a more serious level of depression. Melancholy going bad...........

Now? We all experience fleeting feelings of nostalgia. The present definition is associated with a fond memory....... though if one gets stuck in the past, longing and reminiscing and pining wistfully, it still can lead to a despairing state of mind. I guess it all comes down to the reasons one keeps reaching for a tender moment in the past. If what you are looking for is an escape hatch from your present day dilemmas, it's fine in small doses. But, if pining for the past is consistently used as an avoidance coping mechanism .........well.....................the present day bad stuff just doesn't get addressed.

If on the other hand, one takes a walk down memory lane to revisit good times, than I still believe that it is a wonderful pick-me-up.
Who doesn't like a great conversation with old friends that is filled with laughter and "remember when" reminiscents? These stories are the glue that may have bonded you in the first place. If the seduction of nostalgia is kept at bay, if the memories are recognized for what they are? There's no harm done.

It's a means of rehooking with who you are, where you've come from and what "ingredients" have helped form who you are now. Yes, we tend to look back on the "good old days" with a rosy tinged glimpse, and the older one gets, the easier it is to fall into the well of "back then." Developmentally, as we grow older, reviewing our lives is a large part of learning and of coming to terms with whether or not we've been successful (in our own eyes) in our lives.

Living in the present is obviously what we need to be striving for. But, sometimes there are days when we need an anchor from our past to get us through a rough patch. History is a learning tool. Nostalgia enhances that tool by providing soothing sparkle.

So, Murf................. when I think back on our shared moments, whether it was orchestrating an outsupper for our group of girls on the barge, or whether it was the day we spent cleaning the craft shop at the end of summer.........talking, listening to music and enjoying the task at hand, knowing full well that we were in our own "secret garden" spot tucked away behind the painted rock, nestled in the woods...................or whether it was the day I spent sailing with you and E-or in Victoria all those years ago...................I nostalgically smile knowing that I only share those moments with you. It is what links us as friends. That ain't depressing! It's tonically uplifting.

Hey Murf? Remember Dan Delaney's photos in the Depot? :)

Better yet..........what about the time we spent in the Karaoke bus? You better remember that nostaligic moment. It was only a month ago and definately a keeper memory! heehee


Ellen said...

I find the older I get, the more I tend to look back, whether I want to or not. Perhaps it's the age thing that makes me want to do that. I like the fond memories of laughing over silly stuff I did, or decisions I made.... somehow it keeps me in line as a lesson for the future. I don't live in nostalgialand, but it's nice to visit from time to time for the smiles I derive from it.

Canadian Sentinel said...

Heady stuff, indeed.

WRT the painting, I see a topless lady carrying big, heavy suitcases.

Wonder what was going on in the mind of the artist when painting that...

And what's this about pictures of Dana Delaney? Can I see? She's sooo cute!!!

Guess I'm in a lighthearted, somewhat mischievous mood at the moment...

awareness said...

Yeah.......I found the photo when I googled "images of Nostalgia" I liked the colours and the heaviness depicted in the woman carrying the luggage. She needs to look back on some rosier time!

It wasn't Dana. It was Dan Delaney. Very different.....a reference to a centrefold! :)

I too was in a mischievous mood when I wrote it.

I am now in the process of writing a piece on Trudeau.......stay tuned!!!

awareness said...

Hey Ellen!

I agree with you, though I have just experienced a year of nostalgic moments, so I don't know whether I do actually have a clear perspective on how much is just right....if you know what I mean.

My memories of my youth and times when I was just married without kiddies etc.... I do the more recent moments when the kids were babes...... I don't long for them .... I cherish them, because all those moments make up who I am.

When I am working with a client who is really down on themselves and not seeing any light at the end of their struggle tunnel, I often ask them to tell me a sentimental kind of story from their past. Automatically, they journey to a happier place which automatically triggers good feelings. It clears the air, and allows them a moment of reprieve AND more importantly, an ray of optimism that they can hold onto while they make some heady decisions in the here and now.

Thanks for the comments.

Canadian Sentinel said...

Heh... I know you wrote "Dan".

A centerfold of a guy named Dan Delaney?

Yup; you're just as mischievous as I.

I'd rather see Dana Delaney. For me, looking at someone named Dan is like looking at a monkey. Looking at Dana Delaney is quite different! ;-)