Gustafson: These are the good old days | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: These are the good old days

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Nostalgia |näˈstalj; n-|

A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations • the evocation of these feelings or tendencies

I often drift back to a simple moment when I was an 8-year-old sitting at the edge of the old Snowmass Community Pool on Daly Lane that was once the “it” place to spend a hot summer day. I squint at the sun bouncing off of the blue ripples as I dangle my feet in the cool water at the shallow end of that large rectangular lap-style pool. I feel the hypnotic way the water rocked my little legs with an entrancing rhythm.

When I close my eyes, the sounds of laughter, splashing and chatter fill the air, a fading melody, and I can smell the chlorine and sprinkler soaked soil of the flower beds that lined the entrance. And though nothing in particular occurred that day, I can revisit it and relive that moment any time I choose. I don’t exactly miss it, or catch myself pining for those summers of yesteryear. I just revisit that memory and feel at peace, like a child, for that moment while it floods my senses and then fades away again.

Nostalgia, why do we often reminisce with such fondness? Is it because the old times actually were better? Or are we hard-wired to think back to when things seemed simpler — perhaps even more fun?

Regardless of the “why,” do you ever hear a song or pick up a scent that just sends you back, evoking the feeling as though you are right there again reliving a fleeting glimpse into your past?

Those moments when the sunshine was brighter, the summer days longer, the people friendlier — like a vintage Instagram filter softening all the edges. Finding yourself immersed in the way, way back, when the world seemed so in focus, yet blurry like a dream. Experiencing that 20/20 hindsight that feels like a drink from an internal fountain of youth. Close your eyes, take yourself back for a moment, and feel how it lingers on — that peace you find in a loving memory.

Sure those moments in time actually never existed just the way we recall them, but because of their selective reality we treasure them all the more.

Nostalgia, unlike the unforeseeable future, has the power to influence our day-to-day lives in ways that I find fascinating.

With the Snowmass Ski Area’s 50th anniversary this year, and as we collectively reminisce about these past 50 years, I decided to look deeper into what it is about harkening back that brings such wide smiles across every face as they share their stories and the tales of how they arrived here and of what it took to get our village to the place that we are now.

And I discovered all kinds of interesting current research linking nostalgia with both positive individual thinking and collective empathy, because, as I learned, like sorrow and happiness, nostalgia is a universal feeling.

It seems to transcend all races, cultures and ages. Almost everyone is capable of growing nostalgic for the past, not the same past of course, but the experience is a feeling that we share.

Understanding these emotions in one another creates empathy and connects our humanity. Because of nostalgia, we can lament the bad experiences that others have had and connect with those who share similar pasts to our own.

That feeling of nostalgia is an idealized version of something the way we want it to have been, not what we know as reality. The way we select our memories is constantly distorted, but when recalling a memory of the past, we are remembering it as we have chosen to distort it, not by the actuality of its events.

Because of its distortion and pleasant qualities, people sometimes wrap themselves up in the fantasy of it, and for this reason — which I’ve worried about for my own sake — it was once considered escapism and was historically frowned upon.

But according to recent research by many, including Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University, “Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function. It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives.”

One of the leaders in current research on the topic, Dr. Constantine Sedikides, professor of social and personality psychology at the University of Southampton, said, “Nostalgia helps you end up with a stronger feeling of belonging and affiliation, and you become more generous toward others.”

He goes on to explain how it’s been proven that nostalgia actually works to counteract depression. The act of reminiscing has been shown to combat loneliness and anxiety while also promoting personal interactions and improving longevity. “When people speak fondly and lovingly of the past, they also tend to become more hopeful for the future. By recalling the past, they look forward to what’s to come. It’s safe to say we all wish we could go back to the past.”

In preparing for the upcoming 50th celebrations of Snowmass as a ski resort, people light up when conversations tilt to the “way-back-when.” And often conversations drift to how things used to be better and why or how they have become worse or less exciting or interesting as times change.

Perhaps, because we tend to remember the very best details about those memories that we hold dear, the good times of the past, when they are juxtaposed with the stark realities of the present, feel out of balance. While we observe both the good and the bad in the present, nostalgia injects emotions into our memories of the past. And unlike the present and uncertain future, past times were at one time new — an adventure augmenting the positive allure of their memories.

Many were disillusioned by political promises that we could somehow be collectively returned to the “good old days.” When in reality there aren’t executive orders that can take anyone back to a remembered time that, though seemingly better, never actually existed. Nevertheless, nostalgia is a powerful motivator and tapping into that emotional resonance proved to have a powerful influence over our last election.

Still, despite the catastrophic possibilities that such promises have set in motion, I believe that it can do more good than harm. But it is worth acknowledging that nostalgia is a warm place in our hearts, not something we can create for our future.

Here in Snowmass we are ever-changing. The community pool setting for my childhood memories no longer exists, but I feel that the connections that our collective memory create lay the true foundation for what we may endlessly strive to become.

I now watch my 8-year-old daughter at the Snowmass Recreation Center in the pool’s “cave” while the waterfall splashes around her. She, too, seems entranced by the water’s continual ripples and I wonder if this is the day that she will never forget. A simple, carefree time, surrounded by friends she is just starting to know but who may become part of the rest of her life. All this occurs and remains in the embrace of our mountains, with vistas that are one constant and may stand the test of time.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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