Indulging Nostalgia

Vintage pic-a-nic basket

I had been planning to write a blog on this topic for several days before I visited one of my favourite local antique stores on Saturday afternoon. When most people think of antique stores, they think of stuffy boutiques with overpriced Victorian furniture (at least from what I’ve gathered from others). And it’s quite true that many antique shoppes are just that; in fact, the supposed best antique store in Atlanta is precisely that, albeit a huge, upscale warehouse full of overpriced merchandise. But my favourite ones are those which are a bit junky; the antique malls, as they call themselves, which are usually located in an old strip mall grocery store. I started frequenting antique stores when I moved up to Nashville, mainly because there were so many good ones to pick from. When I was temping in an office downtown, I’d walk to a couple of shops that were practically giving stuff away to pay their rent, and I became hooked on the quest for a deal. I also learned in the process that I need not buy every little (or big!) thing that struck my fancy, so I began taking my camera along to take pics of things I knew I didn’t need. Photographs also come in handy when saying, “Hey, guess what I saw at the antique store…you’ll never believe it!”

Such is the case with the item above, which is an exact copy of the picnic basket my family had when I was growing up. When I stumbled across it on Saturday at the antique store, fond memories of church potlucks, birthday parties in the park, and family get-togethers came streaming back to mind like a fire hose aimed at a teacup, as the saying goes! Oh, how I wanted to buy it for $15–it’s in great condition and it would be just like old times if I took it home to Valdosta and said, “Surprise!” It would also be like 1978 again, which is probably around the time my parents purchased it. For practical reasons, I decided against it and merely took a pic on my phone to send to my mother. It’s funny how seeing such a mundane item as an earth tone, canvas picnic basket can be instantaneously equated with such brilliant memories. As the purging experts on ‘Clean House’ or ‘Clean Sweep’ try to teach their (usually unwilling) hoarding victims, one must get past the point of holding on to an object solely for the memories it represents. Unless, of course, the object is truly valuable (monetarily or sentimentally) and the owner has space to keep it and the resources to keep it up.

I sometimes give myself a hard time for overindulging in nostalgia. I’ll never forget reading something in one of my English classes–perhaps the infamous one focused on Poe–about nostalgia being classified as a mental illness in the 18th century. To say I was alarmed is an understatement, but I moved along in my reading and never fully researched the claim. Courtesy of Google, here’s some info related to that diagnosis:

During the eighteenth century nostalgia was generally accepted as a mental illness and attention increasingly focused on the military significance of nostalgia. In those days, living and working conditions in the military were terrible. Cramped quarters, poor scanty food, indescribable sanitary conditions together with severe and rigid discipline were all the impressed men could expect. It is not surprising to find men in such circumstances falling into profound despair, and suffering depression, anxiety and all the other features of nostalgia.

Some symptoms often persist in nostalgia; they are melancholy, gloominess, exhaustion and weakness due to anorexia, indigestion but no fixed pain, giddiness, symptoms of fever. Nostalgia victims scarcely took any nourishment, their work-efficiency declines and became indolent. Even if you put them on a course of strengthening medicines; it is of no use. They have strong notions in their head of their home, friends, and of their surrounding environment. When they reach in their familiar environment, their symptoms get meager, appetite increases, and very soon they get recovered, when their psyche tunes to their familiar environment.

It’s easy to see why distressed soldiers would be prone to nostalgia–who wouldn’t be in such dire situations and surroundings? Here’s a much more recent synopsis of nostalgia and it’s benefits:

New research may dispel the historical perception that nostalgia is a psychiatric disorder, with symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Recently psychologists have focused on the positive and potentially therapeutic aspects of nostalgia. Studies examining nostalgia have shown that it occurs in all cultures and among all age groups.

Despite this wide range, there are some features that are common to the majority of nostalgic experiences. For example, nostalgic thoughts will usually feature a person we are close to, a significant event or a place important to us. In addition, we play a starring role in our nostalgic scenes, although we are generally surrounded by family and friends.

Research suggests that nostalgia can promote psychological health. Inducing nostalgia in a group of study volunteers resulted in overall positive feelings in this group, including higher self-esteem and an increase in the feeling of being loved and protected by others.

Another important function of nostalgia may be in providing a link between our past and present selves — that is, nostalgia may provide us with a positive view of the past and this could help to give us a greater sense of continuity and meaning to our lives.

The authors note that “nostalgia is now emerging as a fundamental human strength.”

They conclude that “nostalgia is uniquely positioned to offer integrative insights across such areas of psychology as memory, emotion, the self, and relationships. Nostalgia has a long past and an exciting future.”

This definitely puts a new spin on the image of the old hermit, often times an aging movie star, surmising that he/she has been left alone with only his/her memories to keep him/her company. After all, memories are quite a blessing, and one that most of us take for granted. It’s only when we encounter someone who’s losing their memory to Alzheimer’s or dementia that we’re reminded to treasure our memories, and even write the most important ones down lest the day come when we, too, succumb to a memory shortage.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to watching classic 70s episodes of ‘Are You Being Served?’ while simultaneously scouring eBay for vintage biographies. Ah, the simple life of an individual freely giving into the pangs of nostalgia…and don’t call it a mental illness!

brt

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