I have been thinking of the past a lot lately. You may have figured that out from my wish list in Wednesday’s post. My birthday, my mom’s 70th birthday coming up, an uncle passing away, and the holidays had me taking a walk down memory lane. I try to really engage all five of my senses to experience these memories as vividly as possible, and they almost always bring a smile to my face. Now some may caution about “living in the past” or being a “dreamer”, but could there be a positive aspect of remembering good times?According to a study performed by MIT the answer is yes. The study went like this:
“Researchers placed male mice in a cage with female mice for a period of time to create “happy memories,” then removed them from the female companionship and transferred them to a stressful environment for 10 days. Not surprisingly, the lonely, stressed out male mice exhibited signs of depression (loss of interest in food, helplessness, etc.). Through a method called optogenetics—genetic engineering of neurons to make them fire in response to light—neurons that had been activated in the presence of the female mice were reactivated to trigger a happy memory of that time. After these memories had been triggered twice daily for a period of five days, the mice rapidly lost their symptoms of depression and returned to normal.
During the same period, another group of depressed male mice was placed back in the company of female mice twice a day, without having the prior happy memory of their encounter triggered. Interestingly, this group of mice showed no improvement in their symptoms… the mice responded more powerfully to the memory of a past pleasant experience than they did to the prospect of present and future pleasure.
Now, the mice’s apparent preference for a memory of past pleasure over the actuality of a new pleasure does not suggest that remembering happy times poses a risk to one’s experience of the present (the nostalgic mice did not physically fade out of the present for a perpetual return to the past…). Their strong positive reaction to the happy memories does, however, suggest a potential therapeutic value of nostalgia in the prevention and treatment of depression. Remembering our happy past, in other words, may make us better equipped to deal with the stressful present.
So the next time you find your mind wandering back to the good old days, indulge yourself. You’re not escaping reality; you’re preparing for it.”
I find this fascinating. Maybe during this hectic holiday season my mind was triggered to step back in time to deal with the here and now. I think many people find the holidays a natural time to remember good times in their past – family get togethers, the anticipation of Santa Claus’ visit, finding the exact thing you wanted under the tree, nostalgic traditions. I would highly recommend at your holiday gathering encouraging others to share their favorite memories. You never know—it may help them deal with current stress in their life.
On a sad note, the passing of my uncle was a surprise. He was not in the best of health, but we hoped he was on the path to recovering; however this was not the case. He was the youngest of my mom’s four siblings, and I will forever remember him as a man of slight stature, with a beard and glasses who loved to hunt. He had an incredible singing voice that I wish I had the opportunity to hear more often. I have been told he liked to sing Elvis songs and actually could sound a little like him. So in his honor I will end with the lyrics from an Elvis song,
(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)
Oh well I’m tired and so weary but I must go along
Till my Lord comes and calls me calls me away oh yes
Oh well the morning’s so bright and the lamb is the light
And the night night is as black as the sea oh yes
There will be peace peace in the valley for me some day
There will be peace in the valley for me oh Lord I pray
There’ll be no sadness no sorrow no troubles I’ll see
There will be peace peace in the valley for me
Well the bear will be gentle and the wolf will be tame
And the lion shall lay down down by the lamb oh yes
And the beast from the wild will be led by little child
And I’ll be changed changed from this creature that I am oh yes
There will be peace
Rest in peace, uncle L.