The second weekend of November felt like an Indian summer here in Colorado. It was 68 degrees outside, but there I was, sitting inside, decorating for Christmas.
I know, I know. That’s waaaaay too early. But before you start thinking I’m crazy, let me explain.
The past year brought a whirlwind of change, and the end of 2016 found me in uncharted territory. I was in a new place—physically, personally, and emotionally. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel, but what I did know is that I felt a little lost.
Ultimately, I think I was craving a connection to my past, to myself, to the person I used to be.
So what better way to remember those things than to put Christmas up early? I had boxes of Christmas decorations filled to the brim with my childhood ornaments, full of wonderful, warm, nostalgic memories. And since Christmas is my favorite holiday, I thought this was a good idea.
Although I was excited to decorate, as I opened the boxes, I began to worry that this activity might leave me feeling, well, a bit…sad. Christmases were going to be different now. This Christmas my daughter Zoey wouldn’t be there to wake up in the wee hours on Christmas morning. I wouldn’t hear the pitter-patter of footsteps down the hall as she raced to the tree and her stocking, excited to see what Santa had brought. She’d be there in the afternoon of course, but I knew it just wouldn’t be the same. Divorce changes things, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few tears shed on my part. No matter the circumstances, change like that is hard. Lamenting the loss of the familiar, the loss of traditions, is a natural reaction, right?
But anyone who knows me well enough knows that this little emotional pity party didn’t last long. Because what good does feeling sorry for yourself do? We must Keep Calm and Carry On. We have to stay hopeful. We have to remember that things get easier. They get better. They turn into to new things. And new things? Well, they’re filled with so much wonderful hope and promise.
So I reached in a box and pulled out an ornament. Because when you don’t know where to start, you just have to begin.
* * *
Ornament after ornament found their way to the tree, each one carrying its own story, its own memories. After two months of actively trying to live a nostalgic life (and starting a blog about it), I knew the positive benefits of doing so were extensive; but decorating the tree . . . holy cow, I was on nostalgia overload. The more ornaments that went up, the more I remembered those amazing early chapters of my life, and I began to feel happier. I began to feel hopeful.
Although my life was turning out differently than I had originally thought it ever would, that in no way meant that it wasn’t going to be just as good, if not ultimately better, for both me and my daughter.
After I finished hanging the last little ornament, I stepped back to look at the tree, decked out in all its glory. The magic of Christmas was alive—albeit a wee bit early—and I had to smile. The tree stood proud, tucked into a corner perfect for its size, like it had just been waiting for this season to roll around so it could keep all those memories safe and display them so brightly, so elegantly, against its dark green branches. That’s when I knew that nostalgia’s magical forces were going to work wonders for the Christmas season.
I was determined to make this Christmas full of wonder, hope, and joy. And you know what?
So Why Nostalgia?
No doubt you have seen many websites and blogs across the internet that profess to provide a path to happiness. Mindfulness blogs. Websites touting the power of positive thinking and gratitude. Peace of mind through gluten-free snacking . . . Happiness is everywhere.
There are also many places on the internet devoted to simple living. Taking a step back, decluttering your life. That is what the simple life folks say will lead you to happiness.
And you no doubt have also seen many websites that provide readers an endless supply of nostalgic pictures, memories, quotes, surveys, and quizzes, inviting readers to remember “days gone by.” These vintage, retro, reminiscing sites are of course largely media and pop-culture driven and many are focused on decades. Indeed, websites devoted to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are plentiful. They are wonderful fun and great entertainment.
But I wanted to find something that combined all of these—happiness, mindfulness, positive thinking, gratitude, simple living, and nostalgia—and I wasn’t finding exactly what I was looking for. I knew that whenever I was nostalgic, it made me happy. It made me feel a connection with my past and the people and places and things that shaped who I was. It made me want to ensure that 20 or 30 or 40 years down the road, my daughter would look back on her life and feel those same, happy feelings. And I just knew that these feelings of nostalgia could be combined with so many other fundamentals of better living to create something wonderful.
But really? Nostalgia will improve your life? C’mon. That sounds like clickbait, right?
Turns out some pretty smart people have been studying nostalgia over the years and recently, that research has been garnering media exposure. For example, the New York Times published an article about nostalgia and its benefits, which was supported by research conducted by Southampton University professor Constantine Sedikides. Other researchers across the globe have also been studying the positive effects of nostalgia, and a few bloggers and other news sites across the internet have picked up on the buzz.
So what’s up with nostalgia? Why should you embrace it? The reasons are legion:
- Nostalgia bolsters social bonds, positive self-regard, and positive affect, similar to the effect of other positive emotions such as love, pride and joy;
- Nostalgia strengthens a sense of meaning in life;
- Nostalgia allows closeness to others and can serve as a reminder that you are loved and valued;
- Nostalgia can be used as a stress reducer and energy booster;
- Nostalgia can reduce boredom and create optimism toward the future.
- Nostalgia can make you more patient.
- Nostalgia can make you more charitable.
In short, nostalgia can make your life better.
And that is where The Nostalgia Diaries comes in. Once I knew that my positive thoughts about nostalgia were not simply personal to me, but could be universally applied to improve the lives of others, I knew I had to share my passion for nostalgic living with anyone and everyone. Nearly everyone gets nostalgic, and remarkably, all the human senses may be involved in experiencing nostalgia. Whether it is from a song, or food, or a smell, a place, a person, a toy, a TV show, or an activity, the nostalgic feelings that arise from those experiences can have an immediate positive effect on your life.
But why wait for random times to experience the benefits of nostalgia? Why not live a deliberately nostalgic life by celebrating your past to create better days today, every day?
For the next 52 weeks, I’ll be bringing you Everyday Nostalgia, my journey into creating a better life today by using the past. It will hopefully inspire you to create your own nostalgic life that will lead to more fulfilling, satisfying, and happier days that will positively impact not only you, but also your family, your friends, your co-workers, and even complete strangers.
So join me. I think you’ll be glad you did.
“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb
Week 1: New Beginnings
For the first week of our journey, I decided to focus on the concept of New Beginnings, because this Everyday Nostalgia series is a perfect way to start the next chapter for me and my daughter. So how could I create a new beginning?
Create a new tradition.
Since discovering fun, new activities on Pinterest for my daughter and I to do together has become a new past-time of mine, I started searching for ways to create new traditions. I came across a bunch of memory jars, which seemed a like a fun, creative way to document memories. I loved the concept, but I wanted something that we could create together instead of just putting slips of paper in a mason jar. In the end, I decided to just come up with something of our own: a homemade Memory Box.
I think it’s perfect: if my daughter and I are going to begin celebrating the past to create better days today, we’ll certainly want to remember all of the nostalgic activities we will be doing to live happier, simpler lives.
So we took a fun field trip to Hobby Lobby to gather our supplies. Zoey picked out a wooden box to be the recipient of our memories, and we decorated it when my parents were here visiting for the holidays. And because that was the week Zoey discovered the wonder of Bob Ross on Netflix (talk about nostalgia!), painting it really was the only option.
After the box was complete, we all wrote down our favorite memories from the week. Watching Bob Ross seemed to appear on everyone’s slip of paper, but shockingly, Zoey decided her favorite memory was playing a super-nostalgic card game with my mom:
Zoey is just as excited about the memory box as I am, and I think it’s making us be more mindful of the things we’re are doing. And the memories don’t even have to be things you do, they can be things that just happen that you want to remember, too. For example, the other night we came home to no heat or hot water—so to combat the cold air in the apartment, we each put on 3 layers and climbed into my bed underneath 4 different blankets. Zoey and I read books until we finally started to warm up and ended up falling asleep together. In the morning, we knew we wanted to remember this, so the memory went in the box.
Without writing this down, five years from now, I might have a vague recollection of that night. But I probably wouldn’t remember how, after everything was back up and running, we stood at the sink and reveled in the hot water that coursed over our hands. How I told her how lucky we were to have the luxury of hot water and to live somewhere that had hot water heaters and furnaces to break in the first place. How, as we lay curled up next to one another in the dark, Zoey said, “I don’t even have to see you to know you’re smiling right now.” How we woke up at 2 a.m. sweating because of the 7 layers that covered us. And how when I opened my eyes the next morning, I didn’t even pay attention to the mess of blankets and sweatshirts on the floor. I paid attention to how Zoey’s hand was lovingly nestled in mine.
These types of memories are priceless and are the ones I want to remember. Because these are the memories that matter.
The best part about this activity is that is so simple:
- Find a plain box.
- Let your kids decorate it however they like.* (Make sure to make your mark, too! You’ll see I added to Zoey’s sunset-inspired and jewel-encrusted art with a good reminder and a quote that seemed quite fitting. I used a stamp set that I have had forever to make the quote.)
- Cut out slips of paper to keep in the box.
- Go out and make some memories.
- Write them down and put them in the box for safe-keeping.
- Add to it all year long.
* Even if you don’t have kids, this is still and awesome activity and a great way to live intentionally and preserve your memories with your spouse, significant other, your parents, or even to just preserve memories for yourself!
The best part comes at the end of the year . . . My plan is that come Christmas Day this year, before we open any presents, we will put an awesome Christmas album on the record player, sit by the tree, sip hot chocolate, and open the box that will have been filled to the brim with memories from the year. Zoey and I will go through them one by one, reliving our days, our weeks, our months, and our year that led up to that day. We will talk and laugh and remember together. And only after we’ve read the last one will we open presents. It will be a wonderful lesson for her (and a good reminder for me) that Christmas is about so much more than gifts under a tree. It’s a time to connect, to love, and to share.
And the first present I’ll have Zoey open will be a journal to keep all of these memories in (I plan to rewrite them in journal form, but you could also keep the paper slips themselves in a scrapbook) so we can start fresh again when January rolls around. We will do this year after year, and she will end up with set of journals that she will no doubt treasure for the rest of her life.
This activity is simple. It’s happy. It teaches us to be mindful, appreciative, and intentional today. It’s oh-so-fulfilling. And it will be something we will be nostalgic about 20 years from now.
I think we’re off to a great start.
Week 1 Suggested Reading
The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day
by Meg Cox
This book offers hundreds of ways to bring the fun and ritual back to family life. The author dedicates this book to “parents in families everywhere who know that their kids’ childhoods will zoom by in a flash and are determined to break those years down into memorable moments and deeply shared experiences.” ‘Nuf said.
* This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.com. If you purchase a product after clicking an affiliate link (and it doesn’t even need to be the one I’ve linked to), I receive a small percentage of the sale for referring you, at no extra cost to you.*