– – – Guest post by stevengregory – – –
I was seven years old the first time I went to Disneyland. The year was 1975, and like many kids in those days, I knew a lot about Disney by watching The Wonderful World of Disney on television.
Sunday nights were a big family television night. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was first, and then, oh THEN it was time for the magic of Disney:
As the images of the Disneyland park flashed across the screen during that Wonderful World of Disney intro, I would develop an indescribable longing to BE there, to be at that amazing, magical amusement park. Just think! Colorful parades! Disney characters! A futuristic monorail train! (A MONORAIL, can you imagine!?). Disneyland looked to be exactly what they said it would be—the “happiest place on earth”—and I couldn’t wait for the day I would enter Walt Disney’s glorious imagination and walk through the gates of Disneyland! For a kid from boring ol’ Wyoming, the Southern California sun shining on Sleeping Beauty’s castle seemed like heaven.
And it was.
Many memories of that trip have faded, of course—the passing decades will do that. But because of the magic of Kodak, some of the memories are preserved and spark up immeasurable nostalgia:
I remember the thrill of seeing Disney characters, LIVE! I could talk to them. I could touch them. They were so very fake, but so very real. The Seven Dwarfs, the Three Little Pigs, Goofy, Robin Hood, Brer Bear, and Mickey!
And then there were the “real” human characters; I remember being embarrassed when the lovely Alice in Wonderland gave my brother and me a hug. That moment of supreme seven-year-old embarrassment is captured on film…
I remember driving the Autopia cars–cars with REAL engines! I remember the Submarine ride and being fascinated by the coral and huge clam shell. I remember driving my own boat (ignoring the fact that it was following an underwater track) and I remember floating slowly along through It’s a Small World… that song playing over and over and over and over…
I remember the Enchanted Tiki Room with all those talking animatronic birds, and the Skyway and the Teacups and the Jungle Cruise and the scary Haunted Mansion. I remember climbing all over Tom Sawyer Island and the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. I remember the Main Street Electrical Parade.
And I remember this swan. I had never seen a real swan.
And I remember coming home after that marvelous trip, and spending hours looking at the Disneyland Park map, remembering all the fun I had, tracing my steps through Adventureland and Tomorrowland and Fantasyland and Frontierland. I remember looking at the empty ticket book, wishing I could have just one more ticket to ride… well… anything.
Since then, I have been to Disneyland 5 times. I’ve seen many changes over the years. I’ve seen the disappearance of favorite old attractions like the People Mover and the Skyway gondola and the Motor Boat Cruise and Country Bear Jamboree. I’ve been thrilled to ride new attractions, being among the first to experience the new Star Wars-themed Star Tours ride in 1987, and later loving the amazing visual effects and stomach-churning twists and turns in the Indiana Jones Adventure ride. I’ve seen the birth of California Adventure and the thrills of Cars Land Radiator Springs Racers and The Tower of Terror (Now Guardians of the Galaxy) and the California Screamin’ roller Coaster.
(Feeling nostalgic yet? Check out this supremely awesome website, Yesterland, a comprehensive catalogue of discontinued Disneyland attractions. A little browsing there and any Disney fan will be in nostalgia overload.)
* * *
Earlier this month, I was looking for a last-minute, long weekend break that two of my boys and I could take (and we needed to use Southwest travel funds that were expiring). We could have gone anywhere.
We chose Disneyland.
As we looked at our potential vacation options—beaches, mountains, lakes—I kept thinking about my trips to Disneyland when I was young and the trips I took there when I had young children (and not so young—we were actually there two years ago). I can tell you that the decision to go to Disneyland last week—with children who are now age 16 and 19 and not children at all—was based almost exclusively on one thing.
“Oh no!” you must say. “Nostalgia is dangerous! Things change and are never as great as you remember! Nostalgia can only lead to disappointment!”
For someone who looks to the past only to lament the loss of the “good ol’ days,” that may be true. But let me let you in on a little secret:
- 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 us more patient.
- Nostalgia can make you more charitable.
How do I know this? I read it of course. Here on The Nostalgia Diaries.
It turns out a plethora of scientific research supports all of these wonderful, positive outcomes. And as someone who loves nostalgia, I can attest to having experienced most of those positive, life-affirming benefits as I consciously created “memories to be” with my own kids at Disneyland while simultaneously experiencing my own nostalgic childhood memories.
So… am I happy to have chosen Disneyland for our long weekend vacation? Absolutely. It was a trip that engaged all senses and served as a reminder that the foundations of childhood—wonder, excitement, simplicity, play—need not disappear when you become an adult.
Were there changes? Of course. Expensive? Indeed. Was I disappointed? Not at all. Was it as great as I remember? It was even better than what I remember.
I think my boys thought so too…
I hope in 30 years when my boys are parents and thinking about taking their own kids on vacation, they remember 2017, and revel in the nostalgia created by our time in the Happiest Place on Earth.
Maybe they will even invite me.
* * *
The one thing about life and everything is that it will change. There may be big changes. There may be subtle changes. Some changes you want. Some you may not. Some you are ready for, and some blind-side you. Whether it is Disneyland or a job or your health or your relationships, there will always be changes.
So remember this:
Remember where you came from, and where you want to go, and embrace the changes. Celebrate your past while you create new and wonderful memories today.
And definitely remember to vacation like a goofy seven year old, even when you are not.
Talk to Me! Are you a Disney fan? What are some of your favorite Disneyland or Disney World memories? What Disney-related movie or character or song or ride makes you the most nostalgic?
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.