When I interviewed developmental molecular biologist (try saying that 3 times fast) John Medina about how to keep your brain healthy after 60, he was full of useful advice. For the most part, his recommendations fell into the “things we know in our hearts that we should be doing” category – getting more exercise, improving our sleep and learning to deal with stress.
At the same time, there was one recommendation that struck me as being somewhat unconventional. Dr. John Medina said that, if we want to keep our brains happy and healthy as we age, we should embrace the power of nostalgia. Apparently, by focusing on positive memories, we can stimulate, rejuvenate and heal our brains.
It’s an intriguing concept. If you think about it, most of our memories are “accidental.” Throughout the day, thoughts pop in and out of our heads. Some of these thoughts are positive – others, not so much.
What I find so powerful about Dr. Medina’s advice is that it implies that we can choose what to remember. We can craft our environments in ways that make it more likely that we will remember happy events.
So, to help you get started, here are a few recommendations for how to use nostalgia to create a happier, healthier life at any age.
I’ll be honest. I have no idea whether “memory walking” is a real term. Maybe I just made it up. Either way, it’s a practice that I have found particularly helpful when it comes to staying reconnected with my favorite memories. Here’s how it works.
As you are falling asleep, choose an event, place or person from your past to focus on. Try to “explore” this memory from as many angles as possible. For example, I often like to walk through my old neighborhood as I fall asleep. I imagine myself as a little girl, skipping down the street. I remember where my friends used to live. I bring the scents, sounds and sights back into my mind’s eye.
Where will you travel when the lights go out? Why wait for your dreams to send you to random places? Why not practice memory walking and bring your happy memories into your present?
After 50 years of more of collecting “stuff,” many of us find ourselves, quite accidentally, living in chaotic environments. With so much visual noise all around us, it’s difficult to focus on the items from our past that make us truly happy. As a result, the first step to surrounding yourself with positive items is to make room.
Take a look around your house. How many of the items that you can see have emotional significance? How much space are you giving to the objects that really matter? Your home should be a shrine to the unique beauty that is your life.
Don’t leave your memories to chance. Give the items that you love places of honor in your home. Then, remember to take time every day to appreciate just how much you have accomplished and how much you still have to learn.
Each and every one of us has a story to tell. We just haven’t found the words. Writing your life story can be one of the most deeply fulfilling experiences. It can help you to organize your past and prepare for your future. It can leave a lasting legacy for your children and grandchildren. And, since nostalgia is so important to maintaining a healthy brain, writing your memoirs can help you to live a happier life too.
Don’t know where to get started? Here are a few tips for writing your life story.
Do you find that certain songs bring back powerful positive memories? Maybe it’s time to create your own happiness soundtrack to play when you’re feeling blue. Don’t worry about trying to match genres or pick songs that “go together.” Just think back to your formative years and select pieces that are associated with strong positive emotions. Then, use iTunes or a service like Spotify to create your very own happiness soundtrack. What songs will you add to your list?
Embracing the power of nostalgia is a powerful strategy at any age – and this is especially true for baby boomers, who have so many wonderful memories to choose from. So, make your home a shrine to your memories, write your life story, practice “memory walking” and create a memory soundtrack. Your brain will reward you with happiness and peace in the years to come.
What do you think of the concept that nostalgia may be one of the keys to healthy aging? What steps have you taken to make your home a shrine to your memories? Please join the conversation.
Here’s a short video that I recorded on the power of nostalgia.