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The cure for nostalgia — Embrace it

Are you feeling a little nostalgic at this time of year? Perhaps you’re wistfully reminiscent of a former place or time in your life? Maybe you’re a little sad, but happy too, when you think about times past. 

Go ahead. Immerse yourself in nostalgic sentiment, it’s good for you.

As we age, many experts believe our memory abilities decrease — but the ability and desire to reminisce increases and improves. According to Douwe Draaisma, a professor of history and psychology in the Netherlands, it’s “a largely unsung pleasure of advancing age.” 

Research is a little thin, but there are examples of nostalgic reminiscence having a positive effect on self-esteem. One report says it “buffers threats to well-being." I acquired that information from Wikipedia, so recognize it might not have been thoroughly vetted. But this information is: Personal experience tells me pleasurable recall about events of childhood or a happy previous association makes me feel better. Storytelling is my preferred way of doing it, and I’ve discovered the perfect vehicle.

If you have someone on your gifting list who is incredibly hard to buy presents for or someone who deserves more fun in their life, the idea I’m eager to promote is a game called 'Life Stories." It's a "communication" game masquerading as a board game. It can be played with just two or up to eight people. It’s even pleasant for one person to sort through the cards in the game and think reflectively about answers to the questions posed.

The first time I played “Life Stories,” the group was composed of individuals I barely knew whose ages ranged from 14 to 80-something. We were laughing hilariously before we had gone once around the table. As I told a story about a Minnesota snowstorm, in response to a question about a childhood challenge, three other people involved in the game claimed Minnesota roots, and we had a lovely sidebar conversation about the height of snowbanks and the perils of walking a white dog in a blizzard.

When entertainment is as fulfilling and engaging as this, and it costs less than $20, I am in. This family game can be purchased on Amazon.com (where it gets nearly a five-star rating) or in several local stores. One retailer said, "This is just the game to bring nostalgic voltage to family gatherings.” Well, truth be told, I added the word "nostalgic." But “voltage” is the exactly-right descriptor.

The “Life Stories” game is at the top of my gifting list for our busy-lived children and grandchildren who really need to put down their handheld devices and just talk to each other more.  In my experience with "Life Stories," a few hours of play prompts better self-expression, mutuality and affirmation, and many moments of uproarious creative thinking. It kindles (or re-kindles) friendships. Sorry — I seem to be gushing. That happens sometimes.

Pick a card and reflect aloud on questions such as, "Was there a special place you liked to play when you were a child?" or "Tell me about a time when you helped someone.” “Tell me about one of the best gifts you ever received.”  I just did.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.