24/05/2016 11:18 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Seven Reasons Why The Past Makes The Present Better


Who doesn't enjoy poring over old photos and reminiscing about happy childhood memories? But why do we feel such an attachment to the past -- and take such pleasure in memories of it -- when we can't retrieve it? "Nostalgia helps us recall happiness we felt and the joy shared with others," explains historian Anthony Barnes. "Of course, some of those memories will be bitter-sweet but nostalgia bathes them in the glow of rose-coloured glasses." Below, photographers, psychologists and historians explain why we love feeling nostalgic, and why it's actually good for us...

1. It Delivers Happy Hormones

Thomas Barwick
Nostalgia can actually trigger happy hormones.

"Nostalgia gives a dopamine hit, triggering positive emotions," explains clinical psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack. "Even remembering a tough time can produce this same hormone, as it reminds us of how far we've come and enables us to look at difficult life events in a positive way."

2. It Inspires Change

Bettye Lane
Powerful images and memories from the past can stimulate social change.

"Images of the past are extremely powerful," says photographer Alana Landsberry. "They can be very emotionally charged; they trigger memories but also help us communicate and create change. We can remember historical events and the suffering and compassion that goes along with those. Images of the past can act as a stark reminder of things we've done wrong, and what to do right next time."

3. It Unites Strangers

JGI/Tom Grill
Nostalgic images can bring people together.

Sometimes, an icon from the past can become an obsession that brings people together. Like when photographers Ho Hai Tran and Chloe Cahill made it their mission to travel the world to find out what's happened to the buildings that originally housed Pizza Hut restaurants. Ho and Chloe have spent the last two years working on Pizza Hunt, a project which captures old Pizza Hut buildings that now have second lives as grocery stores, childcare centres, funeral homes, gospel churches and mosques. "Everyone remembers similar things about going to Pizza Hut as a child," says Cahill. "It was a universal experience that people from different cultures were having on different sides of the world. People enjoy feeling they can relate to other people they've never met through common experiences in their past." Ho and Chloe have photographed these buildings across Australia, New Zealand and America, and are planning to visit South America to continue the successful project.

4. It Brings Us Hope

Getty Images
What men and women have previously achieved can inspire us.

"We imbue the past with all sorts of qualities – people were kinder to each other, there was less violence, we were happier -- regardless of whether this is actually true or not," explains Barnes. "At a deeper level we know we can draw on the wisdom of the past to challenge and overcome difficulties. Nostalgia feeds hope and optimism."

5. It Helps Us Understand Who We Are

Getty Images
Revisiting the past can allow us to understand more about who we are.

Remembering the past helps us establish a sense of identity, says Landsberry. "The past is where people derive purpose in their lives and understand where they fit in. My two-year old daughter already wants to connect the dots of her life. She loves staring at photos, even if they're just happy snaps. Every year I make a photo album of our lives – hopefully they'll help our children learn about their family, friends and their upbringing."

6. It Stirs Our Imagination

Engaging with your history is a powerful stimulant for the imagination.

Contemplating what might have happened years ago in a building -- or place that we frequent today -- can ignite our imaginations, says Tran. "It's hard to see an old Pizza Hut building without thinking about the families who would have eaten there, the conversations that might have happened, and how that also relates to our own experiences. A building or place with a sense of history can allow your imagination to run riot."

7. It Helps Us Cope Through The Tough Times

Nostalgia helps us process difficult memories and experiences.

"According to motivational speaker Steve Mariboli, 'Nostalgia is your brain's way of photo shopping the blemishes of your past,'" says Barnes. "Without the mind's ability to soften the sadness and longing for what we have lost, nostalgia would be unbearable. That's why families all over the world comfort elderly relatives by poring over old photographs together and asking to hear stories about people or events one more time. The sadness of a time that can never be recovered becomes bearable by revisiting the fond memories of it."

No one sees it like you, visit www.canon.com.au/stories.