Why do I dwell on the past?

Dwelling on the past, like writing in a diary, is part of being human and helps us form our identity. But not all memories are helpful.
from www.shutterstock.com

Laura Jobson, Monash University

Many of us enjoy writing in a diary, reading autobiographies or nostalgically reflecting with others about past times.

Why is remembering our past so important? Are there downsides? And what can we do if dwelling on the past bothers us?

Read more:
Explainer: what is memory?

Memories make us human

Over several decades, researchers have shown remembering your past is fundamental to being human, and has four important roles.

1. Memories help form our identity

Our personal memories give us a sense of continuity — the same person (or sense of self) moving through time. They provide important details of who we are and who we would like to be.

Read more:
Why we remember our youth as one big hedonistic party

2. Memories help us solve problems

Memories offer us potential solutions to current problems and help guide and direct us when solving them.

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Most people think playing chess makes you ‘smarter’, but the evidence isn’t clear on that

3. Memories make us social

Personal memories are essential for social interactions. Being able to recall personal memories provides important material when making new friends, forming relationships and maintaining ones we already have.

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The power of ‘our song’, the musical glue that binds friends and lovers across the ages

4. Memories help us regulate our emotions

Our memories provide examples of similar situations we’ve been in before. This allows us to reflect on how we managed that emotion before and what we can learn from that experience.

Such memories can also help us manage strong negative emotions. For example, when someone is feeling sad they can take time to dwell on a positive memory to improve their mood.

Read more:
Health Check: how food affects mood and mood affects food

Memories help us function in our wider society

Dwelling on our personal memories not only helps us as individuals. It also allows us to operate in our socio-cultural context; society and culture influence the way we remember our past.

For instance, in Western individualistic cultures people tend to recall memories that are long, specific, detailed and focus on the individual.

In contrast, in East Asian cultures people tend to recall more general memories focusing on social interactions and significant others. Researchers have seen these differences in children and adults.

Read more:
‘Remember when we…?’ Why sharing memories is soul food

Indeed, the way parents discuss past events with their children differs culturally.

Parents from Western cultures focus more on the child and the child’s thoughts and emotions than East Asian parents. So, there are even cultural differences in the ways we teach our children to dwell on the past.

People from Western individualistic cultures tend to recollect specific unique memories that reaffirm someone’s uniqueness, a value emphasised in Western cultures. In contrast, in East Asian cultures memories function to assist with relatedness and social connection, a value emphasised in East Asian cultures.

Memories and ill health

As dwelling on the past plays such a crucial role in how we function as humans, it is unsurprising that disruptions in how we remember arise in several psychological disorders.

People with depression, for instance, tend to remember more negative personal memories and fewer positive personal memories than those without depression. For example, someone with depression may remember failing an exam rather than remembering their academic successes.

People with depression are more likely to remember the bad times rather than the good.
from www.shutterstock.com

People with depression also have great difficulty remembering something from a specific time and place, for instance “I really enjoyed going to Sam’s party last Thursday”. Instead they provide memories of general experiences, for instance, “I like going to parties”.

We have found people with depression also tend to structure their life story differently and report more negative life stories. They also tend to remember periods of their life, such as going to university, as either distinctly positive or negative (rather than a combination of both).

Disturbances in memory are also the hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is when unwanted, distressing personal memories of the trauma spontaneously pop into the mind.

Read more:
Explainer: what is post-traumatic stress disorder?

People with anxiety disorders also tend to have biases when remembering their personal past. For instance, all of us, unfortunately, experience social blunders from time to time, such as tripping getting onto a bus or spilling a drink at a party. However, people with social anxiety are more likely to be consumed with feelings of embarrassment and shame when remembering these experiences.

Read more:
Explainer: what is social anxiety disorder?

Finally, an excessive, repetitive dwelling on your past, without generating solutions, can be unhelpful. It can result in emotional distress and in extreme instances, emotional disorders, such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I don’t want to dwell on the past. What can I do?

If dwelling on the past bothers you, these practical tips can help.

Set aside a certain time of the day for your memories. You could write in a diary or write down your worries. Writing about important personal experiences in an emotional way for as little as 15 minutes a day can improve your mental and physical health.

Practice remembering specific positive memories from your past. This can allow you to engage differently with your memories and gain a new perspective on your memories.

Learn and practise mindfulness strategies. Instead of dwelling on painful memories, a focus on the present moment (such as attending to your breath, focusing on what you can currently see, smell or hear) can help break a negative cycle

When dwelling on past memories try being proactive and generate ideas to solve problems rather than just being passive.

See your GP or health practitioner if you’re distressed about dwelling on your past.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Laura Jobson, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Historical fiction, fictional history: stories we tell about the past

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia and Christine de Matos, University of Notre Dame Australia

This introductory article is the first in a new series examining the links, problems and dynamics of writing, recording and recreating history, whether in fiction or non-fiction. Keep an eye out for more in the coming days.

In the opening to his 1820 novel Ivanhoe: A Romance, Laurence Templeton, also known as the historical novelist Walter Scott, writes a letter of dedication, apology and explanation to a fictional recipient bearing the name Rev Dr Jonas Dryasdust.

Dr Dryasdust is an antiquarian, a fellow-traveller of the historian, who spends time in the archives in “toilsome and minute research”, collecting artefacts and facts and figures “from musty records and chronicles”, and writing texts “trammelled by the repulsive dryness of mere antiquity”.

Templeton apologises for what his novel may lack in historical accuracy – language, costumes, manners – and worries that by “intermingling fiction with truth, I am polluting the well of history with modern inventions, and impressing upon the rising generation false ideas of the age which I describe”.

Sir Henry Raeburn Portrait of Sir Walter Scott, 1822.
Wikimedia Commons

Yet he defends his “experiment” as one that can better translate the past to a contemporary audience, a role comparable to that of the artist or architect, and can relate that past in more sublime and emotional ways.

Nearly 200 years later, it seems we are still having the same conversation.

Who should interpret and write about the past and how that past should be written (or taught) remain contested territories. This was palpable when historians and writers took each other to task in the wake of the publication Kate Grenville’s evocative fictionalised account of the early colony in New South Wales, The Secret River (2005).

The defence most commonly given for fictionalising the past today is not dissimilar to that given by Sir Walter Scott. Rather than marking a distinct boundary between past and present, novelists more often declare their aim is to engage with the “extensive neutral ground” in between.

The neutral ground, in the words of Scott, are the “manners and sentiments which are common to us and to our ancestors,” through which the empathy and engagement of the reader can be summoned. To date, less attention has been paid to novelists such as Kim Scott who seek to confront and destabilise such cosy and empathetic fictional memories.

But the debate extends beyond fiction versus non-fiction and even rages between historians within the discipline of history itself. A recent attack by popular historian Paul Ham charged academic historians with too much focus on theory and analysis, which is “often encumbered by a partisan political outlook”, leading them to produce histories that were “almost universally unread”.

Academic historians have also expressed some disquiet about history writing, as in Ann Curthoys and Ann McGrath’s How to Write History that People Want to Read (2011). Once again these echo Scott’s concerns about historians producing narratives devoid of “interesting details” and “encrusted with the rust of antiquity”.

Of course, the stereotype of the unreadable academic historian is far from correct.

Historians such as Mark McKenna, Tom Griffiths and Clare Wright have recently carried off the nation’s top literary awards.

Many more, including Henry Reynolds, Grace Karskens and Ian McCalman, have authored works that have had significant popular impact, while others have contributed to public debate through television, radio and in digital formats.

The Castle of Otranto ignited debate about ‘respectable’ literature.
Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the issue of accessibility and lucidity of writing is one that affects all academics, not only historians. Even Scott acknowledged exemptions, his “respectable precedents” for Ivanhoe including the art historian Horace Walpole who “wrote a goblin tale which has thrilled through many a bosom” (a reference to Walpole’s popular 1764 Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, 1764).

A notable feature of contemporary debates is the politicisation of the past, and in particular the teaching of that past.

Whether it is a Christopher Pyne lamenting the ostensible disappearance of western civilisation from the curriculum, or a John Howard critiquing a black-armband view of history, few other academic disciplines receive the same kind of political – as opposed to pedagogical – interrogation.

Indeed, debates over the “readability” of the past can be considered to be at least partly political – in the sense that historical knowledge is knowledge of shared social experience, open to debate and scrutiny, with an eye to the social and cultural functions that history serves.

In recent times, history and memory appear to have become central to wider debates over democracy, identity and social justice – indeed, history is often the actual ground on which such issues are popularly contested.

All history, in this sense, is public history.

It is with these ideas in mind that we co-edited Fictional Histories and Historical Fictions, a special issue of the open-access academic journal TEXT, that attempts to get beyond the well rehearsed and often acrimonious exchanges between writers and historians that have been such a characteristic of the History Wars of the last ten years, with its boundary-riding rhetoric.

The special issue is a genuinely trans-disciplinary project. It includes the work of both writers and historians, has been co-edited by a writer and a historian, and peer-reviewed by both writers and historians.

It features the work of Tom Griffiths, Anne Curthoys, Clare Wright, Hsu Ming Teo, Anna Haebich, Stephen Muecke, Christopher Kremmer, Andrew Cowan, Donna Lee Brien, Camilla Nelson and Christine de Matos.

Over the coming days on The Conversation you will have the opportunity to read short essays by contributors that pick up on the key themes of their academic articles.

We hope you enjoy them.

The Conversation

Camilla Nelson is Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at University of Notre Dame Australia.
Christine de Matos is Lecturer in History at University of Notre Dame Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The Book Cave

The link below is to an article that takes a look at The Book Cave, a cave were manuscripts and books were hidden in the past.

For more visit:

Article: Tips on Conversing from Old Etiquette Books

The link below is to an article that looks at some tips for conversing from etiquette books from the past.

For more visit:

Article: A Brief History of American Bookmobiles

The link below is to a good article on bookmobiles in the US – including photos. A great glimpse into the past.

For more visit:

Book Review: A God Entranced Vision of All Things – The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards

I have started reading ‘A God Entranced Vision of All Things – The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards,’ with John Piper and Justin Taylor as the general editors of the book. It was published in 2004 by Crossway Books and has 275 pages.

This book is a collection of studies on Jonathan Edwards – his life, ministry and legacy. Each chapter investigates some facet of Edwards and each chapter is penned by a different author. The authors of these studies include John Piper, J. I. Packer, Paul Helm and Sam Storms, names widely recognized in reformed circles. The studies are expansions of messages delivered at a Desiring God Ministries conference in October 2003, celebrating 300 years since the birth of Jonathan Edwards.

In my journey through this book, I have thus far reached the end of chapter 2. What I can say is that this book is very easy to read, but difficult to put down. It has the readability that many books associated with Desiring God Ministries have, yet the weightiness of the subject matter does not allow one to just move through the book without serious reflection.

The book doesn’t leave you contemplating the past and Jonathan Edwards in particular, but the God of Jonathan Edwards and leads the reader to a serious contemplation of the glorious God who is all. Edwards life was about God and his enjoyment of Him, and this is the subject of chapter 1, ‘A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: Why We Need Jonathan Edwards 300 Years Later,’ by John Piper. Chapter 2 gives an overview of the life and legacy of Jonathan Edwards in ‘Jonathan Edwards: His Life and Legacy,’ by Stephen J. Nichols. With chapter 3, ‘Sarah Edwards: Jonathan’s Home and Haven,’ by Noel Piper, the subject matters of the first section of the book is dealt with brilliantly, ‘Part 1 – The Life and Legacy of Edards.’ Certainly I can speak to the first two chapters as having achieved that and I have little doubt the third will compliment the first 2.

The treatment of the guiding principles of Edwards’ life and the brief overview of it, leads the reader to the God of Jonathan Edwards and this would surely be the legacy that Edwards would have hoped for.

Book Review: Currently Reading – Print is Dead, by Jeff Gomez

I have just started reading ‘Print is Dead – Books in our Digital Age,’ by Jeff Gomez. This book explores the future of books, with Gomez being an advocate of ebooks. I think it is fair to say that Gomez sees a future where the traditional book is little more than a relic of the past. This is certainly a view I would agree with for a number of reasons, though I do believe the traditional book will hold on for some time to come (how long I cannot say). I believe Gomez would hold to the same view from what I have read thus far (to the end of chapter 1).

In the first chapter, ‘byte flight,’ Gomez accurately sums up the situation in the traditional book vs ebook debate. There are certainly plenty of people (I was once one) who cannot see the ebook winning the battle (if we can call it a battle) and who hold a romantic attachment of sorts to the traditional book. I think this will continue to be the case among older generations for some time yet, with many older people reluctant to ‘move with the times (such a my mother and her husband).’ There are a number of reasons for this and Gomez describes some of these reluctant views in the first chapter. Overall, opposition to the dominance of the ebook is termed as ‘byte flight,’ and is probably as good a term as any to use.

Gomez believes that the younger generations will lead the way for the dominance of the ebook and in this I think he is largely correct. The digital generations are more likely to read digital books and use digital gadgets and as this grows more and more the norm, ebooks will become more and more dominant at the expense of traditional books.

See also:
http://www.dontcallhome.com/books.html (Website of Jeff Gomez)
Podcast (Excerpts from the Book)
Google Books