"Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days."
Ah, Septemberů Crickets and locusts still making nighttime music. Treetops just starting to give a hint of color to come. Goldenrod filling up the prairie where I walk. Weather waffling between summer and not-so-summer, depending on whether you're standing in the sun or the shade. Christmas decorations on the retail shelves. OK, that last one might be a bit premature, but September is still my favorite month. The slow-motion switch from summer to autumn.
Over time, I've noticed that there are a couple of things—outside of the weather—that almost always come with September. First of all, it's a good time for making new resolutions. Even better, I'd argue, than New Year's. After all, our brains are well-trained through a couple decades of youthful new beginnings that this is the time to start a new routine. And I won't deny I've got a whole slew of new routines that began as soon as my 10-year-old's foot hit the step of the school bus.
But for today's purposes, I'd like to talk about the other thing—the nostalgia thing.
Maybe it's because it's the month of my birthday. Maybe it's because this is the month I moved into my first apartment, all those (mumble-mumble) years ago. But for whatever reason, September always gets me thinking about times past. Missing old friends. Indulging what-ifs and coulda-beens. Nostalgia can be a fun place to hang out, though you can't live there. It's delightful to get a letter from an old friend. To dig out old photographs of long-ago holidays and road trips. To read what was once a favorite book.
Perhaps what makes nostalgia so sweet is that our memory weeds out all the everyday stuff we got bogged in, and what remains for our enjoyment (or embarrassment, depending) is what was overwhelmingly powerful or what was overwhelmingly authentic in our past experience.
Oftentimes, it feels like we get bogged down in the day-to-day, and those authentic experiences are missing, but I would argue that we probably have that authenticity—mostly—in about the same amounts all the time. When you're in the woods, though, you see all the trees. It's not until you're on the outside that you remember the individual oaks and cottonwoods that caught your eye.
I've noticed the word "authenticity" coming up a bit more often in business writing lately, with the suggestion that it's something we should be aiming for—especially when we recognize, when we motivate, when we reward. And, the fact is, if you want to deliver an authentic experience, you have to make an impact. This is, perhaps, why studies have shown that the experience of getting a reward, the experience of earning recognition, is valued so highly by program participants. It could also explain why even the peers of the person being rewarded can be so affected by that experience.
The powerful thing about rewards and recognition is that, when done right, in an authentic and meaningful way, they can create tomorrow's nostalgia.
So, how do you make it meaningful?