Happy Tracks II

Has anyone else in the entire world got a playlist with Tom Jones, Vic Reeves, The Bee Gees, Bass-O-Matic and The Skids in it?

I’d be surprised.

But that’s the joy of Spotify – it learns what you like.

Every Monday the ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist serves up more songs like the ones I’ve ‘liked’ before, and the number and variety of my ‘Happy Tracks’ just gets bigger and bigger.

It has become a standing joke in the car with the kids; my Happy Tracks are frequently unlistenable to younger ears. But they get me toe tapping and steering wheel slapping.

Of course there must be a natural limit – I’m up to 504 songs now in less than a year – and growing steadily. Plus we know that learning algorithms drive ads, monetisation and ‘fake news’.

My original Happy Tracks were assembled by me – now a computer does it. That can’t be all good.

But sometimes you just have to know when you’re beat. Months ago I bought a book on computer science and algorithms to see if I could do exactly this: train an algorithm to serve up my taste in music, art and writing… And then I realised that’s exactly what search engines and social media firms are doing… doh!

Still you can’t be too happy. And Happy Tracks simply puts me in a better mood every time I put my headphones on.

So here’s to artificial intelligence – and stupidity – because Spotify is smart enough to come up with enough duds to kid me I still have superior taste!

Nostalgia

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Turns out Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be…

Traditionally associated with wallowing in a rose or even sepia-tinted past; nostalgia has a bad reputation for losing us in misty-eyed escapism to a lost time that never really was.

I’ve always believed nostalgia was a thing to avoid; at best a source of melancholy and at worst downright sadness. But not so according to the New Scientist:

First described by Johannes Hofer in 1688, the word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostros, to return home, and algos, meaning pain. Hofer observed it as a disorder of homesick Swiss mercenaries stationed in Italy and France… a disease which whose symptoms included weeping, fainting, fever and heart palpitations. He advised treatment with laxatives, narcotics, bloodletting or if nothing else worked sending the soldiers home.

As recently as 1938 the New Scientist continues:

It was described in the British Journal of Psychiatry as “immigrant psychosis”: a condition marked by a combination of homesickness, exhaustion and loneliness.

However, in the last two decades nostalgia has been recognised as an emotion found in all cultures; a mix of happiness and longing. Its bittersweet nature is apparently “unique but universal” – and most of us experience it at least once a week!

Why?

One theory the New Scientist offers is that nostalgia gives us a sense of continuity in life: “Nostalgia reminds us we are the same person we were on our seventh birthday party as on our wedding day and at our retirement celebration.” 

It turns out nostalgia is an antidote to loneliness; not its cause. It lifts us when we are feeling down and boosts well-being. 

And it helps you cope… less nostalgic people feel less connected to others, that life has less meaning, are less likely to seek help from others and deal with loneliness less effectively.

Whereas: “reflecting on nostalgic memories boosts optimism and leaves people more inspired to pursue their goals.” Wow! What’s not to like?

Music is a particularly effective summoner of nostalgia by all accounts (explains my blog about Teddy Mac, Alzheimer’s and Sinatra’s: “You make me feel so good”).

So yesterday I tuned into Absolute 80s on the radio for some teenage kicks, and sent my folks some BFI black and white archive videos of our home town. I used to think that sort of thing might drive them to melancholy; not now.

I’m embracing and prescribing a regular dose of nostalgia – rose tinted spectacles all round!

Joy

 

I’m not big on joy – more steady progress, appreciation, a bit of peace… Joy is one of those ‘hot’ emotions, which can feel like it’ll just cause me bother or be too much like hard work.

So imagine my surprise (having been dreading it for weeks) to be utterly joyful last evening, at a work event. 

We had a ceilidh which involved 90 minutes of lung-busting jigging around bumping into each other; swinging folk you hardly know around, ‘stripping the willow’ and prancing like the ‘gay Gordons’. 

I had a spill and hit the deck, as we sought to spin our foursome fast enough, for the two ladies to take off and fly with centrifugal force. I then nearly re-enacted the Large Hadron Collider with a Greek particle physicist in some poorly-coordinated galloping. What a laugh. Everyone finished hot, flushed, sweating and beaming. 

The last time I remember everyone beaming like this at my work, was at an awards night when the staff choir brought the room to life. And this has set me thinking…

I’ve been listening to Bach’s passions this week – and perhaps there’s something to be said for a bit more joy. Singing, dancing, music, performance; they’re as old as the hills. But they still make life feel worth living. Here’s to joy.