Nostalgia is an emotion. It refers to the familiar pining for, “the good old days” or a sentimental recollection of bittersweet memories. For a long while, nostalgia was considered an illness that caused one to ineffectively live in the present. Current research suggests that nostalgia has significant benefits, which have gone unnoticed by researchers for centuries until recently.
For an engaging audio clip of the details and a short interview with NYT columnist John Tierney click here.
Historically nostalgia was considered, a malady or illness. It is related to the term “homesickness” that was described as a condition of many Swiss mercenaries who missed the mountain landscape of their home as they fought in the lowlands of France and Italy in the 17th century. It is also related to melancholy, which also has some negative associations and is a common feature of Romantic literature.
Doctors Constantine Sedikides and Tim Wildschut, forerunners in the new field of nostalgia studies, have researched the universality of nostalgia across cultures, the warming effect on the body while feeling nostalgic, and the beneficial outcomes of nostalgia such as coping with transition and change, stronger social connection, increased sense of community, tolerance, and optimism.
A short video and article from The New York Times click here.
According to NYT Science columnist John Tierney, everyone engages in nostalgia, but it helps people move forward. It seems when people look back on life or feel nostalgic, it promotes a sense of continuity through life, and a sense of meaning. For example, remembering the past reinforces that a person’s social support system like friends and family stick around over time. Nostalgia has been shown to offset anxiety, loneliness, and boredom too. After feelings of nostalgia, people are often more optimistic, and excited about the future.
Not all nostalgia is beneficial, however. There is surely a balance of nostalgia with living in the present, as well as an appropriate time to consult a professional if you are experiencing disruptive thoughts. Last week, I discussed rumination briefly, and it is worth a read to distinguish nostalgia from other behaviors that may not be as healthy.
Luckily, the overall conclusion in nostalgia studies thus far, is that the positive things outweigh the negative.
Lastly, nostalgia is frequently triggered by sensory input such as music, certain smells, ambient room temperature, and so on. I am nostalgic for salty Pacific Ocean smells, 80s music, and foggy days. What are you nostalgic for?