Nostalgia is Good For You

You know what nostalgia is, right? It’s a type of reminiscence which includes a wistful affection or longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.  At one time, nostalgia was considered a psychological disorder, a longing for one’s past that occurred because the present was unpleasant or untenable. Some psychologists even felt that nostalgia was a sign of depression.

Fortunately, that view of nostalgia has been debunked.  In the late 1990’s Dr. Constantine Sedikides pioneered the field of nostalgia research and after almost two decades of study, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – it’s a lot better.

Multiple research studies have indicated that nostalgia counteracts loneliness, boredom and anxiety.  It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders.  Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing pleasant memories.  And, on cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer!

Nostalgia makes us a bit more human. Studies have shown that the definitive  features of nostalgia are the same the world over The topics are universal – reminiscences about family and friends, holidays, weddings, births, gatherings, happy times.  The stories tend to feature the self as the protagonist surrounded by close friends, colleagues or family members.

Nostalgia can diminish sadness and loneliness. In one study, people read about a deadly disaster which elicited feelings of sadness.  Other subjects were chosen because they expressed considerable loneliness.  It was found that sad or lonely people are more likely to wax nostalgic and the strategy works: they subsequently felt less depressed and lonely.

Nostalgic stories aren’t simply exercises in cheerfulness.  The happy memories are often mixed with a wistful sense of loss.  But, on the whole, the positive elements outnumber the negative.  Nostalgic stories often start with some kind of problem or adversity then they tend to move towards a happy ending, thanks to help from friends or family.  So, nostalgia fosters a stronger feeling of belonging and affiliation and you become more generous toward others.

A quick and effective way to induce nostalgia is through music.  A study conducted in the Netherlands, noted that listening to music made people feel not only nostalgic but also warmer physically.  Other studies have found that feelings of nostalgia are more common on cold days. Subjects in a cool room were more likely to become nostalgic than people in warmer rooms and those who became nostalgic reported feeling warmer.

Nostalgia may help us ward off despair. In a study conducted in England, subjects read an essay by a supposed philosopher who wrote that life is meaningless and each person’s contribution is paltry pathetic and pointless.  It was found that when subjects were induced to nostalgia before reading the bleak essay, they were less likely to be convinced by it.  “Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function,” says the researcher.  “It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives.”

For Dr. Sedikides, the pioneer of nostalgia research, the lesson to be learned from this new awareness of the value of nostalgia is that we all should create more moments that will be memorable. “I don’t miss an opportunity to build nostalgia-to-be memories,” he says. He suggests that we experience nostagia as a prized possession.

Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. 

It made me feel good about myself and my relationships.

It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.

Dr. Constantine Sedikides

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