Navigating the Waves of Nostalgia

A few days ago, I found myself watching old Backstreet Boys music videos and reminiscing about my youth. A wave of nostalgia hit me and I suddenly felt a longing for the early 00’s again, where I spent Saturday mornings watching Spongebob and played Four Square during recess. Nostalgia is a mix of feelings, one that produces happy, fond memories but also one that harbors a longing for a past that cannot be restored. Many people believe that dwelling on the past is harmful, especially for a good future. But there’s something about nostalgia that makes us feel nice, and psychologists conclude that it’s actually good for us.

First coined by Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer in 1688, nostalgia was described as a type of neurological disease that had symptoms similar to homesickness. It was originally associated with the anxieties shown by Swiss mercenaries who yearned for their homeland. In this day and age, nostalgia is no longer viewed as a malady. In fact, it is quite common, from seniors to middle aged adults to children as young as seven and is frequently experienced, with as many as 80% of people feeling nostalgic at least once a week. It is most frequent in young adults, who often experience new transitions such as starting a first job or moving away from home.

Studies by psychologists Erica Hepper, Clay Routledge and researchers at the University of Southampton have found many benefits to nostalgia. For one, it creates a sense of purpose and thus, helps fight boredom and apathy. When people are nostalgic, they find meaning in their lives that offers them a purpose for the present. Secondly, nostalgia helps us feel connected to others and so, it fights seclusion. Sharing nostalgic feelings makes people more considerate, and Hepper notes that people tend to donate more generously after nostalgizing. Thirdly, nostalgia enhances our self-esteem. It makes us aware of our desirable qualities. Finally, nostalgia lifts up our mood such that we no longer feel depressed or anxious. There is a sense of comfort in reminiscing about our past and nostalgia can physically make us feel warmer. Furthermore, studies show that nostalgia can help us combat fears such as death and loneliness.

Of course, there can be a danger to nostalgia. It is, after all, a bittersweet feeling. Nostalgic feelings can trigger negative feelings, such as regret or grief. Additionally, nostalgia may not be good for everyone. Some psychologists suggest that neurotic or avoidant individuals would not receive much benefit from nostalgia as they may overdo it or do not fully comprehend the sense of closeness that nostalgia brings.

Moreover, some feel that excessive nostalgia may also pose problems. Author Damian Barr expresses that the many of the generation that were young adults in the ‘90s and 00s may experience excessive nostalgia because “we grew up in a boom- we are living in a bust.” Thus, he advises that nostalgia should be experienced for the right reasons (ie, not as a way to avoid the present) and in moderation.

Given the benefits and possible dangers of nostalgia, it seems that a major takeaway is that we do not need to shy away from nostalgia. However, it is also important to understand our nostalgic feelings, focus on its positives and to make sure they do not get out of control. After all, a healthy dose of the past makes for a happy and bright future.

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