Until the late 17th century, doctors viewed nostalgia as “a psychological disorder suffered by a person who preferred to get lost in the past at the expense of the present, and was treated by sending patients home and threatening them with pain and terror,” according to the Atlantic.
Until the Swiss scientist Johannes Hofer, in his medical treatise in 1688, coined the feeling of nostalgia in the word “nostalgia”, as a term derived from Homer's epic “The Odyssey”; It consists of Greek words meaning “homecoming” (Nostos) and “pain” (Algos).
Recently, the American neuroscientist Richard Sima wrote in his scientific column in the Washington Post, describing nostalgia for the beautiful past; It is “an emotion inherent in human nature, felt by people of all ages and cultures often; when they find themselves recalling shared memories with family and friends, or nostalgic for listening to their favorite music or searching through old photos; as a wonderful way to wander down the paths of memory, linked to health.” Better mentality, brighter future.”
This was confirmed by Tim Wildschut, professor of psychology at the British University of Southampton, in the same article, saying, “Indulging in nostalgia and diving into the past is beneficial for well-being and self-motivation, striving to achieve important goals, giving meaning to life, and feeling its continuity and connection to it.” .
Why do we need nostalgia?
Over the past few decades, research has revealed 3 main functions of nostalgia:
Increase social connectedness
“Nostalgia does more than just recall memories and seek solace when life is difficult,” says psychology professor Dr. Clay Rutledge. “It inspires us to improve our lives and the lives of others.” Studies have found that “nostalgia increases self-control and self-confidence, enhancing purpose, resilience, optimism, creativity, and prosocial behavior.”
Studies also show that “nostalgia makes people feel more socially connected,” with researchers stimulating nostalgia “by asking participants to think and write about fond memories or listen to music associated with them.”
By having participants think fondly of past times with their loved ones, “it's a way to bring them closer together,” says Dr. Wildschut. Deepening his astonishment, he adds, “Even if they are physically far away, or absent for some time, nostalgia can bring them back to reality, deepening our sense of connection and love.”
Also, interestingly, studies differentiate “between nostalgia, which brings powerful psychological benefits through its ability to connect us to our loved ones and ourselves, and merely ruminating on the past without thinking or contemplating.”
Research suggests that “when people are asked to engage in nostalgic thinking, they tend to recall cherished experiences related to their loved ones, which increases the perception that their lives are meaningful.”
Participants agree that nostalgic memories are “deep and existentially significant,” with 73% indicating that their nostalgic memories are best described as “social memories that include family and close friends”; 84% of them believe that “nostalgic memories remind them of the most important things in their lives.”
Reminiscing and telling stories about our lives enhances our sense of self-continuity, “which is important for our mental well-being, and a source of inspiration, motivation, and pursuit of any important goals for the future,” says Dr. Verbon Cheung, a social psychologist at the University of Winchester in Britain. Explaining, “This may be the reason why we tend to retell stories of the past with other people we love.”
Also, nostalgia is often portrayed as merely light entertainment, or a mental barrier that prevents us from living fully in the present and planning for the future; Although “today's craze for all generations is not about the past, but about a brighter future”; Dr. Rutledge says.
Rutledge asserts that “nostalgia’s greatest power is its ability to help us plan for our future,” based on a growing body of scientific research that reveals that “nostalgia is a powerful psychological resource that helps us change our lives for the better.” According to what was reported by the “Fortune” website.
Sense of meaning
By promoting social connectedness and self-continuity, “nostalgia helps us bring greater meaning to life and cope in turbulent times,” according to a 2019 study in which Dr. Wildschut participated. A study conducted in 2022 also reported that writing about an event that triggers nostalgia for two minutes a week provides effective psychological cover in the face of major crises.
Dr. Rutledge believes, “Nostalgia is actually more about the present and future than the past. It improves our well-being when we go through difficult times, fuels our creativity, and most importantly, encourages us to live more mindfully in the present, and approach the future with hope and purpose.”
His research found that “people often turn to nostalgia when they experience distressing psychological states, such as sadness, loneliness, and lack of meaning.” He attributed this to the fact that “nostalgia has a calming effect during difficult times.” 77% of participants agreed that “nostalgic memories are a source of comfort when life is difficult.”
Therefore, Dr. Cheung says, “Nostalgia can help us cope in turbulent times,” because it is associated with positive experiences in the past that make us feel good about ourselves, and that nostalgia “is one of the weapons we have to use to regulate our emotions during challenging times.” “.
She points out that nostalgia takes us back in time by activating “quick memory,” opening the way for us to “look forward to tomorrow and move forward.” This is because memories of happy times “not only help us feel good in the moment, but they also serve as a source of inspiration and motivation to pursue our goals and form important friendships for the future.”
A 2021 study, in which Dr. Wildschut also participated, found that “participants who were more nostalgic for the past were more likely to seek help when they needed it.”
Dr. Cheung said that knowing the benefits of nostalgia can prompt us to establish a “larger positive memory bank” by savoring those moments as they happen.