When Nostalgia is a Good Thing
Clinical psychologists often view nostalgia - defined by the Oxford dictionary as a "sentimental longing for the past" - as a symptom of depression. Why else would a person choose to live in the past? Depression about the present or the future must have sent the person backwards in time for solace.
As early as the 17th century, nostalgia was considered to have a demonic origin, and it was later classified as a type of melancholia or psychosis. Yikes! In short, nostalgia has gotten a pretty bad rap.
Fortunately, Dr. Constantine Sedikides of the University of Southampton wondered if nostalgia actually provided some benefits to our wellness. He decided to study this and turned up some fascinating results.
He started by creating what's called the Southampton Nostalgia Scale, a tool that's been well-researched and appears to be an effective way to measure the frequency and meaning of nostalgia for an individual. The scale has been used by researchers around the world to yield some pleasant findings about the good side of nostalgia. For example, nostalgia has been found to:
- Reconnect us with our roots
- Provide continuity in our lives
- Help us find meaning and identity
- Counteract loneliness
- Decrease boredom
- Ease anxiety
- Increase generosity and tolerance toward others
- Increase intimacy
- Act as a buffer to depression
- Enhance feelings of physical warmth
That's right - people report feeling physically warmer when they engage in nostalgia! Research also has shown that people are more likely to become nostalgic in colder rooms than in warmer rooms.
This is not to say that nostalgia has no downsides. It can certainly be overdone, and sometimes the feelings are more bittersweet or poignant than warm and fuzzy. When nostalgia creates difficult feelings, it's usually when the person compares the past to the present and feels that things were better in years gone by (remember the song "Those Were the Days" from the show "All in the Family"?). But for people who become nostalgic in moderation, and who don't compare the past with the present, nostalgia can be a very good thing.
Are you a nostalgic person? Do you consider nostalgia an activity that hinders or enhances your wellness? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.
Tierney, J. (July 8, 2013). What is nostalgia good for? Quite a bit, research shows. The New York Times (online version).