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“The Good Old Days”: Defining Nostalgia And How It Can Benefit You

It’s been a long week. You’re stuck in traffic on your way home from your seemingly-endless job and although the weekend is just in front of you, the stresses and responsibilities of your day-to-day life are stopping you from getting excited about the prospect of the next two days off. 

Then, as if by some sort of divine intervention, a song starts playing on your radio. A song that you haven’t heard in a long time; longer still since the days it was your favourite song in the world, but for a brief moment, you’re there again. 

The melody of the tune transports you to a simpler time; an apparently happier, more carefree time where responsibilities appeared to be next to non-existent and all you knew were good times. You ‘feel’ exactly how you did then; you can hear, smell and taste things from a whole lifetime ago.   

And then, as quickly and as intense as it came, it’s gone again. ‘It’ is nostalgia.

What Is Nostalgia?

An incredibly powerful emotion, nostalgia is typically defined as a strong sentimental longing or wistful affection for a time in the past. It often envelopes all our senses, particularly the one that was first stimulated to induce the emotion. 

It’s defined in the Cambridge dictionary as “a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past,” which draws attention to the bittersweet feeling sometimes left when experiencing a bout of nostalgia.

 

Is that because the past was an inarguably happier, better time when we were without concern and responsibilities? Unfortunately not. As we’ve mentioned before, our memories aren’t entirely reliable; typically, our brains will let go of the negative memories and the negative aspects of otherwise positive memories, in a sort of self-defence reaction.    

The funny thing is when the idea of nostalgia was first brought into the realms of understanding, the psychologist who coigned the term, Johannes Hofer, used it to describe an intense homesickness, experienced by the Swiss soldiers he was treating in 1688. It was considered undesirable and a form of depression until the 20th Century.

The Benefits Of Nostalgia

Despite being such a profound and universal emotion, its stigmatised nature meant that for centuries it was disregarded by psychologists. As such, research and studies into the potential benefits have only been undertaken in the last few decades.

Thanks to academics and researchers such as Professor of Social and Personality Psychology, Constantine Sedikides BA, MA, PhD, we now have a much more thorough understanding of nostalgia and its benefits. 

Professor Sedikidies established the ‘Southampton Nostalgia Scale’ as a tool to measure the frequency and meaning of nostalgia in an individual. Since it’s conception, it’s been used by researchers worldwide to demonstrate a range of possible benefits including: 

  • 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

 

When engaging in nostalgic reflection, people report a stronger sense of belongingness, affiliation, or sociality; they convey higher continuity between their past and their present; they describe their lives as more meaningful; and they often indicate higher levels of self-esteem and positive mood (Hepper et al, 2012).

In an interview originally published in the New York Times, Professor Sedikides said  “nostalgia makes us a bit more human,” or better sociable beings at the very least; “you end up with a stronger feeling of belonging and affiliation, and you become more generous toward others.”

“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.” – Professor Sedikides, BA, MA, PhD

If you’ve got a spare 15 minutes, you should check out this clip below which explains in a bit more detail what nostalgia is, its benefits and why it’s integral to our understanding of ourselves!

Induce Your Own Nostalgia

Why wait for nostalgia to hit you on a rainy day? Inducing nostalgia is a proven way to increase optimism, self-esteem and social connectedness. You know what a great tool is for creating your own nostalgia vault? Your Iternal timeline! 

With the Iternal app, you can pull all your stories, memories, mementos and more together in one place and throw yourself into the warm pools of the past, whenever; wherever. You can also check out our blog space every week, where you can find posts like this one and much more.