When looking back helps us move forward, or how nostalgia can do good


If the word “longing” only conjures up the idea of ​​wistful gazes, think again, because tender emotion doesn’t have to function like a retrograde mood, say the researchers.

Studies indicate that, in moderation, nostalgia can help us get through our current problems, whether it’s the stress of a global pandemic or challenges at home or work. It’s all in how we use it.

“Nostalgia is a first-aid emotion, very useful to have in your emotional toolbox in case you feel lonely or in a bad mood,” said Ad Vingerhoets, a clinical psychologist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. .

More than a dozen studies in recent years have measured the primarily “positive” “restorative power” of nostalgia, showing that it is a “buffer” against emotional insalubrity and an “important resource for maintaining and promote psychological health”.

Nostalgia is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a wistful or overly sentimental desire to return to either a past period or irrecoverable condition,” but experts say its benefits run much deeper.

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“Far from making people live in the past, nostalgia can be a powerful resource both for coping with difficult times and for propelling us positively into the future,” said Erica Hepper, associate professor of psychology at the ‘University of Surrey in England and the author. multiple studies related to nostalgia. “Nostalgia is part of the fabric of everyday life.”

At the same time, nostalgia is not just about positive vibes.

“Nostalgia is a bittersweet emotion,” said David Ludden, professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Ga. while ignoring the present is not healthy.To thrive, we must face the current challenges.

Ludden explained that too much looking back could undermine innovation and retard social progress.

Used wisely, however, experts say and studies indicate that nostalgia can foster empathy and psychological resilience, foster creativity, curb loneliness, build deeper connections, and encourage a sense of community and volunteerism. It has also been shown to evoke inspiration. “Nostalgia makes us feel safe, loved, and reminds us that other people care about us,” Hepper said. A study found that longing hair removal can even make one feel physically hotter.

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The powerful emotion has also been shown to reduce physical pain and improve mood by releasing endorphins. “Remembering a pleasant experience from our past triggers the same positive emotions we felt when we actually had the experience, giving us a surge of nostalgic pleasure from the past that we savor in the present,” Hal McDonald proposed. , professor of English at Mars Hill University in North Carolina.

Perhaps most remarkably, nostalgia gives meaning to life.

“Because nostalgic memories focus on important and meaningful experiences or relationships, they remind us that we are capable of living meaningful, connected lives,” Hepper said.

Nostalgic daydreaming can also make a person more optimistic about current circumstances or provide an opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

“When we ‘revisit’ our personal past, we can remember how we coped with problems and weathered adversity,” said Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.

Nostalgia can “remind us that life isn’t always like this, that we’ve had fulfilling and meaningful experiences in the past,” said Clay Routledge, a psychology professor at North Dakota State University and author of “Nostalgia : A Psychological Resource.”

Routledge has spent much of his career studying the effects of nostalgia, which he says can help place our current situation in a larger context, “to see beyond the sadness or pain we feel right now”.

And although research shows that emotion is pervasive – one study found that over 80% of UK undergraduates reported feeling nostalgic at least once a week – emotion can be induced more often if you wish it. “Nostalgia is like a psychological store, which people can dip into when they need a nudge or psychological reinforcement,” Hepper said.

Turning to certain media, for example, has proven to be a nostalgic experience for many.

“It may seem counterintuitive, but a bit of escapism in nostalgic music, movies, and other media can be healthy,” Batcho said. “When we listen to old songs or watch old movies, we benefit from the feelings we had when we originally enjoyed them and the memories of the people we enjoyed them with in the past.”

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Beyond turning to bygone media, Vingerhoets said visiting a childhood neighborhood or taking a trip down memory lane through photos can also help elicit emotion. “Homesickness can be triggered by a variety of other factors, like smells, food, and social gatherings with old friends like a school reunion,” he said.

Of course, relying on nostalgia too often or for long periods of time can turn nostalgia’s first aid remedies into a crutch and erode the benefits that come from a more natural experience of emotion. “Memories that surprise us tend to have a much more powerful emotional impact than memories that we voluntarily retrieve,” McDonald said.

Instead, balancing forward-thinking priorities while learning from the past is the best way to take full advantage of this unique and powerful emotion.

“We engage in nostalgic reverie when the current situation is not good. It reminds us that things were better in the past. If we stop there, though, the nostalgia really doesn’t help,” Ludden said. “But if sweet memories of the past can reassure us that the future can also be brighter than the present, then nostalgia can be a real psychological resource.”

Daryl Austin is a health and history journalist based in Utah.

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