Do you have a cherished memory that makes you feel good? As you read this article recall a cherished memory. Are you experiencing a warm, fuzzy glow? That’s nostalgia. We sometimes tease people who say they ‘long for the good ol’ days’, or admonish them for ‘living in the past’. But in the past twenty years research has shown that nostalgia plays an important role in psychological health. In addition, practice of nostalgia may be useful for maintaining psychological well-being in the future.
Nostalgia is important because it drives positive emotions such as a sense of meaningfulness and connectedness with others. When you are in a nostalgic frame of mind you are more likely to pursue social activities, to make and strengthen interpersonal relationships.
Nostalgia can be a useful psychological resource when we are experiencing feelings of loneliness or disconnection. When our-day-to-day lives seem to be awash with distressing news we search out memories of times when we felt stronger and safer. Constantine Sedikides, (Professor of Social and Personality Psychology, Centre for Research on Self Identity in the U.K.) a pioneer in nostalgia research, suggests that nostalgia grounds you and can make you more psychologically resilient. It helps you to see the present as a temporary state, and, therefore helps you to be more optimistic about the future. Sharing nostalgic stories helps create and strengthen bonds within couples and communities.
So where does the warm, fuzzy feeling come from? When you make a memory your brain records the electrical activity which produced the feel-good hormones (endorphins, oxytocin for example) when the event occurred. When you recall that memory you get a burst of the same brain activity and a burst of warm and fuzzy hormones again.
Finally, why not take care of your psychological health just as you take care of your physical health? Plan regular participation in activities which promote positive memories of yourself and connection with other people. There’s a wide range of nostalgia-focused activities available in the community. When next you get the experience of a sudden, out-of-the-blue pang of nostalgia – a song in the supermarket, the smell of freshly mown grass, a photograph of a younger you, relax and enjoy it. The hormones are good for you.
The next time you are feeling a bit low why not take a trip down memory lane and get a nostalgia boost? It’s free. Sometimes the present seems uncertain and we can’t really see what the future will be like. But we can choose to use our cherished memories of ourselves as positive and connected to other people to keep us strong in the future.