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Feeling nostalgic?

Updated: Oct 5

Have you been looking back to your past a bit more than usual lately?

Maybe you have been revelling in the resurrection and rebooting of your favourite TV show, like Friends, or embracing the odd Jurassic Park movie marathon (guilty). Maybe you're an #iso runner like me, and have been jogging along to Five. Remember them?! No? OK. Maybe, the Backstreet Boys or the Spice Girls? Or maybe your #tbt shot has morphed into a Monday-Friday thing.

Given the current situation we have found ourselves in, it is kind of understandable. We are in a real period of upheaval and transition. We have been cooped up in our homes, cut off from our family and friends, some of us are bored, while others are busier than ever. People are tragically losing their lives, loved ones, jobs. You get it. So it's not really surprising that we are looking to our past in order to boost our mood, to connect to others, and just experience a time that was a little less s#*&.

Fair enough!


There is however, a word linked to this experience, and it's called nostalgia.


So what is the deal with nostalgia?

The story behind nostalgia is actually quite an interesting one (see TedEd video below).


Nostalgia hasn’t always meant what it does today… "a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past"; "an affectionate feeling you have for the past, especially for a particularly happy time".


Going back to the 17th century, Swiss physician, Johannes Hoffer, characterised nostalgia as a mental and physical illness suffered by mercenaries. He attributed the cause to a yearning for one’s homeland, or put more simply, down to a feeling of homesickness. So this explains the words origins from the Greek word nostos, meaning "homecoming", and algos, meaning “pain”.


It has only been rather recently that nostalgia has shifted away from being thought of as a medical, psychiatric, or psychological disorder. Psychology actually played a significant role in contributing to the meaning of nostalgia, recognising that the negative symptoms that were often experienced may just be correlated, not so much the cause.


Let’s go a little deeper

Nostalgia is about more than just returning to your past.

It is a complex human emotion that plays a pretty interesting role in the human psyche, from the self-relevant, to the social, and also an element of the bittersweet.

  • Self-relevant: When we are feeling nostalgic, we are looking back on our past. So looking back x amount of years positions us to not only remember, but compare who we were back then to who we have become. So in this way it can be a means of affirming our self and our identity. By reflecting on how we feel about this may just give us a sense, and help us determine where we want to be heading in the future.

  • Social: As we look back, nostalgia can offer us an opportunity to connect to other people, momentous events, or places.

  • Bittersweet: The sweet side to nostalgia stems from the possibility to relive those good times, but the bitterness comes from the inability for those good times to return as they no longer exist.


So why now?

We have, and continue to go though some big life transitions during this pandemic.


The psychology of nostalgia however, points to it being a possible avenue of comfort.


Take for instance physical distancing and lockdown. We have been cut off from family and friends. We therefore may find comfort and support in simply thinking about those close to us, and remembering that we are actually not alone. In reminding ourselves of the important people in our lives, we are not only re-establishing a connection, but we may just encourage ourselves to reach out.


There is also the opportunity to learn from none other than our past selves. Maybe there is comfort to be found in the fact that we have dealt with adversity in the past, and hey, if we have got though it before, we sure can do it again.


There is an interesting study that is worth mentioning here also, that looks at the physiological impact of nostalgia and its ability to make us feel warmer or increase our tolerance of cold. So maybe next time you are feeling a bit cold and lonely, there may just be comfort to be found in that bad, 90's pop music!


Important things to remember

  • As we head down memory lane, maybe try to not just frame things as “those were the good days”. Instead try asking yourself why particular experiences are so meaningful. In doing so, you are opening yourself up to maybe learning a thing or two about yourself!

  • We can also be very selective when it comes to memories. Our negative memories tend to fade faster than our positive ones, which are more crystallised. Therefore, just because you remember a experience as positive doesn’t mean it actually was positive.


Have you found yourself a bit more nostalgic than usual? Maybe you have been returning to the 90’s like me. I would love to know.


Leave me a comment or let me know via my 'Contact' page.


Additional Ressources

If you are after more on nostalgia, be sure to take a listen to the American Psychological Society's podcast Speaking of Psychology, episode 93: Does Nostalgia Have a Psychological Purpose? with Krystine Batcho, PhD, a professor of psychology, and an expert on the topic.

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