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Can Nostalgia be Comforting

“Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.” Robert Morgan

Given the continuation of the Covid-19 Pandemic as we go through the second wave, it seems appropriate to consider the concept of nostalgia. Over the past decade, a small literature on the psychology of nostalgia has developed and it shows some interesting information.

Some experimental evidence indicates that nostalgia is experienced as an overwhelmingly positive emotion. It has the effect of boosting one’s mood as well as increasing a sense of meaning in life. It also raises self-esteem and optimism for the future. The research is not clear as to whether these effects are due to how the experiments are set up rather than to the true nature of nostalgia.

It does seem possible that people use nostalgia as a palliative to dampen sadness. The outcome to this seems to be that after nostalgic reverie people continue in their depressive / feel bad state. That is that they still feel bad—just not as bad as they would have otherwise.

There seem to be some ways that nostalgia can have a positive comfort and perhaps the following ways could help us to experience nostalgia in a positive way:

Recapture childhood feelings:

Some information suggests that nostalgic memories can help us recapture feelings of childhood, like safety, security, innocence, and being loved and cared for whether this is by friends, teachers, neighbours or family. So to use this component of the psychology of nostalgia to your own benefit, consider breaking out old-school board or other games or watching vintage cartoons with your best friend or family.

Use music to revive your most joyous moments:

Beneficial nostalgia can be sparked by listening to the songs we loved during better times, songs that inspire and encourage us and remind us of all the goodness they’re associated with. For example, we might remember songs our relatives and friends loved to sing or the songs we sung out loud when we were at our most joyous times or when we thought no-one could hear us sing out loud in the shower. Many nostalgic songs have emotional significance from the people, places, and occasions we associate with them as often heard on ‘Desert Island Discs’.

Music can re-energize the dreams and aspirations we had when we were idealistic, before difficult events might have jaded us and introduced negative attitudes, such as pessimism or mistrust.

Music from your teen years can be particularly important because they’re connected to a formative time in our lives, they can revive memories and feelings associated with the people and experiences that helped make us who we are. Music from our teen years reminds us of our belief in and desire for the best that love and life can be as shown in the film ‘Blinded by the Light’.

Look through the physical souvenirs of a triumph:

Looking through actual photo albums / digital photos, souvenirs from holidays, letters, cards, certificates that mark important achievements, medals and other awards, diaries and even school reports can all take you for a stroll down memory lane, which may be really grounding. Taking note of past celebrations and accomplishments where you felt both loved and valued are beautiful ways of experiencing nostalgia.

Experiencing nostalgia in this way may be soothing for us as it helps us to see how much we have experienced, good and bad, and how far we have come though good and bad times. These memories remind us of what and who are most important to us and help us understand the meaning and purpose in our lives.” Reminisce with others:

Personal reminiscing is beneficial, but recalling memories with friends and family really promotes bonding and togetherness which is so important for us all at the moment.

It is important not to get stuck in nostalgia. Nostalgic rumination can happen in our loneliest hours. This strain of extremely melancholy nostalgia can however be dangerous for ourselves and for others. If we find ourselves becoming trapped in sadness, we need to reach out to others. Not only is it great to receive support, but it’s incredibly beneficial to extend support to others who may be feeling sad through nostalgia. Extending a digital hug to another feels good and can encourage us to look forward to better times. Just as there were good times before, there will be good times ahead.

So here we are, in a time where significant history is taking place at all sorts of levels. We miss our life as we used to know it before March 2020. As the darker days approach, it can be easy to feel sad when we feel nostalgic and recall the past as we once knew it. However, perhaps we also need to take a few moments to use nostalgia in a sobering way. History before us went through The Black Death, polio, tuberculosis which still infects 10 million people a year and kills 1.6 million a year, natural disasters, famines and wars which continue today, The Spanish Flu, and every year, influenza.

We live in difficult and challenging times but we also have to do out best and use nostalgia as not just a comforting moment but also create a sense of resilience through sobering moments.

Sometimes it is easy to look back on life through rose tinted spectacles and those ‘if only I had done that or made that decision…’. Perhaps then, nostalgia might be a way of motivating us to do the things that are the most important to us. Maybe just now, the most important thing for all of us is to show others how much we care about them, value them and appreciate them being a part of our life, whether they are our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours or community members that makes us feel safe and cared for.

Dr Sima Patel Chartered Psychologist and Coach 15 New Road | Brighton | East Sussex | BN1 1UF 01273 803 013

“Looking back is a way to sharpen the focus on the things you want to change in your life. I think there’s something about nostalgia that really puts a fine point on the here-and-now, and that can be incredibly fascinating and interesting and engaging for the mind.” - Sarah Paulson

Posted in Wellbeing Practice on Nov 01, 2020