I tend to define nostalgia as a bittersweet reminiscence as we continue to live in the now and move ahead towards the future. Sometimes, there’s mixed emotions when thinking about the past, and some people avoid the subject matter and the whole “nostalgia song and dance” entirely. I also can recognize that there is a bit of a line to toe — a line of reminiscence versus living in the past and feeling perpetually stuck.
Those who know me know that I’m quite the “nostalgic” individual. Nostalgia may as well be my middle name. I’m the person who likes to conjure up memories of days gone by. Remember the fall of my senior year? Remember that trip to the west village? The Catskill Mountains every winter? And so on and so forth. I even compiled reflections into a book I wrote called the The Art of Nostalgia, a collection of nine personal essays that take the reader down a timeline of memories in the hopes that these personal accounts can relay universal truths. (This collection is on Amazon if anyone is interested — okay, that was not as smooth and subtle as I hoped my plug-in would be.)
I personally believe that there are real psychological benefits when it comes to waxing nostalgic and taking the mental trip down memory lane, and these big three reasons are outlined below.
1. Preserve Innocence
Even if you don’t wish to look back on certain memories (for example, you may not want to look back on the specifics of a romantic relationship or friendship that didn’t quite work out), there’s still feelings of innocence that can be associated with that particular time of your life. For me, I feel these emotional memories when they are linked to seasons. I may feel the light fall winds in September and think back to a certain time and place where those winds were prevalent as well. I may hear the birds chirp and be taken back to a spring evening in my adolescence.
I tend to call these nostalgic thoughts “body memories.” These memories are not about the concrete details of a particular recollection, but they’re more about general feelings. Feelings in my bones, so to speak, that were previously felt long ago. These memories reflect innocence; they reflect the purity felt and upholstered in those very moments.
2. Stay Connected to Loved Ones
When reflecting on old memories that involve loved ones who have passed away, this kind of reminiscence can help you feel more connected to them. There’s various ways to honor such memories, too. I know when I eat Syrian Jewish cuisine, I immediately think of my late great-grandmother. Through her cooking, through Syrian Jewish food, I’m able to uphold her memory and the times we’ve shared together.
3. Reduce Stress
In researching the topic of nostalgia, I was pleasantly surprised to read that by waxing nostalgic, we can ultimately reduce stress. A 2012 study published in the journal Memory found that nostalgia helps people connect their past to their present and find meaning in their lives. After all, the past does perpetuate growth and leads us to our best selves. Therefore, mood can be bolstered, spirits can be lifted, and stress can be reduced.
Sometimes, perusing through old photographs and conjuring up memories can be comforting; comforting to know that regardless of where you are at in life, those memories were valuable, filled with lessons and purpose.
The emotional underpinnings of nostalgia are very familiar to me since I tend to be sentimental and look back on my past experiences. (I aim to do this while moving forward, too. I know it can be a tough line, where you don’t want to essentially be stuck in the past.) It’s interesting to gauge the psychological benefits of waxing nostalgic, though, and I truly advocate that three big benefits are preserving youthful innocence, staying connected to loved ones, and ultimately reducing stress by feeling lighter and reflecting on valuable lessons from the past.
Leardi, J. (2013, October 5). The Incredible Powers Of Nostalgia. HuffPost Life. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/benefits-of-nostalgia_n_4031759