Are you in your 50s and insecure that your best days are over? Looking often at old photos, yearbooks or watching movies that take you back to happy times? You are not the only one. Nostalgia is a very common bittersweet emotion likely to occur during periods of transition (like ageing into retirement, for instance) but it can also make life seem more meaningful and warmer. It’s sweet because it allows us to momentarily relive good times; it’s bitter because we recognize that those times can never return.
However, if you find yourself recalling a fond memory and wishing you could recapture that moment, just give in. Researchers found that thinking about where we’ve been, the things we’re proud of and grateful for, and how far we’ve come, for example, is one of the most effective strategies for reaching new goals. It may also give you the boost you need to deal with a current challenge or to simply feel better not just about your past or present, but also about your future. In fact, by reflecting on the best of our past, we can gather inspiration and insights that can help us retain or create a better future for ourselves.
Constantine Sedikides, Professor of Social and Personality Psychology within Psychology Department at the University of Southampton in the Uk, who in the past studied the positive effects of nostalgia on mental health, summed that up perfectly: “nostalgia acts as a psychological immune response that is triggered when you experience little bumps in the road.” According to him, reminiscing increases feelings of belonging and connectedness, and decreases boredom, anxiety, and loneliness. It’s also a way to boost self-esteem, positivity, and tolerance.
Nostalgia compensates for uncomfortable states, for example, people with feelings of meaninglessness or a discontinuity between past and present. What we find in these cases is that nostalgia spontaneously rushes in and counteracts those things. It elevates meaningfulness, connectedness and continuity in the past. It is like a vitamin and an antidote to those states. It serves to promote emotional equilibrium, homeostasis.
But how can we recast sad memory from a new perspective? Next time, instead of saying, “those were the days,” and leaving it at that, think about it from a more existential perspective with a question like, “what has my life meant since then?“. Having a stroll down memory lane is not always pleasant but scientists still believe the overall benefits outweigh the negatives.
Nostalgia can provide you with a window into your authentic self and because nostalgic recollections connect your past to your present self, these reminiscences can help you develop, maintain or restore a sense of personal identity by weaving together the threads of your life’s story.