We all experience nostalgia at some point, whether that comes from watching our favourite film from when we were children, recalling memories from holidays past, or feeling a longing for a bygone era. Nostalgia for the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and now even the 00’s can be found in many places - fashion trends, remakes of Hollywood blockbusters, comebacks of retro toys, and the ever popular “#ThrowbackThursday” hashtag found across social media. It’s obvious from this that people enjoy nostalgia, but it hasn’t always been looked upon favourably.
Over the past few years more and more studies have shown that nostalgia is good for your mental health, and personal memories of loved ones can link us together in shared comforts, offering a sense of continuity in our lives. But as recently as 20 - 30 years ago many psychologists and academics believed that nostalgia and the idea of living in memory rather than the present was unhealthy, and even a cause for mental health problems.
After years of research however, nostalgia now has a more positive reputation and is being used in a number of therapies for illnesses such as depression and Alzheimer’s. There are many advantages to nostalgia outside of treating illnesses too, and everyone can benefit from them.
One of these benefits is increasing empathy. Nostalgia can often be triggered by feelings of loneliness, but leaves us with feelings of closeness to the place or people being remembered. This can help increase peoples empathy towards others, and prompt a stronger feeling of belonging. Another interesting benefit of nostalgia is stress reduction. A 2012 study showed that nostalgia helps people relate their past experiences to their present lives, which can derive a greater meaning of their life. This results in a boosted mood, a reduction in stress, and an increase in feelings of social connectedness. You can achieve this by creating a thoughtful memory book for yourself or a loved one. A collection of photo memories from your past is the perfect way to experience nostalgia. You could create a book about your life, your parents or grandparents lives, or of a specific event or holiday which brings back wonderful memories to look through when you need it most.
Happiness and warmth are also benefits you can experience from nostalgia. Nostalgia can promote feelings of happiness and increase self-esteem, while also helping us to feel closer to our loved ones and even feel that life has more meaning, again helping with our overall mental health.
A psychologist found that nostalgia levels are generally high amongst young adults, before dipping in middle age and rising again during older years. This suggests that nostalgia helps us to deal with transitions and changes in our lives, with younger people taking their first steps into adulthood, and older generations considering deeper life questions.
The elderly and those living with dementia can really benefit from nostalgia. Through tools such as a memory book, memories that could have been lost can be recaptured and relived. For loved ones who may be isolated or have moved into a care home and are therefore in unfamiliar surroundings, nostalgia can help them find a more positive outlook and motivation, and can lead to them engaging in purposeful activities. Taking a trip down memory lane through photographs in a memory book will inspire loved ones to share stories from their past and probably some priceless wisdom as well.
Drawing on your nostalgic memory bank when you are feeling lonely or low can be a great tool, especially in these colder, darker wintery days. The warm glow of nostalgia will help boost your mood, and may motivate you to get in touch with family and friends and enjoy a heartwarming, nostalgic chat reliving memories and swapping stories.