We’ve all been there. You’re cleaning out your room and come across a picture of you with your siblings. It was the early 2000s, a simpler time, you’re all wearing t-shirts with Nickelodeon cartoon characters on them. How can something as simple as an old picture make your whole body swell up with emotion?
It’s called nostalgia, and it’s a bitch.
By definition, nostalgia is the “pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again.” Often times, you feel nostalgic for your childhood days, when instead of exams and deadlines, there were juice boxes and monkey bars. Other times you feel nostalgic for a person or multiple people, reminiscing on old times only to be cruelly returned to the here and now.
While some people may think that nostalgia is unhealthy for you (one could argue that it is better to live in the moment), it is actually highly beneficial to your health. According to the New York Times, “Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety… On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer” (Tierney). I know that whenever I think back on fond memories, it instantly puts me in a good mood. In addition to health, nostalgia can also improve your relationships with other people, “[Nostalgia] makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories” (Tierney). Nostalgia also has the ability to affect your outlook on life because it makes you optimistic to try to create good memories in the future similar to the ones you made in the past. According to Dr. Tim Wildschut, a researcher at this university, “Nostalgia raises self-esteem, which in turn heightens optimism…Memories of the past can help to maintain current feelings of self-worth and can contribute to a brighter outlook on the future” (McDermott).
To discover the true affects of nostalgia, researchers at the University of Southampton decided to do a experiment in which they made participants read stories about disaster victims and then take a personality test. According to the study, “Sure enough, the people depressed about the disaster victims or worried about being lonely became more likely to wax nostalgic. And the strategy worked: They subsequently felt less depressed and less lonely” (Tierney). I don’t believe this study to be a false positive because it is common for people to think about good times in order to make themselves feel better, so I can see how these experiment results are plausible.
Another study, performed at Sun Yat-Sen University in China, focused on not only how listening to music can create feelings of nostalgia, but how the nostalgic feeling in return can make you feel warmer. This observational study followed a group of university students for one month, and by the end of the study, the researchers had concluded that their hypothesis was correct; “Feelings of nostalgia were more common on cold days. The researchers also found that people in a cool room (68 degrees Fahrenheit) were more likely to nostalgize than people in warmer rooms” (Tierney). This led them to believe that nostalgia, since it was proven to warm the body, could be used as an adaptational method in terms of survival. I find these results to be reasonable because, not only does music makes me feel nostalgic, but thinking back on it, whenever I feel nostalgic I also do feel a sense of warmth. So when someone says that their childhood memories make them feel all warm inside, it is probably because they are literally warm inside.
After analyzing these different experiments, it is clear that nostalgia is highly beneficial in many aspects, from curbing feelings of boredom and anxiety to literally raising your body temperature. So the next time you want to watch an episode of Full House, eat a fruit roll-up, or buy a pair of those moon-bounce shoes off of Amazon, go for it; it’s scientifically proven to help you.