If you read my blog, you know I love to romanticize about the past. Throwback songs, styles, popular sayings and sitcoms are my jam. And a lot of people feel this way – especially after living through a pandemic, where reminiscing about a maskless, unfettered freedom in life may have kept some of us going. Lately I have been wondering – nostaligia good or bad? The research on this is surprising, so read on to find out where you should leave the past.
Nostalgia, the research shows, definitely has theraputic properties, according to this blog post from a psychological well-being website. According to the article, a researcher analysed memories of resistance fighters in WWII. The research showed that ow nostalgic memories counteracted loneliness, supported emotional and cognitive coping, strengthened social bonds and cultural identity, and even helped with accepting a new homeland.
The good facts about nostalgia
In modern times, according to the article, nostalgia can be positive for our mental health in the following ways:
- It can help us feel: more connected (we can remember good times with loved ones and feel cared for) inspired to deal with the present (good things happened in the past, so trying to reach our goals means they might happen again) like we have a stronger sense of self (we are a person connected to a past, who belongs).
- It can give us a stronger sense of self, like we have a stronger sense of self (we are a person connected to a past, who belongs).
- It can give us a stronger sense of self (we are a person connected to a past, who belongs).
Look at all of the films that embrace nostalgia – The Wedding Singer, Back to the Future, 13 Going on 30. Or the remakes with the original actors – Maverick, Jurassic World: Dominion. Titanic was recently added to Netflix and instantly broke into Netflix’s top 10, even though I am pretty sure just about every human being has already seen it several times (me: 6 times in the movie theater). We all know Leonardo Dicaprio does not make it onto that wooden door (couldn’t Kate Winslet have scooched, just a little?!) But it is not about the suspense – it’s about reliving a moment, and where we might have been in our lives.
Often nostalgia is not intentional. I don’t sit down and plan on being nostalgic. Instead, it’s things like smells, sounds, and music that triggers memories. For example, the trumpet intro for NPR’s “All things considered” makes me remember my dad picking me up from tennis practice in high school in his red LandRover, wearing a Hugo Boss suit and a handmade Italian tie. This is why “All Things Considered” is still one of the highlights of my day.
But what about the not so great memories? Negative memories can also be good for us. Especially those where we were faced with adversity. Those memories can inspire us to deal with the present (good things happened in the past, so trying to reach our goals means they might happen again). Reach back to your memory archives where you overcame a difficulty or just got so damn lucky you know it had something to do with the universe looking out to you. Or you refusing to give up. Or someone refusing to give up on you.
Thoughts like these can help you stay motivated in achievning your modern day goals, like fitness. If you look back at your career, for example, starting from your educational path, and all of the highs and lows, the setbacks and roads not taken, or closed off, the people who inspired you, the challenges you overcame, the process of achieving your ideal shape will not seem so insurmountable. If you could do that, you can do this.
Where nostalgia can mislead
Of course, nostalgia can go too far, especially when we reminsice about the past so much we fail to live in the present, or constantly try to re-create the magic of the past. This has been exacerbated by social media and the “compair despair” syndrome it causes. Glossy pictures, breathtaking views of sunsets and silhouette yoga poses are all warping our brains to think that our imagination about what someone’s life must be like is better than current reality.
Keep in mind when you go down this road that part of the reason we can look at the past with such firm optimism is because we can look back with a complete sense of certainty of what is going to happen next, whether it is fun times with friends, a professional accomplishment, or the beginning of your romance with your partner. There is no surprise ending there. But in the present moment, you can’t do this because life is full of uncertainties, sources of discomfort, and stress.
So where does that leave the past? It is really up to you. Now that you know the upsides and the downsides of going back, think about how you can connect with yourself and your higher purpose by reaching back. But do not forget that you are here now, in this post-pandemic world, and that five years from now, you will be able to look back and laugh.