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Psychology Explains Why Nostalgia Boosts Optimism


Do you consider yourself a sentimental person? Perhaps a picture or song evokes memories of the past that you love. You can often find your heart nestled in the warm blankets of nostalgia.

Is being nostalgic beneficialOr can it harm your life? It is a delicate balance that only you can decide. While being present in the moment is essential, your treasured memories help shape you into who you are.

What is nostalgia?

When people talk about being nostalgic today, it is generally in a relaxed and positive way. However, this was not always the case, explains a study published by History of Psychology. It was coined in 1688 by a Swiss physician named Johannes Hofer, as it is a pseudo-Greek word meaning “longing for home”.

Today’s society would regard such feelings as expected, if not expected. But the concept of mental health was still in the Middle Ages during Hofer’s time. When people at that time relived the past too much, doctors saw it as a disease.

Hofer attempted to describe a mental condition that the Germans called Heimweh, or homesickness, the study says. You know that feeling you had when you went to summer camp when you missed home? Who would say in modern times that such a feeling is negative and a disease?

According to an article published by the Association of Psychological Sciences, nostalgia was considered a psychiatric disorder until the early 20th century. Previous doctors identified her symptoms as anorexia, rapid heartbeat, and crying. These symptoms often occur in immigrants and students who were sent to boarding school, the article states.

In an article published by the magazine of History and memory, Michael S. Roth presents medical cases where homesickness was treated as a dreaded illness. They viewed nostalgia from a historical point where it was seen as a nostalgic soldiers’ disease.

In the past, doctors often believed it was pathological and prescribed strange treatments, according to the article.

The good news about the memory

Fortunately, behavioral and mental health sciences they have evolved and experts have ruled out the negative implications of sentimentality. Not only is it normal to remember jokes from your past, it can also be beneficial.

How do you feel when you remember some of your favorite memories? According to a study published by Cognition and emotion, being nostalgic can generate optimism. The study found that when participants savored their past, it can create more nostalgic memories and greater optimism.

The different ways that you remember

If you often find yourself drifting through scenes from the past, you may have your senses to thank. Your brain uses your five senses to interpret every experience you have. Any similar experience can act as a recall button for your brain to remember those events.

First, you can often use pictures and the written word to evoke pleasant memories. Have you ever wondered why so many people keep photo albums and pictures of their loved ones and past events? These act as touchstones and can help you relive the memory.

Sound is also a powerful component of your memories. Have you ever heard the first notes of a song on the radio, and immediately transport your mind to the place where you first heard it? Poems, stories, and oral history play an important role in your memories.

For many people, particular scents bring back fond memories. Perhaps the smell of cinnamon will make you hungry for your late grandmother’s apple pies. Or do you ever smell a perfume or aftershave that smells like something a loved one used in the past?

Taste and touch are also involved in remembering your past. Remember how refreshing your mother’s homemade lemonade was on a hot summer day? When you play the keys on a piano, do you remember how nervous you were at your first piano recital?

How being nostalgic can make you more optimistic

You can often use your senses to remember these beautiful times on purpose. However, suddenly, your feelings can bring up an automatic memory. In your mind, you are there and you experience the sights, sounds, tastes and feel of everything around you. Here are some ways that being nostalgic can be beneficial.

1. It can remind you that your life has meaning

If you are like most people, you have often reflected on the meaning of life. Have you ever wondered if your life had a purpose? Being nostalgic can shed some light on these core existential questions.

When you feel lonely, remembering good times with family and friends reminds you that you are loved. Have you ever had brief moments when you’ve felt worthless and nothing you do matters? Remembering your accomplishments reminds you that you are successful and valuable, even if you have made mistakes.

Remembering the lives of positive people in your past can also make you more optimistic. When you consider the things they did and their triumphs over tragedy, you are encouraged. Your good memories can make you realize that your life is worth living and that there are more memories to create.

2. Keeps you connected with others

Nostalgia can bring you closer to the people you love, especially when you’re feeling lonely. When you are away and homesick, the memories of being with family and friends are heartwarming. They can bring great joy, optimism, and a sense of belonging.

Looking back can be even more beneficial when you do it with someone else. When was the last time you called one of your brothers to chat and laugh at some of your childhood memories? Do you sometimes meet your best friend for lunch to catch up on some of your best moments?

Before written language, humans transmitted their history and traditions through a story. The children sat at the feet of their parents and elders and listened to how their people lived and survived. Then, they were asked to retell these stories to their children while adding their own experiences.

Through nostalgic memory, families wove a delicate carpet of history, culture, and preservation. Every detail represented an enduring memory that connected them. Even with centuries of written history, families still maintain the tradition of sharing their past stories with younger generations.

Do you remember sitting with your grandparents and listening to their beautiful stories? Not only were they entertaining and informative, but their nostalgia connected them with you. Their memories became part of your memories and who you are today.

This connection not only provides enjoyment in your life and theirs, but also fulfills a basic human need. Not only do you need human company, but your soul yearns to belong. Your memories are the threads that keep you connected to your family, friends, and the world.

3. It can help with life changes

What are some of the milestones you appreciate in your life? Among them are probably some of the first ones, like the first day of school, getting a driver’s license, the first kiss, the first day of college, etc. These happy memories often represented difficult transitions in life.

Being nostalgic provides continuity between your past and your present. For example, puberty is often a stressful transition from childhood to adolescence. Although these years are often turbulent due to raging hormones and testing limits, childhood memories helped.

4. It can make you more optimistic about your goals

It is difficult to achieve something with an opposite point of view. Such a dark attitude can produce a Self-fulfilling prophecy. However, remembering your past accomplishments can make you feel more optimistic about future success.

Sometimes your memories can help you set higher goals for yourself. Not all your memories are good. Nobody likes to reflect on their past failures and shortcomings. However, you can even take advantage of negative experiences to learn not to repeat them in the present or in the future.

Dr. Maya Angelou once observed that before you know where you are going, you must know where you have been.

5. It can help reduce the symptoms of depression

When you feel depressed, it is not easy to be optimistic. However, a study published by the University of Kansas demonstrated a promising link between homesickness and decreased symptoms of depression. The study found that the more homesick the participants were, the greater their depression symptoms were reduced.

As you entered the adult world of college, your first apartment, or your first real job, reminiscing about your teenage days can be a boost. Changes are difficult, even if they are inevitable and beneficial. When you are nervous about a new transition in life, memories of your past can encourage you to take the next step.

You were brave and you did it back then, and you can do it now.

Even when you’re feeling a little down, some of your favorite memories can cheer you up. You may feel more optimistic about your day. Over time, you may feel nostalgic to deal with negativity in a better way.

Final thoughts on nostalgia to boost optimism

Not all memories are good and some can have a negative influence on you. However, these studies suggest the benefits of feeling nostalgic for good memories. Not only can they help you be more optimistic, but they can also encourage you to create beautiful memories every day.


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