The Healing Power of Nostalgia

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An article in the New York Times this week highlights the positive impacts that nostalgia can have on a person psychologically.  It turns out that historically, nostalgia was seen in a negative light–“living in the past” and looking back with rose-colored glasses.  New research, however, shows that fondly recalling things that have happened can enrich our lives, as long as we don’t fall into the trap of comparing the present to the past.  The article explains,

Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer… Nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future.

The article was brought to my attention by a pastor who shared it on our facebook page, saying, “This is good news for all of us who itinerate.” In this season of unpacking boxes and inevitably pausing to think about what has been left behind in a move, it is encouraging to know that these thoughts can be helpful–can anchor us amid life’s unpredictability.  One nostalgia researcher, Dr. Constantine Sedikides, says, “Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.” Another researcher, Dr. Erica Hepper, says, “Nostalgia helps us deal with transitions.”

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If you’ve moved recently or are facing another transition, what helps you feel rooted?  What do you take with you move after move, and what gets left behind?  If you have a story about nostalgia, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.  And for all those who have moved, we pray for smooth new beginnings.

–Caren Swanson

Image by flickr user CliffMueller via Creative Commons

Also by Caren Swanson: To Love a Place

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