The Psychological Benefits – and Trappings – of Nostalgia

  • 2017-06-09
  • The Conversation

In life, change is the default, not the exception; transformation is baked into every aspect of our world, from physical growth to scientific progress. Novelty, meanwhile, is an antidote to boredom, stagnation and satiation.

Nonetheless, people long for stability. Change can threaten well-being, especially when it requires a new set of skills to meet new demands. Stress can accompany unexpected or extreme change, since our ability to control situations depends upon a reasonable degree of predictability. (Imagine not knowing if a stone would fall or rise when you let go of it.)

Nostalgia is a bittersweet yearning for the past. It’s sweet because it allows us to momentarily relive good times; it’s bitter because we recognize that those times can never return. Longing for our own past is referred to as personal nostalgia, and preferring a distant era is termed historical nostalgia.

Although nostalgia is universal, research has shown that a nostalgic yearning for the past is especially likely to occur during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Dislocation or alienation resulting from military conflict, moving to a new country or technological progress can also elicit nostalgia.