Why Being Nostalgic Can Make You Happier
Just listening to Hotel California, watching Jaws, or seeing an old episode of The Brady Bunch on TV can make me nostalgic for the 70’s.
In fact, thinking about all the cheesy stuff that made that decade unique – bell bottom jeans, mood rings, earth shoes, the Hustle line dance, shag carpets, and ding-dongs – can still make me smile. Makes me pine a bit for the days when guys at school called me foxy.
I think we baby boomers are especially sentimental about our roots. It’s no wonder marketers take advantage of that fact and abundantly use images and music from our youth to tempt us to buy their products.
Lucky for me, it turns out reminiscing is not a bad thing – especially if we view the past through rose-colored glasses.
Feeling nostalgic can give us a positive outlook about the future, according to research from the University of Southampton published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin last year.
In fact, various studies have shown that nostalgic memories can help combat loneliness, provide psychological comfort, raise self-esteem, foster feelings of belonging, help us deal with adversity, and increase optimism about the future.
An article by Psychology Today pointed out that this is because “many nostalgic experiences are connected to personal accomplishments and momentous life events.”
“Life is not one great success after another,” the article continued. “Our daily existence can often be tedious and sometimes depressing. Using nostalgia, we can inject some meaning and excitement into life.”
On top of that, nostalgia helps us feel more connected to others. When we think of past experiences, objects, movies, and music, we often think of good friends or fun times with our family. It’s a reminder that we can form and maintain relationships, that we are lovable, and that people care about us.
Of course, thinking of the past can be bittersweet at times since we all have painful memories. And I’m not advocating living in the past. As I’ve discussed in a past blog, it’s much better to savor the moment and enjoy the present than wallow in the past or stress out about the future.
But the fact remains, as these studies show, as a whole the effect of nostalgia is positive. Most of us tend to focus on the good times and only reminisce from time to time. That’s why nostalgia, as a rule, makes us happy.
So when you’re feeling a bit down or vulnerable, nostalgia may be just what the doctor ordered. Especially if you think about all the successful, worthwhile, and fulfilling moments in your past. Those cherished memories can contribute to a brighter outlook which we all know is good for us.
I am not really a baby boomer. I turned 50 at the end of last year, but I am close enough to get it. I enjoyed this post. I have used a nostalgic event from my life recently to write a short story. I did feel better remembering. Thanks for a great post.
Glad you enjoyed the post and could use a nostalgic event in your life to write a story. Much of my YA novel, “Just Call Me Goody-Two-Shoes” came from both memories and diary entries from my teen years, so if you are a writer, nostalgia can not only make you feel happier but provide great material for your fiction!
Interesting article Julie. I think nostalgia can offer hints for what changes we can make in the present to feel happier.
For me, nostalgic memories usually aren’t based in the full reality of that time in my life, rather how I remember (or think I remember) feeling. It’s those rose coloured glasses you mention.
Using nostalgia, I can identify those feelings (or general factors that came together to create the feelings) that I place value on to clarify ways that I can increase those same feelings in the present. It’s more about duplicating the feeling than replicating the actual experience.
For example, a lot of my own nostalgic moments include the feelings associated with freedom and adventure. They continue to be important to me – so now I make sure to include them in my life in a way that works with my current situation. I’m not climbing trees anymore like I did when I was a kid, but I love to get lost searching for treasures on a beach or in a thrift store. Same feeling, different ways to experience it.
In this way, nostalgia can be a useful tool for actively creating happiness in the present (not just for the memories).
What do you think?
A very insightful comment. I’m in total agreement. We can definitely use our past to duplicate or re-create happiness. As you wisely said, nostalgia can be more than just memories and be used as a tool for finding joy in our lives in the present. That’s what life is all about!
Lovely message! I enjoy music and nostalgia from a portion of my life … I’d say from age 22 forward. Before that, not so much. In fact I have blocked most of my childhood out so for me “life” began at 22 and I’m happy to saw it only gotten better over the years. 🙂
Glad life has been only improving for you as you age. That’s the trick – to focus and reminisce on the good memories.
Dear seventies sister – I SO get you! I too am a child of the 70s and fondly recall TVs with three channels and rabbit ears, tube and halter tops, Carole King ballads and fabulous disco. Reading your post made me smile.
Yea! A kindred spirit! Thanks for dropping by seventies sister!
Here I am at 75 with so much nostalgia. My hubby loves listening to oldies on some tv show & watches reruns of westerns. He is 82. What to do? As some long ago forgotten song came on today, I smiled, remembered my youth and got him up to dannce with me. I just started posting FB throwback thurs- I truly am about creating my life which includes my future and it feels good to embrace my past.
I love that! What lovely visions I have of you and your husband dancing together.
Julie, I’m past baby boomer, but nostalgia is definitely “catching”. I love reminiscing about the “old days” when I was young; was a hospital social service director and telling my “old war stories” from those days. There is something wonderfully freeing about visiting times that now seem idyllic – even when they weren’t at the time.
Thanks for the reminder
From your picture I would have pegged you as a baby boomer. You look young for your age! Thanks for the comment. If the young only knew how important it is to live life to the fullest, find fulfillment (as it sounds like you did in your career), and make lovely memories. When you get older or face tough times those good memories can help get you through the day.