NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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What is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows

nostalgia, reminiscence

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows

The holidays have a way of bringing up fond memories that can warm your heart. But are there any actual health benefits to nostalgia?

According to Clay Routledge, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at North Dakota State University, reminiscence is the behavior of reflecting on your past, and nostalgia is the emotional response that it sometimes triggers.

Many of our seniors have lost so much throughout their lifetimes including their own parents, siblings, dear friends, pets and traditions. As we age, our lifestyles change too and not always for the better. Our seniors have had to downsize and may have given away belongings that bring back special memories such as holiday decorations and other mementos.

During the holidays it is an especially important time to reminisce with our senior loved ones, providing them with opportunities to step back in time and remember feelings of enjoyment and comfort. Older adults are a treasury of stored experience. Life review and discussing "the good old days" is a beneficial, purposeful activity that helps older adults maintain a positive outlook.

Research has found that an important function of nostalgia may be in providing a link between our past and present selves—that is, nostalgia may provide us with a positive view of the past and this could help to give us a greater sense of continuity and meaning to our lives.  Researchers surmise that nostalgia may also acquire greater significance in old age—elderly adults are especially vulnerable to social isolation and nostalgia may help them overcome feelings of loneliness.

An additional function of nostalgia may be its motivating potential. Nostalgia may boost optimism, spark inspiration, and foster creativity. Research provides initial evidence for both of these possibilities.

Nostalgizing is a very natural human tendency, and a common one. On average, people engage in it about once a week, set off by such things as a familiar scent, piece of music or old photo. It is most common in young adults in their teens and 20s who are coping with important life transitions, such as leaving home and beginning college or new jobs, and in adults older than 50 who are looking back and reevaluating their lives. But you don’t have to have a lot to look back on in order to feel a nostalgic wave; children as young as 8 years old get that wistful feeling, too.

Dr. Routledge says. “It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.”

This holiday season make deposits into the nostalgia bank that you can draw on when you need a boost in the future. What happens today will become the memories you hold onto forever.

Sources: Huffington Post, 2013, Feelings of Nostalgia; Dr. Clay Routledge, Social Psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology, North Dakota State University

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