Do you remember those “good old days”? Or maybe you don’t want to think about it at all, because it brings you back so many bad memories? Sometimes these memories can give us strength, but sometimes can hold us trapped, not allowing us to move forward.
How often do you think about the past – your personal or the past in general? Have you ever wondered why that feeling is so deeply embedded in human nature and what is the purpose of it? Let’s give these and many more questions some answers so that we can easily understand ourselves and the people around us.
What is nostalgia?
Krystine Batcho, PhD, professor of psychology at LeMoyne College and a licensed psychologist shares that the original word that was used over 300 years ago for the feeling that we now call nostalgia was homesickness – the feeling of longing for the past, where things seemed better, or for missing aspects of a personal lived past.
There are many varieties of nostalgia, but two types stand out more than others and they are personal – the thoughts about things of your life that you have already experienced and have kept in your memory and historical nostalgia – more interested in the evolution of history and civilization across time.
The positive effects of nostalgia come from the way that positive memories affect us, the memories from the best times of our life. At the same time, knowing that time cannot go back – we realize that they are gone forever and we can never really regain them. This kind of conflict can affect us negatively and leave us with somewhat bitter-sweet emotions.
What is the purpose of nostalgia? Can we trust our memories? Is nostalgia contagious? Can nostalgia be destructive? Can nostalgia hold you back?
Read on to find the answers.
What is the purpose of nostalgia?
Nostalgia serves a variety of purposes. Remembering the past in our own lives might help us reconnect with our real selves by reminding us of who we were and comparing that to who we are now. It is also strong social emotion, that connects us to other people.
It also comforts us when we’re going through a change, whether or not it is good or bad. We are often afraid of changes in our life because we never know if we will be able to control things around us, and the feeling that we are in control is very important for our confidence.
It’s reassuring to have a nostalgic sense for the past throughout a transition because it tells us that, while we don’t know what the future holds, we do know who we have been and who we truly are.
It also brings back to us memories from the past when we didn’t have to do much to gain our parent’s love, didn’t have to earn money, or think about different responsibilities. All feelings that can comfort us.
Nostalgia can be compared to a scale. It’s a means for us to keep track of things and chart our progress through life, not only for ourselves but also for the people we care about.
Can we trust our memories?
Decades of cognitive study have demonstrated that the default assumption is that memories are inaccurate, and this is true for all types of memories.
We pick and choose what we want. Not only is the memory process selective, but it also distorts to some extent. On occasion, we idealize things. Just as we can idealize and romanticize memories, distorting their authenticity, we can also go the other way.
Why do some people selectively romanticize the past while others exaggerate its flaws?
Krystine Batcho, PhD, says that the answer to that question depends on two things.
In the first place, there is an individual’s personality or psychological well-being. If you have two people, one of whom is really content in their current situation and is emotionally fine. They may reflect on negative experiences and then laugh about them, claiming that they have gone a long way since those times.
Someone who is suffering from depression or anxiety condition, on the other hand. They may reflect on the past and allow it to sadden them even more, rather than making them joyful in comparison to how far they’ve come.
It is critical to consider their current emotional state. We have mood-dependent memory effects because of this. You’re more prone to recall sad memories when you’re unhappy. You’re more inclined to recall positive memories when you’re joyful.
On the other hand, we have a social component that establishes the experience as a social one. If you’re out with your friends and reminiscing about your days in high school, college, or whatever.
Now, depending on what your friends say in that social context, you may be influenced to be more optimistic or negative.
It’s critical to strive to associate with people that stimulate the best of what you can bring from your history to the present.
Is nostalgia contagious?
When a group of people shares a common experience, nostalgia spreads quickly. When a group of friends reminisces about things they did as teenagers or children, this is the ideal illustration. It’s an excellent way to get to know each other.
Another example is what sports fans enjoy doing. They discuss their favorite games and times when their team has won. When you have a common bond, it may be contagious, and one memory can spark another like a domino effect.
Suddenly, if one person wants to reminisce about his or her own experiences, but no one else in the group recalls or has been through those situations, you have a problem.
Can nostalgia be destructive?
The majority of research suggests that nostalgia is associated with or linked to very soft, pro-social emotions including compassion, empathy, and altruism. In general, it is unlikely to be linked to hatred or rage.
What ultimately leads to a healthy form of nostalgia is one in which nostalgia’s positive pro-social characteristics may bring us together now. Not just to persons from the past, but also to those with whom we are currently working.
That is a possibility, and it may occur, when we confront the past with the present circumstance to determine what lessons we learned from the past that we can now adjust, update, personalize, and use to cope with the upheaval and conflict in the change that we’ve experienced to be more positive about the future.
Can nostalgia hold you back?
The danger comes if your past is better than your present, then why would you want to leave it?
It’s understandable that we’d want to go back in time to learn from our mistakes. We don’t want to be stuck in the past, but we also don’t want to be stuck in the present.
The agony of knowing that it no longer exists once we’ve arrived tells us that we must return to the present.
If someone finds themselves imprisoned in the past, it’s a sign that they’re going through a difficult time. They may be going through a particularly stressful time in their lives and are seeking counseling to help them cope because they’re using nostalgia or memories as an escape. Because nostalgia is a social emotion, it has been linked to or correlated with beneficial coping methods including reaching out to others when they are experiencing difficulties.
You may also find it interesting to read:
- How to be happy alone? And how to regain joy in your life?
- Is it bad to be a loner? 7 Risks and benefits!
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