Although often dismissed in the history of the study of memory as detrimental and escapist, nostalgia is actually a powerful tool delivering positive chemicals to your brain. As a recent topic of inquiry for my latest painting collection, Merry Kitschmas!, I thought you might enjoy hearing about some of my research. Psychologists recommend beginning a weekly practice of nostalgia to ease a variety of psychological maladies. Presented here are reasons this, possibly untapped, mental exercise might be beneficial to your health.
Nostalgia combats loneliness and feelings of isolation
According to Dr. Dr. Krystine Batcho a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in New York, “nostalgia can help a person cope with loneliness by enhancing the sense of social support that comes from knowing that each of us is someone’s daughter or son, mother or father, sister or brother. Nostalgic memories can help someone who is away from home or someone who is mourning the death of a family member by reminding us that the bonds we share with those we love survive physical separation.” (Batcho, 'Tis the Season for Nostalgia: Holiday Reminiscing Can Have Psychological Benefits, 2011)
Batcho goes on to say in another interview, “loneliness has been shown to be a trigger for heightened nostalgia. It is interesting because then the nostalgia helps someone feel connected again. It helps to decrease the negative feelings of being alone. When you are lonely, it is because you are separate from others in one way or another; and the holidays [in particular] are really notorious for making people feel alone, even when they are not physically alone” (Parry, Why We Feel Nostalgic During the Holidays, The American Psychological Association, 2011).
It can improve self-esteem
As Jeff Goldblum describes on his program The World of Jeff Goldblum (2020), “it can improve self-esteem and make us feel connected to the people for whom we deeply care.” Goldblum goes on to describe the feelings of gladness induced by nostalgia, using the memory of soft serve ice cream as an example.
Nostalgia is shown to be both a driver of empathy and social connectedness
“That is certainly what we find,” Dr Tim Wildschut, lead nostalgia researcher, says. “Nostalgia compensates for uncomfortable states, for example, people with feelings of meaninglessness or a discontinuity between past and present. What we find in these cases is that nostalgia spontaneously rushes in and counteracts those things. It elevates meaningfulness, connectedness and continuity in the past. It is like a vitamin and an antidote to those states. It serves to promote emotional equilibrium, homeostasis,” (Adams, Look Back in Joy: The Power of Nostalgia, The Guardian, 2014).
It makes you less selfish
“The ability and encouragement to access nostalgia also builds gratitude and connectedness towards others,” lead research on nostalgia Dr. Constantine Sedikides says. “It tends to make children less selfish,” (Adams, Look Back in Joy: The Power of Nostalgia, The Guardian, 2014).
Nostalgia can make you physically warmer
A speedy way to experience nostalgia is through music, a newfound favorite tool of researchers. In an experiment in the Netherlands, Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets of Tilburg University and colleagues found that listening to songs made people feel not only nostalgic but also physically warmer. Students were put in a cold room and then allowed to listen to a beloved song from their past. The experiment showed that body temperatures were raised when subjects engaged with nostalgic memories. There is also some evidence that nostalgia helped victims of The Holocaust survive cold environments by recounting large family dinners of the past.
Make sure to utilize this powerful mental tool to receive the maximum benefits, particularly during the holidays. Researching the effects of nostalgia while developing my Merry Kitschmas! painting collection has been simply fascinating. I hope this information was a bit of a treat for you, as it was for me to discover. I find this research specifically relevant given the world-wide pandemic and social distancing environment. You or someone you know may find this helpful during this time when we cannot be in close physical proximity to others.
Dr. Sedikides, psychologist at Southampton studying nostalgia says, “you’ll benefit by nostalgizing two or maybe three times a week. Experience it as a prized possession. We have it, and nobody can take it away from us. It’s our diamond,” (Tierney, What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows, 2013).