Close your eyes and take a breath... now think of a time in your life that fills you with happiness... It feels nice doesn’t it! Sometimes it’s important to take a pause in our routine and take a trip down memory lane. We often get lost in the here and now, whipped up in the storm of reality that we forget to appreciate where we have come. Whether we are going through a tough event or things are simply changing in our lives, we will often find solace in memories of simpler times. This has become known as Nostalgia – one of the most misunderstood aspects of our human psyche. Although it is often judged to be an unhealthy yearning for childhood, Nostalgia is actually a beautiful and useful tool to help us overcome challenges in the present day. When we are going through a transition like becoming an adult or reaching retirement, or feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied, nostalgic memories can reduce the distress and provide that boost of well-being we sometimes just need. It reminds people that their life has purpose and that any present feeling of unpleasantness will be temporary.
Funnily enough our understanding of Nostalgia has changed over the years. A medical student, Johannes Hofer, first suggested it was a disease brought on by separation from an individual’s homeland. People even tried to diagnose it as a mental condition, similar to the likes of depression associated with letting go of childhood. Reflecting on your early events was ridiculed and approached as if it needed treating rather than celebrating. Thankfully we no longer take such a dim view on Nostalgia. Whilst it is true that people delve into their memories when sad, lost or dissatisfied in the moment, this doesn’t mean Nostalgia causes negative emotion. Instead it is an antidote to people’s suffering, boosting their self-esteem and social belonging by providing a rewarding experience that may be shared with others. Nostalgia gives people a momentary experience of bliss that can provide the strength needed to persevere through hard times. So don’t apologise for re-visiting the past, instead find the time to appreciate those precious nuggets you have stored in memory.
That said Nostalgia will often come with a bittersweet taste, creating a desire to escape from the present and crave our unreachable past. If we retreat too much into parts of our childhood it can have a negative impact on our mental health. It’s important to therefore strike a healthy balance between ‘reminiscing’ and ‘living’, allowing past joys to remind us of our meaning and drive us on through the challenges we face today. We all need a gentle reminder of the things that are important to us, the people we’ve shared moments with and the lessons we’ve learnt along the way. Choosing to reminisce is not a symptom of illness or sign of being stuck in the past, but a tool for reminding us that life is full of moments we create and can re-visit whenever in our minds.
It’s tempting to see Nostalgia as being stuck in the past but that’s not actually the case. Instead it’s a reminder that life has meaning and purpose, helping us to find the confidence we need to face challenges in the present day.
To guide you in your experience of nostalgia we will be sharing some useful exercises this month in our Outlook series. Highlighting ways to harness the health benefits of nostalgic reflection, the series will discuss how to use early memories to your advantage.
If you are not yet subscribed to the Outlook, sign up today! As well as providing practical skills for wellness and personal development, we will be sharing positive news happening all around you.
Blog Author: Ben Oliver - Feb 8th 2021