Nostalgia is a powerful emotion—that unmatched feeling experienced from watching old home movies, looking at cherished photographs, and reliving the fondest memories with family and friends. Nostalgia reminds us what’s most important to us, and makes us yearn for the people and places of our past.
What exactly is nostalgia?
Nostalgia is the warm, happy feeling you get when reliving old memories and experiences. It can range from warm and comforting to intense and overwhelming. The feeling provides you with a meaningful connection to the past and offers some unexpected psychological benefits. However, that’s not how the feeling has always been viewed.
The History of Nostalgia
According to The New York Times, the feeling of nostalgia was originally thought to be a demonic psychological disorder. A Swiss physician first defined the term in 1688 in response to many members of the military experiencing the phenomenon. This doctor, Johannes Hoffer, originally stated that Swiss soldiers were experiencing a disease because of the damage caused by incessant cowbells ringing in the mountains.
Today, the term has a far less ominous meaning. Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.” Synonyms for nostalgia include longing, wistfulness, yearning, and remorse (via Thesaurus). The diverse meanings of this complex emotion mean that many view nostalgia as a positive, negative, or bittersweet feeling.
- Benefits of Nostalgia – Tapping into a nostalgic memory can come with some unexpected but beneficial perks. Looking back on old memories can actually be wonderful for your mental health.
- Improved Mood – When you feel nostalgic, it can be a powerful mood booster, especially when the memories are positive. If you’re feeling down, look through photos of happy occasions or watch cheerful old home movies. You’ll feel grateful for the cherished memories and good times you’ve experienced, and will likely improve your current outlook.
- Reduced Anxiety – If you’re feeling anxious, take comfort in positive memories of the past. In fact, research shows that nostalgia can reduce anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness which can all be overwhelming (via The Guardian). Experiencing nostalgia can also boost your creativity and make you more optimistic.
- Builds Connection – Nostalgia is a great way to build your connection with the past and with your loved ones. Looking back on shared memories together can deepen bonds with family members and create stronger social connections to close friends. It can also help you stay connected to your own past by keeping your memories fresh.
- Increased Empathy and Generosity – Experiencing nostalgia can help you be more empathetic and generous. Psychology professor Krystine Batcho, Ph.D. tells The American Psychological Association, “Most of the research suggests that nostalgia is aligned with or correlated with very soft, pro-social emotions such as compassion, empathy, altruism.”
How to Foster Nostalgia in Your Family
Fostering nostalgia within your family is important to maintaining and strengthening your relationships, and helps teach younger generations about past generations. Make it a habit to thoughtfully foster nostalgia in your home and with extended family.
- Look Through Old Photos and Videos – Gather and look through old photos and videos together to reminisce over past memories. This can be done by looking through photo albums or spending an evening screening old home movies. You can even do this across the miles if you are geographically distant. Have your photos and videos digitized and uploaded to the iMemories Cloud so family members can access them from any device anywhere in the world.
- Reminisce About Old Times – Gather with family and friends to reminisce about the past and share memories. This is a great way to bond further and develop more meaningful relationships. Use holidays to develop traditions and talk about the memories of that day from previous years. You can also bake a favorite childhood recipe or play a fun game from your childhood to relive fun times.
- Talk to Grandparents About Their Old Stories – Grandparents are treasure troves of nostalgia. They have years of stories that they can share to give you a glimpse into the past. Ask them about their favorite memories with you throughout your childhood for a deep and meaningful conversation. Record videos of them telling their favorite stories and be sure to store them digitally so you can look back on them in the future.