We’ve all experienced nostalgia. It’s a curious combination of warmth, familiarity, loneliness, and longing. And though it may hit us each differently, there’s something powerful about sharing the experience with others.
What is Nostalgia?
There are more scientifically precise definitions, but few descriptions of nostalgia encompass it better than the one provided by psychologist Kaitlin Luna.
In Luna’s words, “Nostalgia [is] that longing feeling for the past when things seemed better, easier, and more fun. It’s the feeling behind countless number one hits. It’s what’s resurrecting old TV shows and being capitalized on by politicians. We all know the feeling.”
There may be no better way to explain nostalgia than by saying, we all know that feeling. Though it’s hard to pinpoint what it is, we all know what it feels like.
The word nostalgia has roots in the Greek words “nostros” (which means return) and “algos” (which means pain). And while there’s certainly a degree of pain and loneliness tied with nostalgia, it’s more than just a conjuring up of past emotions.
It can also be a driving factor in personal growth, and optimism for the future. A study featured in Time Magazine several years back “showed that nostalgic reminiscence can be a stabilizing force. It can strengthen our sense of personal continuity, reminding us that we possess a store of powerful memories that are deeply intertwined with our identity.”
Why Do We Feel Nostalgia?
Psychologists believe there are two primary types of nostalgia:
- Restorative nostalgia. This refers to the desire to relive and/or reconstruct something that was in the past. In some cases, restorative nostalgia can cause people to make certain decisions in an effort to reproduce facets of the past.
- Reflective nostalgia. This is more of an emotional feeling or yearning for something in the past, while accepting that it is unmistakably gone. In other words, it’s basically a thought; no action is tied to it.
Both forms of nostalgia serve a purpose. For the most part, nostalgia is a response to changes in our environment. It’s a way of remembering the past and (possibly) looking forward to a future with a healthy sense of hope and optimism.
Tips for Sparking Meaningful Nostalgia
Nostalgia is something we all experience from time to time. There are certainly some elements of nostalgia that make us feel homesick or lonely, but it’s mostly a positive experience.
Keeping that in mind, here are a few tips to help you generate positive feelings of nostalgia:
- Shop at an Old Store
Most stores (like most homes) have their own smell. Whether it’s a Target, Best Buy, or movie theater, the smell is recognizable. But that’s usually where it stops.
On the other hand, when you step into an old-time store like Vidler’s 5 &10, every one of your five senses lights up. Try walking through an old five-and-dime operation and you’ll feel as if you’ve been teleported into the past.
(Even if you’re too young to have shopped at one before, simply immersing yourself in this experience may create feelings of nostalgia.)
- Visit Your Old Neighborhood
Few activities are capable of summoning as much solid nostalgia as a walk or drive through an old neighborhood where you used to live. The physical landscape is filled with reminders of thousands of hours of experiences: some good, some bad, and probably many that are neutral and mundane.
You’ll discover some level of reassurance in the fact that certain things have remained the same. There will also be feelings of loss because of changes. Both are okay. Learning to reconcile opposing emotions is an essential process in our personal development.
- Look Through an Old Photo Album
Do you have an old photo album or memory box that contains mementos from the past? Holding these relics in your hands will inspire hundreds of memories to come flooding through your mind. It’s even better if you can look at these pictures with a friend or loved one who was also there to experience those events with you.
Love the Past, Live for the Future
Nostalgia works best when it reminds you of how enjoyable the past was, but still propels you into a future that may be even better. It should also remind us of how thankful we should be for the present.
Because, believe it or not, we’ll eventually look back on today with nostalgia. Allow that notion to motivate you to live in the moment!