There’s a certain effect that nostalgia has on the human being.
It’s a warm, familiar, safe glow.
It’s an old Nintendo game you haven’t dug out in 20 years.
It’s an album you played to death in college.
It’s a perfume or aftershave worn by someone, somewhere.
We’ve all got nostalgic triggers embedded deep in our minds. We all have that arrangement of stimuli whose presence takes us back to another time in an instant. Nostalgia is an express ticket back to the past.
However, nostalgia is a double-edged sword. It’s a cunning drug. It sometimes fools us into a revision of the past – that it is inherently better than our present circumstances. There’s a bittersweet quality to looking through old photo albums or listening to old records. We remember the best parts of these times, and all of the inconveniences, disappointments, or problems we once had are conveniently left out. Nostalgia is a cleverly edited highlight reel. All of the behind-the-scenes stuff is left on the cutting room floor.
But is touring the past a good or bad thing? On the one hand, life is all about memories. On the other, living purely for yesterday is a sign that you may have peaked too soon.
Constantine Sedikides was a young, Greek university professor in North Carolina. He was later transferred to the University of Southampton, England, to continue his studies. Upon his arrival, he was hit with intermittent flashes of the sights, sounds, and smells of his previous homes. He shared his experiences with a colleague, a psychiatrist, who said that Dr. Sedikides may be depressed. After all, why else would his conscience remind him of the past so often?
However, Dr. Sedikides wasn’t buying it. He was happy in Southampton – he had a new life with new friends, new cultures, and new challenges. He began to contemplate that his frequent detours to the past were a positive sign. ‘‘“Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity’‘, he said in response.
I think Dr. Sedikides hit the nail on the head with his analysis. Nostalgia is such a powerful source because it reminds us that our lives have foundations and roots, and is not merely a meaningless succession of days. Real-life can get grinding and repetitive, and these nostalgic triggers remind us that we do, indeed, have purpose and meaning in our existence. The rose-tinted hue that the past is always bathed in can help us ease our worries about the future.
Nostalgia is also a great way to bond with others. In fact. there’s a whole nostalgia industry. Old movies are remade, old albums are remastered, vintage clothing drifts in and out of fashion. Nostalgia can help us connect with others more deeply, and give others insight into our perceived golden years.
The bitter-sweet feeling of loss is prevalent with nostalgic memories. Everybody has memories that, although happy at the time, are drenched in melancholy now that time has taken its effect. The word ‘nostos’ is Greek for ”home” and ‘algia’ is derived from ‘agos’ meaning ”pain”. Indeed, the pain of old memories are the ones that hit closest to home for many.
Nostalgia has taken on another life on social media. The hashtag ”#tbt”’ (throwback to..) is one of Instagram’s most popular trends. Young and old users indulge in this trend, meaning that the power of nostalgia is felt by every age bracket. Even young children get nostalgic, and overall, you can expect to experience at least one nostalgic episode a week.
The best thing about nostalgia is nobody can take it away from you. Although the future may be uncertain – the warm familiarity of the past can help us transition through rocky and uncertain times. Whilst it is still important to keep one foot in the present, we should all, sometimes, revel in the glory of days gone – and hope there’s many more ahead.