Why nostalgia is good for your self-esteem


We’re all familiar with that overwhelming sensation that bubbles up whenever we hear a certain song, eat a certain food, or maybe walk down a certain street. It’s that feeling of emotional homesickness, best known as nostalgia.

But nostalgia gets a bad rap. The word itself — a bittersweet combination of nostos (a return home) and algos (the accompanying pain) in Greek — emphasizes the sadness of memory. And for centuries, it’s been labeled a disorder and attributed with negative thinking and depression.

However, researchers have recently come to believe there is more of an upside to nostalgia than a downside. Looking back at your life isn’t just about feeling loss, but also has the potential to deliver a sense of meaning and self-continuity. For example, revisiting old pictures can remind us of memories that are positive; we see ourselves among the networks of friends and family that we’ve built across our lives and we feel rooted. These are sentiments that are intricately connected to self-esteem.

We also to tend look back when we feel we need to: When we’re afraid, depressed, or feel challenged by something unfamiliar. Tim Wildschut, a psychologist at the University of Southampton, described nostalgia as “a psychological immune response that is triggered when you experience little bumps in the road.”

As a result, studies have found some important benefits to regularly taking a moment to look back and feel wistful. “Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders,” John Tierney explained in The New York Times in 2013. “Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.”

So while you don’t have to wait until you’re in a cold room to think of warmer times, here are a few easy ways to cultivate a habit of waxing nostalgic.

Music

Music has proven to be the most popular tool for researchers to spark nostalgia, not just in studies in the United States, but also in Europe, Africa, and Asia. So next time you’re feeling out of sorts, don’t be afraid put on that old embarrassing Billy Joel album and seek out a happy track. You might be just feel better.

Social media

While social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are often linked to feelings of unhappiness, envy, and loneliness, your profile by itself is ready-made nostalgia machine. In fact, user requests for a tool to sift through their posts and to revisit moments shared with friends was the inspiration for Facebook to create its “On This Day” feature, which it introduced back in 2015. Revisiting old pictures (and questionable fashion choices) will show you how you’ve grown.

Find an old friend

At its core, nostalgia is a social emotion. In other words, it is most often tied to our interactions with others. Part of why we often feel better when we access our older memories is that we’re reminded of our relationships. Reaching out to someone you might have lost touch with is an easy way to bring you back. And, of course, it might produce new memories.

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