Why are we all so obsessed with nostalgia?

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If you get together with a group of old friends, chances are you’ll spend a large chunk of time reminiscing about the past.

Shared memories from bygone times are comforting, and can make you feel warm and fuzzy. Not only this, but reminiscing also has the power to bring you closer to the ones you love – particularly if you’ve been drifting apart.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of nostalgia is: “A sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.” The word itself evokes positive feelings of the past – you don’t really look back nostalgically at anything bad.

Even when we’re on our own, we love anything nostalgic, whether it’s listening to the Backstreet Boys or re-watching old episodes of I Love Lucy. Our obsession is real, but why is that so? We asked Dr Meg Arroll, psychologist and author of The Shrinkology Solution, to explain a bit more about why we have this obsession.

It brings people together

Nostalgic presents are a big industry – just think of the tongue-in-cheek remakes of Enid Blyton’s books, which have been updated with titles like Five Go Gluten Free and Five On Brexit Island.

Dr Arroll says: “I both personally and professionally see the benefits of nostalgia – for instance, buying retro gifts immediately connects both the giver and receiver not only with one another but also with a shared past.”

The same applies to going to remakes of films with your friends and discussing memories from the original.

“Nostalgia has the ability to bring people together who may have drifted apart – friends may have very different lives now, and so lack a common thread, but childhood memories bind us,” Dr Arroll explains. “Studies have demonstrated this and found that when feelings of nostalgia are triggered, social bonds strengthen, positive self-regard increases, and there’s a boost in positive effect [good mood].”

It can improve your mood


Speaking more about the potential impact on your mental state, Dr Arroll says: “Further research suggests that nostalgia may protect against future bouts of depression.” It’s true – looking back on the good times has the peculiar ability to make you feel good.

In a scholarly article by Clay Routledge, Tim Wildschut, Constantine Sedikides and Jacob Juhl, the authors describe how from the 17th century to the end of the 20th century, nostalgia was considered a neurological disorder – but now it’s been shown to have a positive impact on our mental health.

They write: “We argue that nostalgia, far from being an illness, is an important resource for maintaining and promoting psychological health.”

But there are some negatives


Nostalgia does, however, have some drawbacks.

Reliving the past can bring people together, but it also has the power to make you feel even more lonely than before. It’s altogether too easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses, and that can make you feel sad when comparing that time with today.

Instead of using memories to work through new challenges, some people use it as a way of living in the past without moving forward.

Dr Arroll also notes we need to beware of “longing for the way society used to be, known as collective nostalgia”. After all, society didn’t used to be as accepting or diverse as it is now, and looking back nostalgically can gloss over the more insidious aspects of the past.

But if it’s flicking through a 1998 copy of a glossy magazine, slurping on a cocktail you used to drink with your girlfriends in the 1980s or snuggling up on the sofa watching Breakfast At Tiffany’s, we’re confident a nostalgic cuddle with the past is most definitely a good thing.

– With PA

Do you find yourself looking back on old photos? Do you find that nostalgic content improves or dampens your mood?

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Written by Prudence Wade

5 Comments

Total Comments: 5
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    Hoping that the virus is not going to interfere with my arrangements for a 60th anniversary reunion of the 1960 Scholarship Exam students of Stafford State School in Brisbane come October. I know we have at least one old boy currently living in Victoria. The old black and white pics coming out of the albums are bringing back fond memories of much happier times.

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    Well I like Island of Dreams by The Springfields with Dusty, its got to be 60 years old, harmony brilliant, just s great old song, there are others but really some music now is genius , but some actually a great deal, shouldn’t even get aired!

  3. 0
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    John, an Australian composer was quoted recently as saying – If you can”t whistle its tune , it’s not music, it’s just noise. Ain’t dat da truth? If I have to listen to the current Menulog ad much more I shall scream!

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    I specialise in looking back by writing about the history of various things such as “Sixty Years of Netball in the Illawarra” where factual information was obtained from newspapers and photos obtained from the early netballers of 1949 onwards; evolution of the electronic digital computer in 1944 and earlier inventions leading up to it in my textbook called “Office Technology” – as far back as 3000 BC with the abacus and 1617 with “Napier’s bones’; another textbook called “Hands-on Word Processing” where the text, provided for exercises to be worked, tells the story of the transformation of the typewriter into a word processor and eventually into a PC (including images and diagrams). All these works included my own experiences. My next venture is “Thirty Years of Tap Dancing in the Illawarra” to be written about a group of mature-aged ladies who provide entertainment to nursing homes, retirement villages, service clubs’ functions, big concerts for charity and they even went out into western NSW to towns like Yeoval, Gulgong and Wellington; and some of them are still going. I hope I live long enough to finish it. There are so many stories like these that will be lost unless they are put on files and stored in a computer. While doing a history story about some small churches in an Illawarra Parish, I tried to find something about one of the churches which did not appear anywhere on Google. Apparently any text written must have been lost many years before anyone could record it on computer.

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      Which it is so important to interview folks while they are still upright. My 85- year-old Grade 8 teacher is still going strong. Each time I visit I am full of questions.


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