What Is Nostalgia Good For?

Two links to share this morning, related to the uses of nostalgia.

First, from the New York Times, a feature exploring recent research. “Nostalgia, long considered a disorder, is now recognized as a largely positive emotion,” columnist John Tierney reports.

“What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Lot, Research Shows…


It’s a long and interesting article, well worth your attention. Here are a few quotes I highlighted–

Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories….

“Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function,” Dr. Routledge says. “It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.”…

“I don’t miss an opportunity to build nostalgic-to-be memories,” [Dr. Sedikides] says. “We call this anticipatory nostalgia and have even started a line of relevant research.”

Another strategy is to draw on his “nostalgic repository” when he needs a psychological lift or some extra motivation. At such moments, he tries to focus on the memories and savor them without comparing them with anything else.

“Many other people,” he explains, “have defined nostalgia as comparing the past with the present and saying, implicitly, that the past was better — ‘Those were the days.’ But that may not be the best way for most people to nostalgize. The comparison will not benefit, say, the elderly in a nursing home who don’t see their future as bright. But if they focus on the past in an existential way — ‘What has my life meant?’ — then they can potentially benefit.”

The other link I’d like to share on the uses of nostalgia is  a  post I wrote for the Association of Personal Historians blog last week.

 “For ‘End of Line’ Individuals, Stories Still Matter”

Photo credit: Campfire photo by Dirk Beyer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html),

For this post I collated excerpts  from a recent discussion on the APH Listserv probing why individuals without descendants or close family ties might place value on preserving their life story. As I fit that description, I found the discussion particularly relevant, and volunteered to write about it. It might intrigue you to know the word “meatsack” appears in my response. Read on!

-Sarah White

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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