You’d be pretty hard-pressed to argue that fact that our culture is somewhat obsessed with nostalgia right now. From fashion to the endless slew of movie and television show remakes being produced these days, it’s apparent that people crave nostalgia. So why is this the case? Is it merely because nostalgia reminds of the days when we were younger, and life was simpler or were the olden days that much better? Well, up until about 15 years ago, most psychologists believed nostalgia was bad for you, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore.
Professor Constantine Sedikides
Constantine Sedikides is Professor of Social and Personality Psychology at the University of Southampton where he pioneered a field that today includes dozens of researchers around the world using tools including a questionnaire called the “Southampton Nostalgia Scale.” Even though nostalgia was initially considered a disorder ever since the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss physician who attributed soldiers’ mental and physical maladies to their longing to return home, Sedikides has changed a lot of perceptions after over a decade of study on the subject. The Southampton Nostalgia Scale demonstrated that nostalgia had been shown to counteract feelings of boredom, loneliness, and anxiety. Nostalgia can also make people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Sedikides also discovered that couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories.
“Nostalgia makes us a bit more human,” Dr. Sedikides says. He considers the first great nostalgist to be Odysseus, an itinerant who used memories of his family and home to get through hard times, but Dr. Sedikides emphasizes that nostalgia is not the same as homesickness. It’s not just for those away from home, and it’s not a sickness, despite its historical reputation. Southampton remains the primary source of nostalgia growth industry today. Sedikides often works in tandem with Dr. Tim Wildschut, a senior researcher, and another émigré, from Utrecht in the Netherlands. “Every week, to begin with, we were surprised by what we found,” Sedikides says. “We quickly built a programme of research around it.”
According to Alan R. Hirsch, a Psychiatry Doctor in Chicago, Illinois and his report “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” nostalgia is a yearning for an idealized past — “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.” According to Hirsch, nostalgia isn’t about remembering memories at all. Hirsch believes that nostalgia does not relate to a specific memory, but rather an emotional state. We attach an emotional state to an era, or a specific frame, and choose to idealize that specific time. We deduce that because we remember the feeling of happiness at a young age and our childhood must have been better than right now. Hirsch’s report went on to conclude that “one may speculate that nostalgic desires will increase in the coming decade since it seems likely that the more dissatisfied we are with the present, the more we idealize the past. Therefore, in the hard times ahead, it will be easier to sell nostalgia.”
I think we can all agree that we yearn for the past in one way or another. Nostalgia is something we all experience, but now that we all understand feelings of nostalgia a little better, perhaps we can better utilize these feelings in the future. Especially when the Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes out next month.