Is Feeling Nostalgia Good or Bad?

Neuroimaging

Computerized tomography scans of the head, depicting several parts of the brain.

INTODUCTION

Nostalgia is defined to be a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. Most often it is mistakenly viewed as a negative emotion since it can be inferred that feeling nostalgic will have you living in the past and always seeking to find something that is already gone, one may never replace or relive something that has already passed. Research into the topic is fairly new as it was only until recently it was clarified to be considered as an emotion rather than a disease that needed to be cured in unusual ways. This essay will briefly review the history of nostalgia and the different perspectives on it by medical professionals in different points in history. Most importantly it will define what medical professionals and researchers believe its purpose is now, and how exactly they believe this feeling contributes to the human psyche focusing on the effects it has on the self, social relationships, and coping effects. These arguments will explorehow, because of these results, nostalgic tendencies should be adapted and used as a form of therapy for those who are constantly feeling sad and seek to feel happier.

 

BRIEF HISTORY OF NOSTALGIA

            The origins of nostalgia emerged in the 17thcentury when a Swiss doctor defined nostalgia in his medical dissertation. He began to notice that this feeling of “mania of longing” was seen in displaced people, whether it was students studying abroad, servants, or even soldiers. They were said to produce erroneous representations that affected their views of the present. In his dissertation, he mentioned that nostalgia was a cerebral disease, the cure for it involved “leeches, warm hypnotic emulsions, opium and purging of the stomach” (Boym 3). Similar to his belief, French doctor Jourdan Le Cointebelieved that nostalgia would be cured by inciting pain and terror. Le Cointe cited the example of the Russian army's outbreak of nostalgia in 1733, on its way to Germany. The general told the troops that the first one to come down the nostalgic virus would be buried alive, and actually abided by the punishments he set forth.Clearly, as medicine progressed, these falsifications were no longer associated with “curing” nostalgia, but rather came to see nostalgia as an emotion rather than a disease. This new way of looking at nostalgia emerged after several studies were preformed to locate the triggers of these tendencies. These studies stemmed the two tendencies of nostalgia: restorative and reflective. “Restorative nostalgia puts emphasis on nostosand proposed to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps. Reflective nostalgia dwells on algia, in longing and loss, the imperfect process of remembrance” (Boym 20). Where restorative nostalgia gravitates on symbols and oral culture and reflective is oriented toward an individual experience that encompasses detailed memories. Most importantly the feeling of nostalgia was studied to understand human social connections and social interactions as well as the effects of feeling nostalgic on coping strategies and loneliness.

 

APPLICATION/ RESEARCH IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY

            After nostalgia was defined to be a feeling rather than a disease, researchers and scientists took an interest to further explore the effects nostalgia had on the human brain, focusing on the effect it had on social relationships as well as how it affects human coping strategies.  The effects nostalgia had on combating loneliness is seen in Xinyue Zhou’s study. A group of researchers asked participants to write about whether or not they felt alone, how often they experienced nostalgia, and whether or not they believed that they could count on their friends and loved ones during hard times. The study depicted that“nostalgic participants scored higher on measures of social bonding, evinced a more secure attachment style, and reported greater interpersonal competence. Nostalgia, then, increased the accessibility of past relationships and thus counteract loneliness by magnifying perceived social support” (Zhou 1023). This study brought to light that people who feel lonelier often experience more feelings of nostalgia, and that loneliness decreased social support. Zhou’s study most importantly came to show that nostalgia magnifies perceptions of social support and in doing so, it indirectly decreases the effects of loneliness.

            Another study conducted by Tim Wildschut and his research team at the University of Southhampton in England, closely examined descriptions of nostalgic experiences which typically featured the self as a protagonist in interactions with close others, triggers of nostalgia, and lastly explored the functional use for nostalgia and established that nostalgia bolsters social bonds, increases positive self-regard, and generates positive affect. The experiment was broken down into seven different case studies where the first 2 examined the nostalgic experiences, the next 3 examined the triggers of nostalgia, and the last 2 examined the social bonds. The results from the first two experiments yielded that “nostalgia was associated with memories in which the self-figured prominently and that typically related to interactions with important others or to momentous events.” (Wildschut 975). The narratives centered around nostalgia were sometimes described as disappointments, but overall the participants wrote about how they were overcome with successes afterwards. The following experiments came to show that the most common triggers of nostalgia are conversations with friends, as well as particular smells. The last studies showed that humans tend to have a need to belong, and because of this are less likely to break social bonds. It also showed that people are more likely motivated to maintain a positive self-concept.

            A comprehensive conclusion demonstrated that feeling nostalgia is associated with a positive effect on the psyche and is part of the ever long list of emotions that enhance the human experience. The two experiments show that nostalgia has a positive effects in many aspects, but most importantly in the social experience and battling loneliness. We can then use this information to further explore ways in which how we may be able to implement this and apply it as a part of therapy for people battling loneliness, depression or just seeking to better improve themselves and their way of thinking. As it was shown that nostalgic reminisces help self-reflect, and measure change, but overall through them we are able to see that something good always comes from a negative experience. Through these results we can further continue to explore more sides of nostalgia to understand its negative effects and its positive effects, all combined to see how we may manipulate it to our benefit.       

 

RESEARCH ON THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF NOSTALGIA VS. THE GOOD   

Opposers to the argument that feeling nostalgia is a good thing because it can have a positive side effect in several aspects of human emotions, will say that it is not a good one to experience as a negation to all the effects summarized in the previous section. Bas Verplanken, a researcher from the University of Bath, Bath. United Kingdom, preformed research arguing that “nostalgia elicits feelings of anxiety and depression among individuals with a strong habit to worry and thus turn the experience of remembering a pleasant past into a source of suffering in the present” (Verplanken 286). In the experiment participants were asked to complete an online survey that asked them to think about an event that made them nostalgic, where they then had to answer how they that event made them feel and further details about the event. In summary they concluded that participants who had a strong habit of habitual worrying subsequently showed enhanced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

            A different take shows us that in fact, researchers have found that people who experience feelings of nostalgia are more self and socially connected and have better coping strategies. This is shown with the research provided by Krystine Irene Batcho, where she conducted several studies to show how the results she obtained from surveys could be used to make accurate conclusions of the effects of feeling nostalgia. She did so by asking participants, mainly undergraduate students, to answer on a scale of 1-20 how much they missed being a child, and if so what specifically they missed about it. Participants also had to answer how they responded to stress, provided with some examples and  some answer choices on whether they were likely respond to a specific situation in a certain way or not. Overall this part of the study yielded that “nostalgic reminiscence sustains identity by serving as the primary means by which one maintains relationships with old parts of the self and by which one measures personal change over time”(Batcho 356). The second part of the study included questions that proceeded to asked the participants on their coping strategies. The overall results from this entire study were that “The association of nostalgia with coping strategies that are socially, emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally active contradicts the view of nostalgic people as those who avoid difficulties in their present by seeking solace in fantasy, reminiscence, or attempts to live in the past”(Batcho 365).

            Even though Verplanken’s study found that the negative effects of nostalgia affect those who are more prone to worrying, it clearly is not the case the majority of the time. The implications of nostalgia can be interpreted to have a positive effect on social and self-connections which then lead to healthier coping habits as shown in Batcho’s study. After everything it can be concluded that nostalgia as a feeling is a good one to experience, as it has a positive effect on someone’s life because an individual is able to not only see the changes that have occurred within themselves and reflect on them, but their coping strategies are more advantageous as they are able to deal with negative events in a “healthy” manner, rather than falling into depressive tendencies. Rather instead using nostalgic feelings and its effects to allocate their source of unhappiness and focus on a time in which things were better, or simply self-reflection to help move on and continue to live their day to day lives.

It is clear that nostalgia can be implemented into forms of therapy to help individuals cope with loneliness, or those who are in need of positive self-regard. In either case, more research into the applications of nostalgia must be done, to help therapists understand when or when not to use it or just simply how to use it so that it helps a variety of people, even those who are already prone to worrying. Overall experiencing nostalgia has positive effects on the psyche,  reflecting on a nostalgic event from one's past elevates the importance of relationship goals, boosts optimism about achieving such goals, and strengthens intentions for social bonds.

 

CONCLUSION

Nostalgia is a complex emotion, having both its negative and positive aspects. Through the results summarized in this essay, it is evident that nostalgia can be implemented as a form of therapy for those seeking happiness and experiencing depression and or loneliness in their daily lives. The studies summarized have shown that nostalgia is associated with combating loneliness, better self and social connections and well as having healthier coping strategies. Although some research has shown that sometimes nostalgia can be associated with negative emotions, more research needs to be conducted to show how these negative aspects can be flipped or avoided to apply the positive aspects on a large scale to attend to variety of people needs, including people whom are already more tentative towards negative emotions. Overall it can be concluded that nostalgia shares, with other past-oriented subjective states, the involvement of high-level cognitive processing psychological functions. Nostalgia may be uniquely positioned to offer integrative insights across several important facets of human functioning. We hope that this and future research will redress the scarcity of knowledge regarding nostalgia and gain its proper place in the never ending list of emotions.

Nostalgic Photograph

Polaroid photograph of a bench held up against the same bench sometime in the future. Depicting the change over time. 

Bibliography

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Nostalgic Photograph. blog.sherish.com/2016/01/27/polaroid-apps/.

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Is Feeling Nostalgia Good or Bad?