The value of nostalgia

Nostalgia has historically gotten a bad rap, viewed as a precursor to feelings of sadness and longing. Emotional downers.

Today we know that’s a faulty assumption. Research shows that nostalgia typically brightens mood. This is because nostalgia helps us in many ways:

  • Focus on the positive in our past. People, events, places. We remember good times with maybe a laugh or a chuckle.
  • Gain a fuller perspective on the meaning of our life. Recalling past activities and roles increases our life satisfaction and boosts self-esteem.
  • Remember ourselves in connection with others. Even if we’re alone at the moment, we affirm our close ties with others.
  • See ourselves as beloved and belonging. Remembering our importance to others can help ease anxieties about life and end-of-life.

The consequence of nostalgia is more positive thinking. Even when memories are tinged with bittersweet, research shows that nostalgia has a “redemptive” value. When we’re recalling an event that has some sad or disappointing aspects, we end up focusing on the positive. It’s a natural process of sifting through life stories and saving the good stuff.

Plus, those positive feelings generated by nostalgia help combat loneliness.
That makes nostalgia a good coping mechanism. By the elder years, many peers have moved or died. And age and disease put real limits on a person’s ability to meet new people and forge new friendships. By reminiscing when we’re feeling lonely, we change our perception of our self. We rekindle our sense of belonging and regain a sense of social support. And that’s enough to change our mood.

So next time mom launches into another story from her past, remind yourself that she’s using a valuable coping skill.

Worried about a loved one’s isolation?
As the Iowa City, Muscatine and Cedar Rapids experts in family caregiving, we at Iowa City Hospice notice that older adults often feel isolated and lonely. It’s amazing what a trip down memory lane can do to lift their mood. If you are concerned about someone you care for, give us a call at 1-800-897-3052, toll-free. We can help you with perspective and resources to improve the situation.