The Nostalgia Cure: How Your Memory Can Change Your Life

Have you ever noticed how a certain favorite dish can instantly transport you into a beautiful memory from your past? How about catching someone wearing your grandmother’s perfume and suddenly feeling like she is right there in the room with you? Or walking down a street from your childhood and experiencing the exact emotions you felt back when you were young?

These journeys deep into our memories are called nostalgia. Nostalgia can transport us from the present to years long past, providing us the opportunity to revel in vivid memories and the deep emotional material that is often associated with them.

Until recently, there hasn’t been scientific consensus about whether these walks down memory lane are beneficial or harmful to our psyche. But in the past few years, scientific research into the effects of nostalgia has deepened and expanded. We now know that nostalgia can boost our mood, reduce anxiety, motivate us in times of hardship and even help us feel more connected to those we love.

Nostalgia and Regulating Our Emotions

Leading researchers on nostalgia—Wildschut, Sedikides, and Cordaro of the University of Southampton—wrote a compelling paper summarizing their research on the benefits of nostalgia. They reported that individuals who thought about nostalgic events in their lives were more likely to “feel more loved and protected, evinced reduced attachment-related anxiety and avoidance, and reported greater interpersonal competence,” than their peers in the study.

An interesting feature of nostalgia is that often when we think back to memories from our past, they contain both uplifting and depressing emotions. Even though the recollection is bittersweet, though, it typically has a sense of resolution attached to it. Researchers believe that it might actually be the feeling of resolution that accompanies our nostalgia that is most uplifting.

This is because nostalgia tends to arise when we are facing challenging situations in the present. When challenging situations arise, nostalgia can be triggered to help us balance our emotional state.

Our nostalgic memories remind us that even in moments that were difficult in the past, there were also positive outcomes and valuable lessons learned. This can help us focus on the moment ahead of us and recognize that even when things are challenging, the rewards can be sweet.

Incorporating Nostalgia into Your Life

There are some interesting, new approaches being studied today about how to engage with nostalgia and incorporate it into your life. Here are three ways that could benefit you today.

1. Aromatherapy

Our olfactory bulb, which processes scent, and the parts of our brain that process memories are found right next to each other, maximizing the potential for aromas to trigger memories and nostalgia. Aromatherapy has even been shown to aid Alzheimer’s patients!

2. Comfort Foods

While comfort food isn’t always particularly healthy, preparing meals that remind us of positive times in our past can be a great way to stimulate nostalgia and help us feel connected to our roots.

3. Our Favorite Songs

Auditory stimulation is another way we can fast track our brain into old memories, and another treatment regularly used by Alzheimer’s caregivers. Pop on one of your favorite tunes from when you were younger, and prepare to be transported to some of your most joyful memories!

The Nostalgia Cure

There is still lots of ongoing research about the power of nostalgia and how it can best be utilized to reframe our minds, stabilize our moods and help us move forward as we seek to achieve our goals. How often do you experience nostalgia? What role does it play in your life? I look forward to reading your thoughts and feedback!

Photo via Getty Images

71 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson10 days ago

Thank you.

SEND
Caitlin L
Caitlin L14 days ago

Thanks for sharing

SEND
Pearl W
Pearl W1 months ago

Hi All - Anyone working with elderly folk know how beneficial organised nostalgic events are - I have a friend who dresses in 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's gear for work, she loves it and says - The retirement home organises Red Cross Day (for example) and once a month try to celebrate events of yesteryear which are no longer thought about but used to be the norm - She says one day of time warping nostalgia makes a huge difference to the morale of everyone (staff included) - All of her friends gather classic hats, scarves, gloves, music, posters, recipe books, old magazines, basically anything from second hand shops when they spot them - They even hold an annual formal Ball for the whole family - Sometimes the shop will give you the goods if you tell them what it's being used for and the benefits it engenders - Once the mind is engaged it has a flow on effect - Apparently for about a week after it's noticeably how their confusion has improved and ask for less medication as well as sleeping better - Unfortunately not all facilities employ a part time Entertainment Facilitator - Memory Lane is an important destination for us all not matter what our age - Thanks Kezia - Smiles

SEND
Joemar K
Joemar K1 months ago

Thanks

SEND
William T
William T2 months ago

Thank you for sharing

SEND
Sarah A
Past Member 2 months ago

thank you

SEND
Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin2 months ago

yes! i play old albums all the time!

SEND
Peter B
Peter B2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

SEND
Peter B
Peter B2 months ago

tyfs

SEND
Daniel N
Daniel N2 months ago

Thanks

SEND