I’ve always been a sentimental person. I have boxes and scrapbooks full of old letters, ticket stubs, photos, and other mementos. Even when I was a child and didn’t have much of a past to speak of, I’d look back on good times and wish I could relive them.
Because I have the tendency to think about the past more often than I do the present or the future, I’ve made an effort to curb my habit of reminiscing so much. I’ve done a lot of work to clear out old baggage that was holding me back, especially where school is concerned, going so far as to burn my old report cards and SAT scores in the fireplace, and I don’t want to dwell too much on the events of the past.
However, when I noticed Facebook’s new “On This Day” feature, I couldn’t help but take a look. Facebook will pull your activity from that date in previous years and tell you whom you became friends with, what people shared with you, and what you shared with them. This week Facebook told me that two years ago, Darren and I were waiting to find out whether we were having a boy or girl. Reading the predictions was fun (as it so happened, I was one of the many who guessed wrong) and took me back to that moment of anticipation before we knew we would have a son.
The warm and fuzzy feeling that I got from reminiscing reminded me that nostalgia isn’t so bad, even for those of us who have to make a special effort to live in the moment. In fact, I did a bit of reading on the subject and learned that research has shown nostalgia to be good for us. This is from a Huffington Post article on “The Incredible Powers of Nostalgia”:
A lot can be said for nostalgia’s benefits. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Memory, Routledge and his colleagues showed that nostalgizing helps people relate their past experiences to their present lives in order to make greater meaning of it all. The result can boost their mood and reduce stress. “Nostalgia increases feelings of social connectedness to others,” he says. “Nostalgia makes people feel loved and valued and increases perceptions of social support when people are lonely.”
“When we experience nostalgia,” Hepper* explains, “we tend to feel happier, have higher self-esteem, feel closer to loved ones and feel that life has more meaning. And on a physical level, nostalgia literally makes us feel warmer.” In addition, in an August 2013 study published by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Hepper and her colleagues showed that nostalgia can produce increased optimism about the future.
And consider this: Your nostalgia can affect those around you. Hepper says after nostalgizing, people donate more generously to charity. And sharing a nostalgic conversation with a friend, family member or romantic partner makes you more supportive and considerate, and less argumentative.
*Erica Hepper, Ph.D., a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey in England.
The other day I saw these benefits in action when looking at photos of my son. I was simply backing up the photos from my phone to cloud storage, but each image I clicked reminded me of a happy moment with him. Given that parenting a toddler has been a high-energy challenge, looking at sweet baby smiles and big milestones — first solid foods! first steps! — made me feel more connected to my little wild man.
Listening to my favorite music from back in the day also makes me nostalgic. I have a Spotify playlist called “High School Mix Tape” that is full of Counting Crows, Stone Temple Pilots, Dave Matthews Band, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Whenever I hear hip-hop jams on the radio from what Darren refers to as my “clubbin’ days” in San Francisco, I feel like I’m back on the dance floor with my girlfriends.
There’s a great Slate piece on why we’re so nostalgic for the music we loved as teenagers. It says that between ages 12 and 22, our brains are developing so quickly and are so awash with emotion and growth hormones that “the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good.” That explains why I will always be a sucker for *NSYNC.
I’ve found that reminiscing helps me understand who I am now by connecting with the person I used to be. When I hear songs that remind me of awkward middle school dances or high school heartbreak, I feel glad to be where I am today.
Now that I understand the benefits of nostalgia, I’ve decided to embrace my sentimental ways. I enabled Facebook notifications for “On This Day,” and I’m enjoying visiting with my past on a daily basis. I don’t let myself get stuck there, but I remember that moment in time fondly and think about how it led me to this one.
A Few Ways to Get Nostalgic with Reschool Yourself:
- Take a memory walk around the places that mean something to you.
- Look at the “Remember This?” photos that I took when I returned to the classroom.
- Listen to a playlist of your favorite music from when you were a kid. I’m partial to “Summer Hits of the 90s” on Pandora. Make your own playlist on Spotify, or let Retrojam make one for each of your school years.
- Post old photos on social media for Throwback Thursday. Bonus points for the embarrassing ones that show off your new perm or a mouth full of braces.
- If you’re a child of the 80s, follow Hillary Buckholtz’s I’m Remembering Tumblr and enjoy seeing My Little Pony lunchboxes and troll dolls again.
Leave a comment: What makes you nostalgic?