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 Metro DC experts in family caregiving, we at Debra Levy Eldercare Associates 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 301-593-5285. We can help you with perspective and resources to improve the situation.